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A WALK ON THE SINGLES’ SIDE On finding new friends

LOS ANGELES, Feb. 19 (JTA) — “Don’t you want to play with the other little girls?” my grandmother asked me one summer, while the two of us sat on a park bench near a screaming pack of children. I buried my head deeper into my book. “Just go up and introduce yourself. Say ‘I’m Teresa and I want to play.’ Go on.” I noticed her Bubbe-esque warmth start to dissolve with her patience. “Say ‘I’m Teresa and I want to play.’ ” Before my eyes, she began to squint and slowly morphed into Dirty Harry with orange lipstick. “Go ahead, Tessy. Make some friends.” I forced myself to approach the group and had a great time, as my grandmother looked on, my book resting in her lap. Where is grandma now, when I need her? While I moved to Los Angeles just months ago, I’ve already figured out where to buy a good peach, where to find an entire meal for under $2. I have no idea, however, how to make friends. There are avenues for meeting mates, there are bars and clubs and personal ads. But for a single 20-something to find friends in a new city, there is no pre-existing infrastructure. There are no roads or aqueducts and everyone tells me it just takes time. I took my dad’s advice: I joined a gym. While filling out the paper work, the blond amazonian gym membership sales lady demanded I give her the name of two friends in the area to call in case of an emergency. I racked my brain but could come up with nothing. “You don’t have a SINGLE friend?” she asked. “Not one?” Well, at least I’ll have a poignant anecdote about moving to L.A. if I’m ever on Oprah. Until then, I’ll just be left to die in a pool of my own sweat should I pass out on the Stairmaster. And when you spend too much time alone, you start getting weird. Sometimes, I find myself eating dinner out of a pan lid. Why not? On the up side, I’ve had a lot of time to think about the importance of friends. Men are nice, but what’s the point of having a date if you have no one with whom to hash out every detail? Last year, I was dumped by an astrophysicist. I was so heartbroken I couldn’t stop listening to Beethoven and smoking cigarettes. I became a human vortex of need, a supernova of pathos. My friends were there to tell me it was his loss, to buy me stuffed animals and bath beads, to convince me to stop calling and begging him to take me back. They were there to gently pry the Beethoven CD from my hands and tell me to stop feeling sorry for myself. I was in such a funk I hardly noticed how fortunate I was. I had something I couldn’t pack in a suitcase or stuff into a U-Haul or even see. Now, I know exactly why friendship is worth making an effort to have. But I get nervous. When I meet interesting women, I don’t know what to say. I choke. It seems I will have no choice, once again, but to force myself into the circle and try my old stand-by: I’m Teresa, and I want to play. Teresa Strasser is a twentysomething writer and performer living in Los Angeles.