It was love at first sight.
Back in 2019, Pallavi and I met at a coffee shop in Atwater Village, a neighborhood in between both of our homes that I had yet to explore. We were both transplants to Los Angeles. I’d been there for a year at that point; her, two months. As I waited outside the coffee shop, I stared awkwardly at my phone for a few minutes, until I noticed a girl a block away with the strongest brow game I’d ever seen, and a bright, friendly smile. She waved, and I waved back.
On the app, we had bonded over studying English in college and wanting to hike more. At the coffee shop — a different one, since we’d both deemed the first too crowded for our liking and mutually decided to walk over to another — we ordered drinks and a snack, offering bites off our plates to each other.
We both talked with our mouths full and bonded instantly over the joy of being messy eaters, over having dated dudes with the same name, and over being South Asian and growing up on the East Coast. I remember being impressed with how easy it was for us to talk about the personal and the political. On the way back to my car, I texted my then-boyfriend about having a successful friend date: “I think we’ll see each other again!”
I was a bit ashamed at first, feeling like a loner unable to make friends without the help of the internet.
Pallavi and I have been friends for over a year now, thanks to Bumble BFF. Lucky for me, she’s one of seven friends I’ve made through the app. They're women whom I’ve been able to bond with over our shared identities — most of the friends I’ve made through the app happen to be South Asian — and our love for food and happy hour. They’re women who have been there for me when swiping through apps for romantic dates didn’t quite pan out, and now, in the time of social distancing, have been the ones providing me company over FaceTime.
I first decided to use Bumble BFF a few months after I moved to L.A. I was a recent graduate, very unsure of how to make friends as an “adult” in the “real world,” and so I decided to try the app. I was a bit ashamed at first, feeling like a loner unable to make friends without the help of the internet. But if we live in a time when people meet their spouses through apps, then why not the same for finding a friend?
My friend Priya, whom I matched with on the app in February 2019, wasn’t comfortable talking to others about her experience using the app at first. “I was ashamed to tell my friends I was on Bumble BFF because I was scared of making them feel like they weren’t enough for me,” she says. “Since I grew up in Southern California, my friends that I grew up with are still close by, and we always see each other. But I wanted to take advantage of the app and meet people I would’ve never otherwise met before.”
Pallavi, on the other hand, tells everyone about her experience using Bumble BFF, which only pairs users to those of the same gender. “People sometimes get surprised when I mention it, but most of the time they figure that people date online, why not friend-date online?” she says. “But I do think as a woman it’s a bit easier. A lot of guys that I’ve mentioned it to are much less willing to try it. I remember my ex using it and some guys tried to flirt with him. One of my girl friends who’s gay also tried it out and got hit on multiple times. I do wonder if it’s an easier app for straight women.”
I learned quickly that the politics of friend-dating are very similar to those of romantic dating. You need to slide into a few DMs and chat enough to make sure any strangers you meet off the internet aren’t going to kill you. One of you needs to make the first move and suggest you meet up for coffee or a meal or a drink. As always, you run the risk of being ghosted, rejected, or dumped.
There are good dates, where the conversation flows well beyond small talk and you decide to see one another again. And there are bad dates, where one person monopolizes the conversation, or refuses to really make conversation, or there simply isn’t any chemistry. Sometimes those bad dates get a second chance, and a real friendship blossoms as a result. And sometimes they don’t. My first ever Bumble BFF date was with a girl who spent the whole time talking about herself and only pretending to listen the few times she thought to ask about me.
When I first started using Bumble BFF, I was shocked whenever I got ghosted.
When I first started using Bumble BFF, I was shocked whenever I got ghosted. I remember complaining, “Who ghosts someone as a friend?” Priya points out that rejection hurts in a different way when it comes from someone you’re hoping to be friends with. “Friend-dating intimidates me more than actual dating,” she says. “It’s like, if a person doesn’t want to date me, I get it. If a person doesn’t want to be my friend, that would suck.”
There are other differences. My profile on Bumble BFF is different from my profile on other dating apps, which made me realize that I’m more interested in showing myself as a person who is goofy and dynamic when I’m looking for friends than when I’m looking to date. I don’t care if I look hot enough to swipe right — I care if I look fun enough, interesting enough, well-rounded enough. I don’t want a selfie where I look cute; I want a bio that makes clear that I care about intersectional feminism, poetry, and cooking.
My friends tell me they do the same — romantic-dating profiles are for thirst traps, whereas friend-dating profiles are for showing your personality. “I definitely have sexier pictures on my dating profile,” Priya told me. “I have dorkier, fun pictures on my Bumble BFF, because I wanted to show more of my personality right away since I know they’re not going to swipe right based on my looks. I guess I just don’t trust the attention of men as much.”
When I date romantically, I do so with intention, with a preconceived idea of what I want in a partner. But using an app to find friends has allowed me to do the same in this sector of my life. When you shop around for friends the way you might for a romantic partner, you learn to look for the qualities that are important to you, rather than just simply falling into a friendship the way one might in school or at work. And I’m also able to be more open when searching for friends since I don’t need one to fulfill multiple needs. My Bumble BFF friends and I often joke about how we’re allowed to see other people.
My friend Aliza, whom I met off the app in July 2019, has “more rigid standards when it comes to partner-dating than I do for friend-dating,” she says. “When it comes to dating, I’m looking for a potential partner who I can singularly commit to, so they’re ideally someone who can fulfill more of my needs than a friend. I expect to make a deeper, more intimate connection that comes from partner-dating, whereas friendships can be numerous and at various levels of deepness.”
I’ve never had friends I shared so much with.
I’ve been extremely lucky with the app. I’ve never had friends I shared so much with: shared identities, shared love for cooking and skincare, shared outlooks and goals. And that’s not to say that without the app finding great friends wouldn’t have been possible. But I wouldn’t have met these friends, nor would they have been able to meet each other.
Not everyone has been as fortunate as me. Priya says I’m the only person she met off the app, and my friend Peter — whom I met IRL — says he mostly swiped through “aggressive pieces of shit.”
But after using the app, I’ve gained a better understanding of how important it is to be selective in terms of which friends I choose to swipe right on, whether it be literally or figuratively. In the spirit of honoring our friendships the way we do our romantic relationships, it’s worth being mindful of who we love and who gets to love us. Why be any less careful or hopeful or choosy in building this community? While I’m not exactly swiping through apps at the moment — since I’m someone who’d rather meet someone in person than having socially distant conversations that span days or weeks — I’m grateful for the friends I’ve already made.
For me, it’s all come down to the life I want to build for myself. When I moved across the country two and a half years ago, I knew no one. Using an app allowed me to grow friendships that mirrored and shaped what I wanted from my life and allowed me to meet women who are passionate about the same things as me. I expected to feel lonely after moving to a new city. I didn't expect to find such a strong community after just a few swipes. And while COVID keeps us apart for now, we’re able to keep our friendships alive the way we met — with the help of the internet.