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Friendship apps offer new pals, but also insecurity

(Photo by thought catalog, unsplash)

The older you get, the harder it can be to make friends.

“It’s easiest in kindergarten and it only gets more difficult from there,” said Emily McCombs, deputy editor for HuffPost Personal.

“I’ve always been a boyfriend girl, as much as I hate to admit it,” she laughed. “I hit my 30s and looked around and realized that maybe I had prioritized my romantic life over cultivating friendships. I went through a breakup and noticed that I didn’t have much of a social life!”

Making friends the organic way wasn’t really working.

“I live in New York City, where you try and schedule something with someone and they try and tell you about a Thursday they have free three weeks from now.”

So she decided to try a couple of the popular friend making apps. They’re set up just like the dating apps: you create a profile, post a photo, then swipe left and right hoping to find a compatible match.

Olivia June is the founder and CEO of Vina and creator of the Hey! VINA friendship making app. She created the app after she moved to a new city and struggled to make friends by joining hobby clubs and volunteering. But lots of people think it’s weird to meet a pal this way.

“For some people there’s a stigma because I think in society we think of loneliness as an identity,” June said. “Like you’re an outcast from society, when it’s so not true. Everyone in the entire world has felt lonely at some point.”

To prove her point: Hey! VINA has over a million users in 158 countries.

Including Maham, who only wants to use her first name and admits she fell prey to that stigma.

“I was even ashamed to tell my boyfriend,” she said. “I remember the first friend date I had with a woman back in Madison. We got Mexican food and margaritas and then came back to my apartment and just hung out with a movie. And earlier in the day he was like, ‘What are you doing tonight?’ and I was like, ‘Oh, I’m just hanging with a friend.’ And he was like, ‘What friend?” And I was like, ‘Well, it’s just someone. You don’t know her.”

She eventually told him the truth.

Maham has been on about 10 friend dates and says she clicked with about 60% of the women, but none of the friendships have moved beyond the acquaintance level.

McCombs tried Bumble BFF, a spinoff of the Bumble dating app, but never actually went out with anyone.

“Bumble BFF, I described it as Instagram with rejection. Everything that’s difficult about social media, everything that would make you feel insecure or make you compare yourself to other people or create an illusion that other people have perfect lives…I feel like I stumbled into a lot of that on Bumble BFF. I felt like it was a lot of very thin, very beautiful blonde women. I’m a little bit weird and a little bit goth and a little bit chubby and I have a kid and I’m 35. It didn’t feel like it was my people. The other thing is that nobody wanted to be friends with me! Which didn’t help the the fact that I wasn’t feeling very good about myself. I was not matching and if you’ve ever been on [these apps] for dating, you know it’s not really hard to match, which was sort of a blow to the self esteem. But it’s kind of funny because here I was thinking these aren’t my people but then I was like, ‘Why don’t they want to hang out with me?!'”

McCombs wrote about her experience for HuffPost.

“The article I wrote was probably the most feedback I’ve ever gotten on anything I’ve written in my whole career. So many people felt the same way. I got so many women writing to me saying, ‘I wish I lived in the same place because I have this exact same problem.’ I was amazed by how much people wanted to talk about this. It really is a big issue and it’s something I feel like we don’t talk about a lot as a society. Just how difficult it is to create and maintain friendships.”

She says thanks to the article, and a vulnerable Facebook post where she admitted she was feeling lonely and isolated, she now has a great friend circle. Friends she hasn’t ditched since finding a new boyfriend.

Through my research I spoke to a few men who are struggling to create adult friendships. They all expressed interest in a male focused friendship app, but also hesitancy since there are still stigmas surrounding straight men propositioning each other for friendship.

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