Swiping for BFFs: Dating-Style Apps Are Breaking Into the Friendship Market

If you’re in your 20s or 30s, the idea of swiping right to find your next date sounds pretty unsurprising by now.

But what about swiping to find your next best friend? Looking at a photo of another woman with some details about who she is and what she likes, and in an instant deciding whether she has friend potential?

Welcome to the future of friendship-finding, or so say hopeful app-makers. There’s Squad, Spotafriend, BeFriend, MetjUp. Hey! VINA, launched last month, is an app specifically for women looking for friends. It’s up and running in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco, with plans to expand to other cities in the coming weeks.

Here’s the pitch: “When it comes to dating for romantic purposes, you can look in a room and know instantaneously who you have a connection with. … When it comes to friendship, it’s hard to look around and see who you have something in common with,” said Hey! VINA co-founder Olivia June Poole. “You can’t know who is also going through a divorce or who is new to town.”

On an app, you can know those things, and know for sure that the person in the picture wants to meet you, too. Simplifying the process is what made dating apps such as Tinder so attractive in the first place. Now, they’ve significantly altered the social landscape of the dating world. If apps like Hey! VINA take off, they could do the same for how we find friends.

Like many good things do, the idea for Hey! VINA started with a glass of wine.

Poole was new to San Francisco and needed friends. She met guys all the time through OkCupid, but found it much harder to meet women she shared interests with outside of work. That’s when she started “Women Who Vino,” a wine happy hour group that has been going strong for more than three years.

Happy hour with strangers is just the kind of outing Poole wants women on Hey! VINA to take. The group became the inspiration for an app that asks you what you like to do (coffee or wine, indoors or outdoors) then matches you to women with shared interests. It’s more like a dating service than an activity-finding website such as Meetup.com. You’re encouraged to meet one on one in real life, laying the foundation for a potential friendship.

Yes, it’s probably going to be a little awkward, like any first date. But Poole and her co-creator, Jen Aprahamian, are betting that if you need friends, you’ll take a chance.

“People are moving more than they ever have before,” Poole said. “And even if you stay put, your friends move away, get married or have children. You need to make sure you have a support group.”

Our existing support groups are already dependent on the Internet. From close confidants to old high school pals, hypothetically, friends are always a few clicks away. The University of Maryland’s Jessica Vitak studies the connections between relationships on Facebook and relationships in real life. She’s found that just flipping through photos of a friends’ lives makes us feel like we have a social life.

“Even passive communication keeps (friends) feeling closer and keeps relationships from fading away,” Vitak said.

But how many passive friendships add up to the satisfaction we get from spending time with someone in person?

“Technology tools are meant to augment our offline relationships, like social snacks that tide us over until we can get a full meal,” psychologist Adriana Manago said.

We need friends we can see in person. And because we’re already on the Internet to keep in touch with our old friends, it seems natural to use it to find new ones.

Actually transforming those meetings into deep and lasting friendships, however, is going to be a challenge. Dating apps get a bad reputation for being superficial, hurried and providing too many options.

Even without romance or sex involved, using an app to find a friend could have the same problems. If there’s a hiccup in the friendship, we can just hop on the app and find somebody new.

“True friendship doesn’t come from when everything is great and wonderful; it’s about going through life together,” said Manago, who researches technology and relationships at Western Washington University.

This is why our closest friendships often come from school or work. We befriend people who we might not have given a second thought to if we only saw their picture and short bio on an app. People who like wine when we like coffee, or like going outdoors when we like staying inside.

If you’re going to try a friendship-finding app, take some advice from Shasta Nelson, author of “Frientimacy: How to Deepen Friendships for Lifelong Health and Happiness,” and the founder of GirlFriendCircles.com, a website that helps women meet one another. She has found that it takes seeing someone six to eight times before you feel a real bond.

“If you only see each other every other month, it’s going to take 12 to 16 months before you reach those six to eight interactions,” Nelson said.

So treat the relationship like one you’d find on a dating app. You wouldn’t wait a month to see a potential boyfriend again. If you like someone, make plans right away.

But here’s the difference: You’re not just looking for one person.

“You don’t have to be exclusive, or dismiss people easily,” Nelson said. “You can be on several apps meeting several friends at any given time, and that’s the really nice thing about friendship.”

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