A good friend of mine says she wishes her early and mid-20s would come with a guidebook, like those pamphlets on puberty from grade school. There are things we don’t know to expect, despite our generally good educations and common sense. Examples? Here are some weird things your not-yet-old, not-quite-young body will start doing. Ten things besides taxes you don’t yet know how to do, but should. After I uprooted my life and moved to a new city with my boyfriend, I added something else to her list: it’s really f*cking hard to make adult friends.
I don’t mean friendly acquaintances, like that girl you always see at the gym and often chat with. I don’t even mean surface friends, the ones you see once a month for drinks and some pleasant small-talk. I’m talking the dream of female friendship that, lately, has blossomed beautifully in our pop culture: the Broad City love, the tight-knit ride-or-die crew. The women whose lives are woven together deeply through late night giggle sessions, daily commiserating over nothing at all, and deep existential talks while drunk.
To be clear, not everyone wants or needs this level of female friendship. Plenty of people do well without. But it was certainly something of a lonely shock for me to be plunged from many years of effortless community building (through school), into a work-from-home situation where I trudged from coffeeshop to coffeeshop and wasted time in insipid MeetUps. I still had the friends I had relied on to keep me sane throughout school, and I still loved them as much as ever. But there’s a difference between even the most fulfilling GroupMe chat, and the reassuring feeling of having a friend in the same city who can run over at a moment’s notice. I had been confident that I could build a strong friendship network in my new city. After all, I had met *soulmates* in unlikely places. I had made friends even under the crushing pressure of a graduate school program I grew to deeply resent. I had never failed to make connections before—and now I would have all this “free” time. I could be flexible! Instead, I found myself split between my new city and my yearning for my friends in other places. I traveled a lot of weekends, dropping in for an intense bout of fun and emotional connection before returning to my lonely weekdays of work. Without the support of a structure, like school or a workplace, I found myself floundering. To paraphrase the ladies of Another Round, it’s weird to try finding adult female friends if you don’t have a good reason. You can’t just lean over to that cool-looking lady on the bus and be like, hey bus friend. You wanna go to the movies sometime?
In the corner of the internet where my online friends live (a secret facebook group that doubles as constant sleepover/oversharing extravaganza), a woman mentioned a new resource that I had been waiting for without realizing it: BumbleBFF. You may know of Bumble, the dating app that requires women to make the first move when meeting men. BFF is a new feature in this app, which lets you create a profile and swipe on potential female friends like you would in a dating app.
Once you download Bumble (or set it to the BFF option), you create a profile by linking your facebook, much like tinder. You write a blurb about yourself, which is one of the hardest and most awkward kinds of writing that exists. You can also play around with your photos by deleting, rearranging, or adding new ones from your camera roll. Crowdsourced word of advice: pictures of pets? Good convo starter. Five bathroom selfies from slightly different angles? Not so much.
Many of the women using the app referenced well-known TV friendships in their blurbs, noting that they aspired to find their beautiful-tropical-fish-Ann-Perkins, or that they were looking for the “Tina Fey to my Amy Poehler.” I must have seen that line about Tina and Amy at least ten times. Are women more conscious of the expectation that they have a #squad? Probably. TV has perhaps fueled the desire for this kind of friendship—which is not a bad thing in itself. Many, many of the women on this app were also quick to note that they were on BumbleBFF because they were new to the city, or were looking to expand their social circles beyond work and their boyfriends. I’m normal, I promise!
It’s weird in some ways and not others, of course. It makes perfect sense, in this moment, to try and make friends the same way we do so much else: through an app. What’s weird is the slight mismatch between this interface and its purpose. When you swipe, you decide based on a picture and a blurb…but a lot of women don’t fill out the blurb, or list only a series of cryptic emoji (burrito, wine glass, twin bunny girls dancing). It’s pretty visual, and that’s a strange sole criterion for friendship. After all, I have never made an IRL friend solely based on her cuteness. But for a lot of these women, who for some reason chose only a selfie and no other info, that was all I had to go on.
It’s kind of a distasteful process to confront your own visual prejudices so clearly. The game-like aspects of this app, like all dating and social-matching apps, winnow your preferences quickly and clearly. The act of swiping trains you to quickly assess a limited amount of information and make a decision. In all honesty, I hesitated, and often swiped left, on *basic* white girls with chevron print dresses or monogrammed wine glasses. I swiped left on people who listed alcohol as their main interest, because it felt like they were performing some kind of *bitter-but-cool-millenial* wine-guzzling act. (I also like wine, and drinking, and brunch, but GIRL everyone does! It’s not a lot to go on when meeting an individual). They are probably lovely people, and we could have had a fine time together. Regardless, I swiped left because some part of me instinctively recoiled, and there were a lot of other women to look through. I’m sure other people on the app did the same for me.
I have never actually used a dating app, since my current boyfriend and I have been dating since before tinder was a thing. It was fun to participate in this facet of culture. As a low-stakes way to specify the kind of friends I wanted to meet, it was great. But for my (squad-)goals, did it work?
I had a few matches within the first couple hours, which was heartening! When you match with someone (meaning both of you swiped right on each other), your phone buzzes in celebration and a whole world of possibility opens up in front of you. At least, that’s how it felt the first time I matched. A new window comes up, letting you know that the hours are ticking down on your new #foreverfriend, and one of you will have to start talking. Members of the secret facebook group mentioned above agreed: it is awkward af to start small-talking someone you don’t know if you’re not face to face. Some girls sent a blank, “how are you?” which was about as inspiring online as it is in person (which is to say, not very). A couple people sent compliments: “I love your hair!” or “ooh, the donuts in your pic look so yummy!” As is the case when I make in-person small talk, I felt like I was lifting heavy weights. (Small talk is tedious, y’all. Why don’t we as a society just acknowledge this fact?) It felt easy to let conversations fall by the wayside. After all, these were still strangers to whom I owed nothing. But that also meant that moving forward to meeting up was hard. Usually one or both of us flaked, or the topic never came up at all.
While I’ve yet to meet up with any of my matches, I suspect that this app, like most dating apps, can only do so much. We will still have to wade through the slough of small talk and introduction together. We will meet, and leave that meeting, still basically strangers—and it will take some effort to keep any momentum going. One or both of us will have to be very proactive, in a way that I find most people of my generation rarely are—at least when it comes to making and keeping social engagements with people, especially people you don’t know well. It’s too easy to lie back in bed, log in to netflix, and lazily flick through the next 20 women waiting in your screen. BumbleBFF may help us take the first step, but the hard work is still up to us. I remain optimistic, though. If anyone wants to buzz me, I’ll be here.