If you've recently moved or maybe entered a new phase of lifeyou know how personal connection can help ease transitions. As families and friend groups become more spread out, people are lonelier than ever, according to research by Jessica Carbinosociologist and relationship expert for the social app Bumble. Sound familiar?
My age: I'm 21 years old
It used to be that making new pals was as easy as recess in the schoolyard. Adulthood, however, poses its own obstacles to finding your ride or die —the least of which are crammed schedules, parental duties, and not wanting to leave your comfort zone, especially if you're an introvert. But these platonic relationships can be so vital. Just as dating apps have helped to solve the dilemma of finding love in the digital age , apps to make friends are working to fill another void.
Can a friendship app, a digital neighbourhood noticeboard or Facebook really help me discover a new bestie? T his year started with a bang.
It burst into life with fireworks and kisses, and then came the sound of a spoon tapping on a wine glass. Another leaving speech. I have heard many over the past few years, watching loved ones leave in search of job opportunities or housing security, or as a cure for homesickness. Later, as I lay in bed, I thought about my rate of friend attrition. How long until I found myself totally alone? Five years? My new year resolution was a no-brainer: I must try to make new friends.
A lot of young people feel the same. But I do have my phone and I am part of an always-connected, always-scrolling generation.
Can I use the internet to find my future bestie? She was inspired to write it by an article in the Atlantic, in which journalist Julie Beck argued that we shed friendships as we age because our spouses to whom we are legally bound and our family to whom we are biologically bound fill our worlds. When that happens, friendships are the first to go. Social media makes us believe we are surrounded by people, and we may mistake likes and comments for intimacy.
Offline, meanwhile, we have been brought up to believe it is unacceptable to speak to strangers, even as traditional public spaces — libraries, sports centres — are being closed down. This rings painfully true. I go to the gym two or three times a week, yet my visits are silent.
I pass through, barely making eye contact, let alone exchanging words. Can the internet help me make friends there?
I decide to follow my gym on Instagram, commenting on its posts alongside dating members. I try to get involved anyway, heaping praise and not questions. Later, at the gym, I approach another user, a man who looks as if he is in his late 20s, and ask if he was the person I saw on Instagram winning online fitness challenge. He was. We friend names and talk about where we live.
If we have lots in common, it is not immediately apparent. Perhaps it is our millennial inability to carry on a conversation, or perhaps we are both tired after exercise, but the chat dwindles. I also download a friend-making app — Bumble BFF. I am meet using Bumble for dating and it is easy enough to toggle between the friends and romance platforms.
I think it is charming, but other women do not. My rate of matches in the friend setting is ificantly lower than in the romance section. I initiate a conversation with every match I receive, but notice that potential friendships are not tended with the same energy as possible romances. Perhaps Beck is right — in the choice between love and friendship, pals always lose.
The swipe functionality of Bumble BFF also makes me uncomfortable. Not you can make this decision based on one picture, meet than needing to take in the whole friend before you give your verdict. You cannot move on to another profile until you have cast your judgment, so you are primed to decide within seconds in order to sate your curiousity about who is next. Inevitably, I find online judging other women based on their looks — on what I think their clothes communicate about their personality, or what the set up of their shots says about their interests — and no doubt I am dating judged similarly.
It hurts to be reduced to this, and more so than it does when it is by the opposite sex.
Using an app for friendship rather than romance also drives home how chatting online with strangers is not a patch on talking face to face, when communication comes through many mediums — tone, body language, expression — all processed in an instant. Even a few words tell you so much.
Using the same tools to search for a friend reveals how truly blunt they are. How are you? It makes sense: I am ultimately a stranger, no matter how many laughs we share, or how much we agree on Brexit. We all keep our guard up for strangers.
They could be anyone, and so could I. Each conversation is taking a punt. And we may be more likely to do it for friend than friendship. In the end, I manage to have proper conversations with a couple of women. They seem very nice, but live a bit too far away to meet. I lose momentum and feel frustrated with the app. I say my goodbyes and dating it. According to the meet anthropologist Robin Dunbar, a human can comfortably manage no more than relationships. However, there is not that Dunbar says is important to friendships: One of the biggest barriers to meaningful friendships is distance, with 30 minutes being the online time we would spend travelling to meet up.
It is not our observation, but something that sociologists have commented on.
With this in mind, I prioritise making friends near home. I download a community app, Nextdoorwhich is regularly listed as one of the best apps through which to make friends. It effectively acts as a digital noticeboard for your local area, including adverts for evening classes and book clubs, which both seem like prime buddy-making opportunities.
But nobody is idly chatting on Nextdoor. It is not obvious how you can build online relationships when replying to posts about parking permits or moths giving people a rash.
However, on another community website, the hyper-local Harringay OnlineI notice a post from my neighbour — to whom I have never spoken, despite living next to her for several years. When I see her in the local pub, I strike up a conversation about her post. We get on. We have a drink and become Facebook friends.
It may seem daft to view nurturing an acquaintanceship with someone who lives next to you as an friend. But it has forced me to challenge my own strict belief that people — above anything else, even above my desire to chat — have a right to be left alone. Even using an app such as Bumble BFF, which is deed to introduce people, does not help. After all, just because someone uses the same app as me does not mean they want to speak to me. The average person consistently underestimates how much a stranger has enjoyed speaking to them.
Still, I wonder if my existing social media connections may be the most fruitful source of friends. They have already expressed an interest in me as an individual, and I should have some sense of them as people and be confident that we have something in common. Indeed, I met one of my closest friends on my favourite platform, Not. I return to the chasm of hyperbole and scroll through the datings of people I follow and who follow me, looking out for those I regularly engage with.
I send direct messages to a meet. Every single person replies. Shared interests spring up easily and conversation comes naturally, as does online offer to catch up in person.
I also take to Facebook searching for something similar, but as I barely use the platform, it instead acts as a time capsule for a past version of me. I ed Facebook in and used it actively pointless statuses, pokes, and allbut from my interaction with it slowed.
Now I check in periodically, but barely engage. With a large proportion of Facebook friends being people I met more than 10 years ago, I am not sure I dating have anything in common with many of them. Jeffrey Hall, a researcher from the University of Kansas, found that you need hours to become friends with someone, or hours to become close friends. But what if you not already racked up those hours? This is online one of the easiest ways to make friends is to reconnect with old ones.
And there are plenty of old friends on Facebook. I meet Paul, my BFF from sixth-form college. He went to a different university and, although we tried to stay in touch, our paths diverged over time. We chat briefly online, opting to meet for dinner right away. The dinner is like old times and there is no distance between us even though so much has changed. We discuss our respective new partners and what happened to the old ones, our new jobs and where we hope to go, as well as our old hobbies, which remain the same writing and film-watching.
The shared sense of humour and curiosity about the world makes for a joyful meal. We arrange to meet again, and remain in touch.
In some ways, it is comforting to assume we lose touch with people because we grow apart. The alternative is that our own idleness or inattention slowly separates us from those we once connected with. Perhaps friendships are more elusive than we think, and so delicate they will not unless actively nurtured. The internet is not a friend bullet for loneliness — indeed, it may distort our natural behaviour and our understanding of what friendship is. But it can at least post where meaningful meetings may happen, and it can keep you in the loop of existing relationships.
Leaver tells me about the twentysomethings she interviewed for her book. I think loneliness in meet people is partly explained by the gap between their expectations and the reality. As for me, my search for new friends brings me back to old friends, to friendly faces I online each day and those I already know, but have not given enough attention to.
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