HERE TO MAKE FRIENDS
Auditioning for a new bestie
My makeup was polished, but not too high maintenance; my hair effortlessly undone. I’d selected an outfit neither too basic, nor too challenging, a fragrance memorable, yet not overpowering, and my nails and tan were on point. As per first date procedure, I’d activated Find My Friend on my iPhone, which shared my location with my two besties, and I’d had a vodka soda to take the edge off. Yet here I was, standing in front of the mirror, secondguessing everything.
As someone whose job it is to have in-depth conversations with strangers, first dates don’t typically faze me. I know how to listen while formulating my next question, and I have a quick wit that’s conducive to good banter. Why the nerves, then? Because I wasn’t meeting someone with whom I hoped to spend the rest of my life, or even go home with at the end of the night. I was simply looking to make a new friend.
Sophie and I had matched on Bumble BFF — the platonic version of the popular dating app Bumble — about a week earlier. She was from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in Auckland on a gap year. From her half-dozen profile pictures she looked like someone I’d vibe with. Her selfies were all taken from the right side which, me preferring to be photographed from the left, made us selfie compatible. Tick. She also had impeccable style, long blonde hair, and in her short bio professed to enjoy a wine. My own bio reading “Blair seeks Serena”, in reference to the ride-or-die protagonists of
Gossip Girl, Sophie was, on the face of it, exactly what I was looking for. She obviously thought the same, because when I swiped right, we were an instant match.
As distinct from Bumble, where women have to make the first move, either party on Bumble BFF can initiate the conversation. I was surprised to find that this levelling of the playing field made me uneasy straight off the bat. My alpha personality dictated that I would take the lead, but not being able to fall back on my more flirtatious opening lines, I agonised over what to say. “Hey, how was your day?” felt just as unlikely to spark a friendship as it did a romance. The key, I figured, was tapping into some classic female bonding fodder.
“I have a hair appointment today and I’m thinking of getting bangs. Thoughts?” A minute later, Sophie shot back an encouraging “Yaaassss girl, Alexa Chung, is that you?” complete with perfectly chosen emojis (scissors; heart eyes; applause). Had I clocked this app on the first round? After all, I’d just found myself a hype girl, and as far as I knew, that’s what female friendship was all about.
Let me back track. In signing up for Bumble BFF, I was primarily looking for a good story. Dating apps are nothing new — they’re now responsible for 17% of marriages, and in the US, almost 50 million people have looked for love online in the past year. But online friendship-dating is still largely uncharted territory, which made me curious enough to give it a go. Worst-case scenario, I’d have to sit through a dull dinner with a woman I’d be able to erase from my life straight
afterwards with the tap of a touchscreen. Best-case scenario, I’d meet someone whose path I might not have otherwise crossed, and who might add significant value to my life. One can never have too many friends, I figured. Besides, when I thought about it, it’d been a while since I made any new ones.
The simple reason for this is that beyond the friendship incubators that are high school and university, it’s not easy. Google ‘how to make friends as an adult’ and you’ll get hundreds of articles from hundreds of relationship experts, all in unanimous agreement on this. In the workplace you could get lucky, as I did. Much of my inner-circle now consists of Fashion Quarterly team members and a handful of people from the wider fashion and media industries. Hell, I’m pretty sure one of them is even listed as an emergency contact on my medical records. But if your colleagues are in the ‘people I’m paid to hang out with’ category? Your options for cultivating new friendships in your late 20s, 30s and beyond, are limited.
Many articles suggest getting a hobby, so I sought out a colleague who has one that extends beyond sitting on the couch and binge-watching Netflix. “Hey!” I said to Kendall, office ballroom dancing enthusiast. “Do you socialise with anyone from your dance studio?” “No,” said Kendall, also office snob. “It’s way out west. You know you can’t get a decent espresso martini beyond Grey Lynn.”
Common ground is important for relationships, and even if you both have dreams of being the next national salsa champion, incompatibilities to do with geography, scheduling or interests will be difficult to overcome. The inverse is also true, as I gleaned from a conversation with several mothers of preschoolers, all of whom dread supervising playdates with women they have nothing in common with apart from having had a child around the same time and in the same suburb. “When Madeleine starts school I won’t be above influencing her friendship choices based on whose mum looks like the best time,” said one. I consider some of the nutcases I was forced to play with while our mums knocked back the chardonnay and I think, yep, clearly a strategy that’s been in play for some time. Not that I begrudge this. If I had kids to exploit in pursuit of friendship, I would. I don’t, which is why I was all dressed up to meet someone I found on the internet.
We’d decided upon a central, reasonably rowdy Italian bistro with an appealing happy hour pasta special. One upside of a friendship date is that nothing is off the menu. Neither of you will be moving in for a pash later, or wearing an outfit that requires Spanx. Garlic and carbs are on the menu. Having arrived a few minutes before me, Sophie was scrolling through her phone when I arrived, and with relief I honed in on our matching monogrammed phone cases — hello, instant ice-breaker. From there, the conversation flowed easily and between mouthfuls of polenta fries we proceeded to cover off all the usual first-date topics — jobs, families, which episode of The Bachelor we were both up to, pets (including mandatory swapping of pics), and travel stories. She being more of a globetrotter than I, this was a fairly one-sided conversation and my interest might have waned around the second trip to Southeast Asia were it not for the revelation that Bumble BFF was the modern girl’s new OE essential. Evidently a must-have for finding oneself a wingwoman when travelling solo (particularly crucial in locales where going out
alone is ill-advised), for Sophie, the app also simplified the task of finding females with whom to roadie around New Zealand. Stranger danger? Maybe. But no less risky than making plans with the backpackers you met the night before, and with the benefit of being able to vet everyone’s Spotify playlists before even floating the idea.
Later, I would message a male friend on a work visa in the Loire Valley to ask how he’d gone about making friends when he first moved, and if a friendship finding app was something he’d consider. He wrote back that in the UK, where he’d spent his first six months abroad, he’d made fast friends with friends of friends. The language barrier was making this harder in France, but as to whether he’d give Bumble BFF a go? Not to put too fine a point on it, but he reckoned that if he got that lonely, he’d get more bang for his buck on Bumble.
It’s not a surprising standpoint. Since the platform launched in 2016, men have been slow to take to Bumble BFF, with female users significantly outnumbering males. Anecdotal evidence (AKA a bunch of Reddit threads) suggests that using the app as a business networking tool is the key thing motivating men to sign up, the underlying implication being that anything else might come across as a bit, well, gay. “Men are very shy to admit they want male friends,” clinical psychologist Rob Garfield told GQ in 2016, citing fears of friendly overtures being mistaken for sexual advances as the main reason. Speaking with another male friend, I discovered that it’s an attitude that carries over into real life. “I met a guy at a house party the other weekend and we were getting along really well,” said Tom, a 35 year old property developer. “I wanted to give him my card at the end of the night, thinking we could get a beer or something, but I knew it would look like I was coming on to him.”
Aside from its bromantic comedy potential, there was nothing I envied about Tom’s predicament. Freed of the silly taboos that men have to navigate, I could simply give a tampon to a woman-in-need in a club bathroom and have myself a dancefloor companion for the rest of the night. Play my cards right (i.e. send her a Facebook friend request and make her accept it on the spot), and I could even segue my would-be one-night-BFF-stand into a brunch date, and more.
Maybe that’s a little idealistic. But putting oneself out there is probably the way to go. Somehow we all managed to do it as new entrants, so perhaps we need to think of our cities as giant playgrounds. That woman on the bus with the flawless eyebrows? Ask where she gets them done. The girl at the gym with the delish looking smoothie? Ask what’s in it, and have an anecdote up your sleeve about being on a mission to find one that doesn’t cost half your wages and taste like dirt. And at your office’s Friday drinks, ask the new hire in accounts how many hours she’s had to spend on the phone with IT so far. Establish a bit more common ground, exchange Instagram handles and — here’s the deal clincher — upon going your separate ways, solidify your newfound friendship by tagging her in a relatable meme. You’ll have yourself a new BFF before you can say: “Lololol, you AF.”
Sophie and I weren’t destined for a long and beautiful friendship. We had enough to talk about over dinner, but a friendship also needs fireworks, and between us there just wasn’t that spark. From our date though, I found the insight into the world of online friendship-dating that I was seeking. I also found clarity in the form of a reply to an Instastory I’d posted earlier that night, mid-date prep. It was from a real-life friend who I’d been neglecting, and she was justifiably pissed. “I thought I was your Serena,” the message said. Eek.
You can never have too many friends, sure. Equally though, if you can’t give the ones you already have the attention they deserve, correcting that should be your first priority. Here’s hoping, in my case, an inbox full of apology memes and dancing twin emojis will be enough to repair the damage. If you catch me next week on Bumble BFF, you can assume it wasn’t.
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