Fresh out of a relationship, Jess, 31, started using Tinder in 2015. She downloaded the app for its intended purpose — dating — but soon after, she realized that by expanding her settings, she could take the pressure off meeting potential partners and find interesting people to make friends with. This ‘hack’ came in handy during the coronavirus pandemic, when Jess was looking to meet people outside of her social circle without leaving the house. "Right now, people can't make friends in the traditional way," Jess adds. "But at the same time, people have more time, and are more hungry for meaningful connections."
A 2018 report published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships found that it takes more than 200 hours to make a friend, which could explain why busy Millennials are finding that their social circles are shrinking. Without the structure of school or an office to naturally encourage friendships, you might think the coronavirus would have made it even harder. But some women are finding that quarantine has provided a surprising opportunity for making friends online.
In her Tinder bio, Jess notes that she’s “open to great connections with good people in whatever capacity.” On the app, she likes to "dive deep fast," asking personal questions she wouldn't be as bold to ask in person. "We'll chat for a while in the app, get a feel of each other, and then talk on the phone or video chat," she says. During the pandemic, she’s bonded with other women over their experience of isolation, and is excited for these friendships to manifest offline when it's safe to do so. Without the plethora of options in-person socializing affords, she finds people are more open to making friends this way.
Claire, 26, has also found success on the dating-app route. “When you’re using the BFF function [on Bumble], you know that the other women on the platform are also actively looking for friends,” she says. "Since the start of the pandemic, literally everyone I've messaged has responded to me!” She says she’s made most of her post-college friends online, and if you’re busy, shy, or rusty when it comes to small talk, she thinks it’s a particularly useful tool.
It’s easier to grow and nurture a relationship slowly on social media — there’s less pressure.
Catherine, 33, accidentally made a new friend back in March over Instagram. “I ended up becoming friends with this girl because we had both recently tagged the location of a hike we did." Catherine says they both followed each other and realized they had a lot in common. "Throughout the pandemic, we send each other messages about new activities and hikes we have discovered in the area. We talk about what it’s like living in a small town during the protests and how we can get involved with the social justice efforts being made locally," she says. Dealing with the same stressor — the pandemic — made the virtual friending process feel very normal. Though they have yet to meet in person, they find comfort in their correspondence and plan on making an in-person connection when they can.
Since meeting her new friend, Catherine has reached out to other potential pals on Instagram. She looks through location tags near her to follow people who look interesting, and initiates conversation when it makes sense. Though she says she's cautious about "being a creep," she explains that these connections often manifest naturally. "I’m not going overboard. I might see someone in my area with an interesting feed and follow them, like a photo or comment on something that genuinely interests me. They may follow me back or comment back or they may not," Catherine says. She adds that it's important to be mindful of boundaries or other people’s desire to make friends (or lack thereof), just as you would offline.
"I think what makes it easier to make friends online is that you can find a common ground to begin with," Catherine says. "It’s easier to grow and nurture a relationship slowly on social media — there’s less pressure."
While lingering stigmas about online dating might be nothing compared to the still-fresh concept of online friending, Claire says that the pandemic has squashed whatever weird feelings she had about it. "Coronavirus has helped to normalize meeting people online, which I'm all for!"