We Need New Ways To Show We Want To Make Friends

Making friends as an adult is hard — you get out of college, that ready-made primordial soup for founding friendships, and suddenly you're in the full-time workforce and don't have 10 hours a day for exploring new social connections or going drinking with fascinating buddies. It's so tricky for adult women to find BFFs, in fact, that a new app called VINA is going rapidly viral: VINA wants to connect women with other women for friendship, via a Tinder-style matching system. When social media technology gets in on the game, you know there's a serious issue to be addressed. And when it comes to the options that women currently have when they're looking to make new friends, there definitely is. Luckily, I also have an idea to fill it: friendship-flirting.

We have social codes enshrined for flirtation and the formation of new romantic relationships. In fact, we have them coming out of our ears: Asking for a number, going for coffee, exchanging emojis, texting cute details, going on dates — it's a seriously regulated world of suggested interactions. (Though people do still get it wrong. Tinder horror stories ahoy.)

When it comes to the social rituals in place for making new friends, though, we've got nothing. Nada. Friendship, particularly female friendship, is often deeply undervalued by society in comparison to romantic relationships, even though both involve vulnerability, commitment, support, and the very real fear of rejection. And there are no real codes, rituals, or ways to approach a potential friend, or confirm that they are interested in hanging out. Sure, plenty of work relationships or friends-of-friends situations ease into actual friendships. But what about when you've just moved to a new place? Or what about that cool-seeming woman you keep seeing walking around your neighborhood? Who's ever sent a brownie to a person in a cafe with the accompanying message, "You look cool and I want to platonically discuss jewelry with you" written on a napkin?

This is why I think that we need to develop some protocols for friendship-flirting — a societally developed range of interactions where two people signal that they would like to be friends with one another. Like, now.

1. It Would Smooth Over The Awkward Introduction Phase

As you can probably tell, I'm a reader of ancient etiquette guides. And even though 90 percent of those rituals are deservedly long-gone (mostly because they're sexist as hell), I do think a little bit of socially laid out signaling can get us a long way when it comes to things like seeing if an acquaintance or stranger is interested in making new friends.

Most of us just muddle through meeting with shared acquaintances or "joining a class" when we're looking to make new buddies. But if we came up with some signals to show that you were up for meeting new platonic pals, there would be no more worrying about how to befriend that awesome lady with the brilliant hair you keep seeing at local gigs. You'd just do some standard friendship-flirting — sending over a compliment with a barman, giving them some let's-be-mates cupcakes, using a hilarious overture about shoes — and the paths would be laid out.

2. It Would Eliminate "Is This A Date?"-Style Confusion

As a gay lady, I am well aware of the potential pitfalls when friendship-based overtures get confused with romantic overtures. And if we could have had some clearer rituals to show that "going for tea" was a date date thing and not a friendship-date thing, I would have avoided unintentionally bruising some peoples' affections in college.

So why not provide clearer information about this? "Going for coffee or a drink" seems, unfortunately, to have been thoroughly claimed by the date brigade as a romantic activity. So why don't we claim "going for cake", or "checking out an art fair," as euphemisms for "This Is An Interaction Designed To Help Us Be Friends With One Another" (and also as activities — who doesn't like cake?)? It may sound formal, but I'll take a bit of formality over a bunch of lost opportunities and confusion.

3. It Would Give People A Chance To Show Their Flair

Flirting isn't just an opportunity to meet new people — it's also a creative opportunity. As in all social codes, there is room to develop your own style. Everybody has their own way of flirting (I'm funny and touch hands a lot; one of my friends is just sarcastically mean). So why not have a bit of friendship-flirtation style too?

My proposed personal friendship flirtation style: sending you (my Prospective Friend) pictures of medieval dragons, giving you postcards with stupid puns on them, signaling that I like your earrings across a crowded space with elaborate hand gestures, and asking about the book you're reading because I've heard it's massively good and oh hey, I have a spare bookmark here, would you care to have it? (So basically, it's the same as regular flirting, essentially, only without the sexiness and more enthused.)

4. It Would Allow Us To Develop Friendship Pick-Up Lines

Admittedly, pick-up lines often go badly wrong. "I want to smell your hair," for instance, is a bad idea in all romantic or platonic contexts. But would it be so bad to have an arsenal of lines that convey what a cool friend you think a person would make? Like, "Hey, do you have a bandaid, because I just got super-excited about your very cool T-shirt and fell over" or "Haven't we met before? Oh, wait, we totally haven't, because I'd remember your extremely awesome personal style if we did" ?

5. It Would Help Soothe The Pain Of Platonic Rejection

In friendship as in romance, sometimes you make an overture, and the other person isn't interested. It always stings, but when you've been rejected, wouldn't you prefer that the person in question be direct? What would you rather hear: "I'm sorry, I'm not interested in more friends right now"? Or the tangle of missed connections and ghostings that often happens in modern friendship-failures? Personally, I'd much rather have a friendship-date that ended badly and in mutual agreement that "this isn't going to work" than a dragged-out series of attempts that end in retribution, sadness, and angry texting.

6. We'd All Have To Be More Vulnerable

In friendship-flirting, as with any kind of flirting, there is a strong element of exposure, of putting yourself out there. And I'm of the opinion that that's a good thing. Many of us get into long-term romantic relationships and feel a deep, organic sense of relief that "at least that's over." We often forget how to put ourselves in risky social situations and push ourselves to make new connections. I like the idea of engaging with our own vulnerability for the possibility of social (rather than just romantic) reward: I think that being overt about wanting a relationship of some kind, and seeing where that takes you, is emotionally healthy.

In a TED talk that went viral, Dr Brené Brown actually proposed that being vulnerable is one of the main ways humans form meaningful experiences. It's how we develop courage, certainty and self-knowledge. Which is why we should keep (or start!) friendship-flirting, looking for new friends, and actively pursuing them in big, open fashion. Even if they don't respond to our witty overtures and amazing style (and pictures of dragons), we're making ourselves better people. Ten points to Gryffindor.

Images: Pixabay, Giphy