Miriam Kirmayer Ph.D.

Casual to Close

Making Friends: There’s an App for That

Is online friendship-making the new online dating?

Posted Sep 30, 2017

Technology is changing the way we build and maintain our relationships. Depending on who you ask, this is either an exciting opportunity or a barrier to real, meaningful conversations and connections. Regardless of which camp you’re in, there’s no denying that it has significantly impacted our ability to connect with people we otherwise would have had little to no chance of meeting.

Technology has already established itself as a key force in the world of romantic relationships. Our use of dating apps and websites has become commonplace (and our willingness to share the truth about how we really met our partners is not far behind).

With the success and ubiquity of online dating, it’s not too surprising that friendships are now making their way into the virtual world. Bumble BFF, Hey! VINA, MeetMe, and Skout are just some of the companies that help us connect and form friendships, much in the same way we do in online dating.

That said, many people are apprehensive about using friendship apps. This may be due, in part, to an expectation that we should know how to make friends the "old-fashioned way." And while the decision to use an app to develop a relationship of any kind is a personal one, it's worth considering why online friendship-making can be so helpful.

Why are friendship apps so helpful?

1. They offer a new way to expand your social circle.

The older we get, the clearer it becomes that meeting new, like-minded people can be incredibly difficult. Using our existing social networks or pursuing our hobbies and interests are helpful places to start, but they aren’t always feasible or realistic options. Friendship apps allow us to expand our networks in a way that was not possible previously.

This can be especially helpful if you have recently moved, live in a remote area, or are short on time because of your other relationships and responsibilities. They can also be particularly appealing if the thought of going out into public in the hopes of meeting new friends feels overwhelming and anxiety-producing.

2. You know you'll have something in common​.

One of the benefits of using online platforms to meet and make friends is the comfort in knowing you have something in common. Most apps allow you to browse a pool of possible new friends based on age and location. Some even allow you to see whether you already know people in common by linking with your other social media accounts. There are also those that take it one step further by allowing you to connect with others who are going through a similar life stage (such as Peanut for new mothers) or who have similar interests and needs, whether it's a desire to find a travel companion (including Backpackr and Tourlina), fitness friend (Whistle), or professional connection (Shapr).

Because the root of friendship is often an underlying similarity with respect to our interests, values, or experiences, these kinds of apps can sometimes fast-track the friendship making process. Not only do they make it more likely that you’ll find others with whom you'll really connect, but it can also be easier to initiate a conversation when you know you share a common interest or goal.

3. It’s easier to make the first move.

Whether it's an uncertainty about what to say or share or the fear of being rejected, being vulnerable in the way that’s needed to form close friendships is no easy feat. Perhaps the most important reason why friendship apps are so useful is that they take the guessing work or ambiguity out of the equation. That is, it’s clear that everyone using them is open to meeting new people. This alone can often be the boost that’s needed to feel comfortable reaching out and making friends. And, as with dating apps, the other person typically does not know that you’ve indicated you’re interested in getting to know them unless they do the same for you. This kind of low-risk environment can be a helpful stepping stone for those who typically struggle with assertiveness.

4. You don’t have to worry about ulterior motives.

Believe it or not, up until recently, people were using dating apps to find new friends (a particularly memorable moment in the second season of Aziz Ansari’s Netflix series Master of None captures some of the awkwardness and disappointment this can lead to). Conversely, when we’re just looking to make friends, being pursued for a romantic relationship can feel incredibly frustrating, if not intrusive. Friendship apps create a safe virtual space in which we are free to explore possible new friendships without the concern of being solicited romantically.

A word of caution on the importance of connection...

It remains to be seen how exactly friendship apps will change the ways in which we build and maintain friendships. What is clear, however, is that we are longing for new ways to connect. That’s why it is so important to remember what the end goal is really about.

Applications are designed to be incredibly rewarding, whether it's the visual effects we get when we swipe right (the way we choose whether we're interested in the person) or the audio feedback we receive when we've matched with a potential friend. This “gamification” of relationship-building can be helpful, in that it encourages us to put ourselves out there. But it also makes it harder to focus on what is really important. At the end of the day, what is truly rewarding are the connections we make and the meaningful interactions we have.