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I Tried It

I Tried It: ‘Tinder for friendship’

Making friends online, it turns out, is just as awkward as making them in person.

By Margaret Eby

Making new friends is one of those skills, like naming every state capital or hanging on the monkey bars, that seemed intuitive to me in grade school and gradually more difficult as I got older. Without school or extracurriculars, it’s hard to to find new people and awkward to approach them. We’re all alienated, we’re all busy, we all have to figure out how to make time to do laundry — how am I supposed to strike up a relationship with someone who just wants to get a bagel once in a while?

As with everything in 2019, there’s an app for that. Several, in fact. There’s Nextdoor for meeting people who live in your neighborhood, Peanut for finding fellow parents, and Meet My Dog for connecting with fellow dog lovers. Meet My Dog tempted me, but I do not have a dog, and using the app as a scam for hanging out with French bulldogs is frowned upon. Fine. I downloaded two of the more general find-a-friend apps: Bumble BFF and Friender.

Meet My Dog tempted me, but I do not have a dog, and using the app as a scam for hanging out with French bulldogs is frowned upon.

Bumble BFF is an offshoot of the larger dating app Bumble. Friender is sort of “Tinder for friendship.” Both are modeled on the kind of quick-hit dating apps I used at various points when I was single. For both, I filled out a user profile and added in photos that I hoped made me look like the kind of person you might want to be friends with (warm, adventurous, often wearing a caftan).

In Bumble BFF, I answered questions about my go-to karaoke song (“Because the Night” by Patti Smith) and my dream dinner guest (Julia Child). In Friender, I weighed my interests in several categories — CrossFit and clubbing on the lower end; dining, walking, and “arts and crafts” on the higher end. Then I started swiping right or left on the friend options presented. And that’s where my trouble began.

Rejecting or accepting a potential date because of a photograph makes some sense. But a friend? I would never have chosen any of my closest friends based on their photos, or their interests on paper. Many of them are wildly different from me, and that has enriched my life incalculably. No algorithm could have predicted them. The nurse who loves salsa dancing isn’t someone I’d necessarily think I’d connect with — but in person, they might be exactly the kind of friend I need.

Also, it’s hard to be as earnest and vulnerable online as a true deep friendship requires. It’s extra hard when your motivation isn’t a love connection, but a “like” connection. Friend dating, I found, is much like actual dating. I talked to some people for a while and found we just didn’t have that chemistry. Some conversations started excitedly and then petered into nothing.

I was thwarted from meeting up with people for many of the same reasons plans fall through with my non-app friends. Work and other obligations claim most of our time; it’s winter and no one wants to leave the house. The one friend date I successfully planned fell through thanks to a work emergency. But we kept chatting online — she’s in film school, and we have tentative plans to go to a retrospective together in March.

Even if we don’t, I’ve already seen an upside. I’ve regained, slowly, that friend-making muscle memory I used to have when I was younger. I’m once again reflexively curious about new people, and a little in awe of all of the different potential friends you can make at different points in your life. It made me feel less isolated, and more connected to parts of my city that I rarely visit. So I keep swiping.

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Margaret Eby is a writer based in Brooklyn and author of South Toward Home: Travels in Southern Literature. 

 

Illustration by Dom McKenzie

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