They're right there, hiding in plain sight, thumbtacked amid the rainbow of hand-scrawled "Lost dog" paper scraps and "Seeking quiet roommate" 3-by-5 cards on coffeehouse bulletin boards. These squibs are squeezed, at times, between small-print classifieds -- "Women Seeking Men" or "Men Seeking Same." And more and more, they find themselves on Web pages now dedicated to the pursuit.
They are chatty messages, often parroting the quick summing-up-of-self now commonplace in this age of online profiles that replace small talk. But what makes them different is what they are looking for. Not Heidi Klum or Tyson Beckford. They don't long for romantic walks along the beach or paint picket-fence dreams.
They're seeking friends.
* "Seeking LA Gal Pals ... Down to earth, attractive San Diego SWM 35, seeking LA area women 25-50 dining out sports events, shopping, clubbing, movies. Serious replies, no games please."
* "Rocker Lady seeks friends. I'm female and in the 40s professional by day, rocker by night. Like new rock/metal/tribute groups/KROQ. Seeking healthy n/s, no drugs, friends for friendship, clubbing."
* "New to the neighborhood. Looking for a friend to take dog walks in the mornings at the reservoir."
* " 'Sex and the City' kinda friends wanted, (preferably Carries like me) 28-38, in L.A. ready to hang out and paint the town. Please be real, dependable, hip, attractive."
It's between the lines, but loud and clear: Who has time to sit around and wait for the magic to happen? Let's just nudge fate.
And why not?
Casting a line in the classifieds or on a Web page is a fresh option that is beginning to dawn on those frustrated by their heavy workloads, their long commutes or isolated living arrangements that shave away prime social time. Friendship is as much a numbers game as dating, so why not be proactive?
So much works against it -- the chance encounter. The 60-hour workweek and spread-thin lives are a potent combination, as men and women rewrite the template of "typical." A cluttered corkboard, then, becomes a wishing well of sorts -- as does an electronic message group or a busy classifieds page. These messages become bait on the line, another plan for people confounded by ever-changing cultural roles and codes.
But just how did finding a like-minded companion to take a turn around the midtown galleries, or hunt for art house matinees, become such a vexing experience -- requiring one to post a flirty missive and wait on pins and needles for a reply?
In the world of the interpersonal, of late it has become almost impossible to read the cues.
Daily, we sift through mixed messages. Our self-help shelves are peppered with titles about "toxic friendships," while headlines warn adults and children alike that talking to strangers might be hazardous to one's health. At the same time, pop culture spins scenarios for us to hang our hopes on: Glittery "Sex and the City" gal packs; a "Friends"-style ensemble of interlocking friendships. Even the discordant Oscar/Felix yin/yang in fading "Nick at Nite" repeats looks attractive to someone with no one.
But seldom does one find information to guide us in our search.
Consider Cassie Laurence, 31, from Huntington Beach. She packed her bags, pulled up East Coast stakes and moved to the L.A. area ready to embark on a new job and new life. But she quickly hit a dead end. "It was really hard to meet people. People were busy with their jobs, their families, their friends.... I just realized, as you get older, it just changes."
It gave her pause: How did friendship become as elusive and/or competitive as finding one's soul mate?
Friendship is something many take for granted. For a good portion of one's young life, making connections was simply one of those things that "just happened." People wandered in and out of life -- some stuck, others didn't.
We think that the endless possibilities that high school hoops or college study partners provide will never dry up. That there's a spinner rack of friends out there -- ready for concerts, club crawls, hiking trips, coffee or just an open-ended weekend meander. And when we find out that there isn't, there's not much to comfort us.
Alison Hovancik had reached such a crossroads. After college, she had a network of friends in New York, but once the career kicked in, "it got harder to meet people," says Hovancik, 29. "I volunteered. I took classes. I thought I might meet people through other venues. I didn't want to hang out in bars. But if you don't meet people, you end up being in your apartment in New York." Responding to a posting seemed a breeze by comparison.
The very same factors that nudged people awkwardly toward newspaper and online personals in their campaigns to locate Mr. or Ms. Right have pressed them to seek alternative routes to friendships.