It's hard to find a friend — especially as an adult. Several tech companies are trying to make it a little easier.
Back in March 2016, dating app Bumble launched a new feature called Bumble BFF. The premise was simple: Take the existing Bumble infrastructure and let people use the app with the specific goal of making friends. Why? Because the company realized that many people on the app were already doing that, and they might as well just make it a full-on feature.
Making connections with strangers on the internet with hopes of finding friendship is a pastime going back years. From Craigslist's "Strictly Platonic" (RIP) section to apps like Meetup, Peanut (which is aimed at moms looking for friends who are also moms), GirlCrew, and Patook — there's no real shortage of places trying to help you make some new pals.
While the stigma around online dating seems to have faded a bit in recent years — a 2015 Pew survey found that 15% of American adults have used a dating app, up from 11% just two years earlier — a lot of people still feel weird about making friends on the internet, with some going so far as to say that people you meet on the internet aren't actually friends at all.
Internet-based friendships are totally real. For example, I've never met writer and comedian Lane Moore — at least not in person — but we're still good friends.
Moore is probably best known as the creator of Tinder Live, a monthly show that is exactly what it sounds like: People gathering in a room to swipe through Tinder profiles projected onto a screen. She's also the author of the upcoming "How to Be Alone." Her knowledge of dating apps (thanks to her show, she's about as close to a professional Tinder-user as it gets) led me to reach out to ask her a few questions about the internet and what role it can play in non-romantic relationships. Surely, an internet-savvy Tinder power-user would be a huge fan of friend-matching apps, right? Wrong.
"I feel like this is the loneliest time in history in a lot of ways, and I've seen a lot of people say similar things," she tells me. "We have more ways to connect than ever before, but we all feel really lonely."
Lane Moore. Photo by Mindy Tucker.
But in a time where we have more access to each other than any other point in human history, how is it that so many of us still feel lonely?
Or is it simply that we feel lonely because there are so many people telling each of us that "internet friends" don't count in the same way your next-door neighbor might?
In a January 2018 article at Inc., Amy Morin makes the argument that we're not lonely in spite of the internet, but because of it. There are certain aspects of Morin's argument that make a lot of sense to me. For instance, she suggests that the internet has created a culture where we put too much of an emphasis on the quantity of friends we have, at the expense of the quality. There's also the fact that the faceless nature of the internet can sometimes make it difficult to read social cues. Both of those points are perfectly reasonable, but I'm not sure I buy the conclusion.
The internet is just a tool, and maybe there's simply no app or algorithm that can single-handedly cure such a human problem like loneliness. We are perfectly capable of fostering strong friendships online, but like any relationship, there's work required that goes beyond the swipe of a screen.
Moore makes the case for friendships that begin on the internet, especially for the world's introverts and outcasts.
"I think there's that desire to feel connected and seen," she says. "Especially if you're somebody who's been stuck don't feel like you fit in some way. I feel like those are the people who internet friendships are really incredible for."
She tells me about the last time she took Tinder Live on the road, meeting many of these online friends for the first time in person by taking them up on offers to let her sleep on their couches (hotels are expensive!). It was a shockingly good experience.
Just how people sometimes find romance when they're not looking for it, that's true of friendship, as well — and that might be the factor apps can't account for.
Moore was in Minneapolis for a Tinder Live performance. Following the show, she messaged one of the matches (the point of the show is to have a little good-natured fun at the expensive of the people she matched with, making jokes about cheesy lines on their dating profiles and whatnot) to let him in on the fact that his profile had been featured, and thanked him for being such a good sport about the whole thing. Then they kept chatting, and long after Moore had left Minneapolis, they stayed in touch, striking up a pretty good friendship.
"We met because he was unknowingly part of my comedy show where I would joke about trying to steal his jeans, in a city that I don't even live in," she says, laughing. "And he's been just such a really lovely friend. And I love that's how we met. I think some of [the reluctance to make friends on the internet] is just conditioning because I think all those stories are beautiful and really fucking cool."
Photo by Mindy Tucker.
To Moore, the idea of actively seeking out a friend through an app feels like some sort of job interview for friends. While she's all for people using them if they help them make new connections, she just doesn't think they're for her.
"All the really great friendships that I've had have it's always just been part of beautiful story, a thing that I wasn't necessarily expecting," she says. "And then we kept bumping into each other or we kept connecting or you know, they, they kept reaching out to me or I kept reaching up in them and it's just, you know, this kind of thing."
So whether or not you're a fan of apps designed to help you make new friends, it's important to remember that just because a friendship starts online doesn't make it any less valid than one that began at work, school, or a social event. What's important is that you put the effort in to maintain that friendship, and watch it flourish.