(Above: San Francisco newcomer Sarah Martin (center right) found her girl squad through Bumble BFF.)
This just in: At 24 years young, it is hard to make friends. College is a veritable friend factory (for people-people), but when you leave that behind, you're basically relegated to finding friends by the water cooler at work. But what if the IT guy with white sneakers isn't really your jam? (Dear college students, make lifelong friends. Now.)
Seven months ago, I made the spontaneous decision to come north from San Diego and move in with my boyfriend. We made our nest in a little one-bedroom apartment in North Beach, and I fell in love with the neighborhood—a good cannoli is never hard to find, and the trek up the hill to our apartment is like having free access to the StairMaster at the gym. But no matter how much I love him, I can't experience everything with Fritz. I missed going out for happy hour, or killing a bottle of Two Buck Chuck, with the girls at the end of a bad day.
But where do you go to meet people?
If you need a date, there's an app for that. So I wondered, maybe I could apply the same technology to sparking platonic chemistry. My brilliance led me to Tinder where I thought, perhaps, not everyone was looking for sex. I was hugely wrong about this. And, the fact that I had a boyfriend didn't at all hinder match requests—they just assumed I would come over for some nice adulterous sex. No.
But then, on a slow day at work, I felt a spark. Scrolling through Instagram, I came across an ad for Bumble BFF. A group of girls were happily hanging out; the text promised that I could "swipe right for friendship (without benefits)." I downloaded the app immediately.
Founded in 2014 by Austin-based Tinder cofounder Whitney Wolfe, Bumble is a dating app with an empowering twist: Women make the first move, sort of like a grown-up Sadie Hawkins. Wolfe's M.O.: "Let's make dating more modern." It was a good idea, one that Bumble is now applying to friend-making too. This spring, Bumble launched its BFF mode, which allows users to change their profile settings and signal to denizens of the Bumble world that they are now entering the friend zone.
But even in the friend zone, I found that the rules of dating still generally apply. When creating your profile, you want to, um, attract the right kind of girls. I was looking for friends who were up for anything (House of Air, anyone?); girls who'd get my dry sense of humor. I wanted my potential matches to see me at my best—trendy, cute, and up for bottomless brunch. I combed through Facebook for pictures where I looked pretty, happy, and approachable. I even scoped out other girls' profiles to make sure mine wouldn't be boring—post pics of yourself traveling, drinking, or hugging a puppy and your profile is golden. I got to the point: "I love being outside, whether that's a hike or drinking in a park. Bottomless brunch is my usual weekend plan." Insert a few quippy emojis here because, well, who doesn't love emojis?
When it was time to get in the game, my criteria were specific and I was selective. If a girl reminded me of a friend from college, I swiped right to accept. If she looked like someone my friends and I hated in college, I swiped left. Sometimes you just know if you're going to click. But I hated making the first move, and I struggled to find the right way to start up a conversation. Did exclamation points make me seem needy? Should I compliment her profile picture? My initial chats seemed desperate and overbearing—Hey!! How are you liking SF?? And, Disney movies are the best!!!!! I'm not even surprised those Bumble matches went nowhere. All that punctuation, ugh.
Eventually I toned it down—Hey, how's it going?—and finally I made a match. Corey's profile made me laugh. She was brand new to SF and a "lover of Bloody Marys, dive bars, funky jams…." Just my kind of woman and, as it turns out, she's one of the best girls I've ever met.
I suggested grabbing a coffee (drinks seemed too forward), and when the day arrived, it was exactly like getting ready for a first date. I changed outfits several times, settling on a poncho and jeans—casual, comfortable, and cute without looking like I tried too hard (though obviously I did). I didn't want to show up too early or too late, and I briefly considered hatching an elaborate escape plan with Fritz in case I needed to bail.
But when I walked into Stella Coffee, Corey immediately gave me a big hug. We joked that one of us should've brought a single red rose, and we ended up talking for hours, starting with how hard it is to meet people (she works from home, I in a two-person office). By the time I told her how I plug Fritz's nose just to wake him up when he snores, we were making plans to meet the following weekend for brunch at Stock in Trade.
I ended up going on two more lady dates before I deleted Bumble: one with a perfectly sweet gal that just kind of fizzled out, and another with Katherine, who invited me for beers at Maggie McGarry's with some other girls she'd met through the app. The prospect of a group date made me even more self-conscious. There's nothing like a little liquid courage. It was a fun gang of girls, each a little different from the next, and the conversation flowed easily. Before the date was over, Katherine, Kaila, Sydney, and I had plans for Off the Grid that weekend, and I went home included in a group text that's borderline insane.
Online friend dating is a pretty weird thing. Just try explaining it to your friends and family—my mom, a forever skeptic, was sure all the women would be lesbians. For me, though, it was the best way to meet other girls like me. We all came to the app with the same goal—to find a group to hang out with over pancakes and bottomless mimosas. Bumble helped us find our squad.