I Tried One Of Those Friend Making Apps & Here's What Happened

Photo: Erin Yamagata/Design: Mallory Heyer.
Making friends from pre-K through college isn't so bad. Yes, you have popular girl cliques and the social politics that play out in the lunchroom, but finding people who you have things in common with is a relatively simple process. You're in some of the same classes, probably share similar socioeconomic backgrounds, and, except in rare circumstances, live in close proximity, making it easy to get together for friend dates.
But, as many authors and filmmakers have bemoaned in their works over the years, making a friend after college is less simple. Sure, there are your coworkers, but mixing work and play isn't always healthy — nor is it preferred after you've already spent 40-plus hours a week together. Finding people who share your interests takes far more effort (Do I join a yoga studio? Take a French class?), and often requires more time, money, and energy than many of us feel capable of at the end of a long work day.
Enter the world of friend dating, an entirely platonic, swipe right, swipe left approach to finding your next BFF. Dating apps such as Bumble and Tinder have introduced separate friend-making channels within their apps, and independent friend-making apps are appearing at increasing rates in the App Store.
The same skepticism that critics and psychologists once expressed about dating apps — can you really swipe right to find love? — has been applied to their friend counterparts. Can you swipe to find what Anne from Anne of Green Gables described as, "a bosom friend — an intimate friend, you know — a really kindred spirit to whom I can confide my inmost soul"?
I decided to put four friend-making apps to the test to find out.
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Photo: Bumble.
Bumble BFF

Entering the friend zone in Bumble is easy. You go to your settings, select BFF, and, like the dating portion of the app, can specify the preferred distance and age range of your matches. So, if you only want to be friends with someone older than 26 who is less than six miles away from you, you're in luck. Just know that the more limited your age and location ranges are, the quicker you'll run out of nearby friends to swipe through. Bumble BFF also only allows you to make same-sex friends, so if you're a girl, the "boys have cooties" logic of third grade still fits.

I tried to apply the same tactics of a dating profile to my friend profile: a few smiling pictures of me with my dog and one showing an activity I like (in this case, aerial yoga); and a chatty explanation of where I'm from and what I do in the city. Easy enough.

The actual swiping felt more bizarre. First off, you don't want to feel like you're dismissing would-be friends based on how they look. That means you're reading every description, which takes more time and can get old fast. It's also easy to tell which people also use the dating side of Bumble: cleavage-bearing photos, duck faces, and lingerie pictures were the norm.

But once I got past the initial strangeness, it became kind of fun to match with potential friends and start chatting. Many women had moved to New York with their boyfriends or husbands and were looking for female friends to go to brunch or Spin class with. Others had recently moved to the city and were looking to expand their friend circle beyond their college crowd.

I never ran out of people to swipe, and my matches started conversations with me just as often as I did. After a day or two of messaging Lena*, I suggested we grab coffee or drinks after work. We switched to text and confirmed our plans for the following Monday.

The actual meetup felt oddly like a blind date. Despite the fact that we had some similar interests, the conversation stalled a few times and after an hour, we seemed to have exhausted all possible avenues. We both said our polite goodbyes and she suggested we hang out again, but there hasn't been any texting in the four days since. Maybe Lena wouldn't be my BFF. Then again, making friends takes weeks and months, not one, post-work chill, so who knows?

Plus, if you're feeling adventurous, it might even be worth taking a leap of faith and inviting a good match to take a weekend trip.
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Photo: Hey! Vina.
Hey! Vina

Unlike Bumble, Hey! Vina has no romantic dating portion — it is strictly for finding friends, and only open to women. I liked the app interface better than Bumble BFF: When you swipe through, you see more about the person up front (the photos are smaller to allow room for text).

You start off taking a profile quiz, responding to prompts such as, "I like to meet up for coffee, wine, or both" that make it easier than having to write something about yourself from scratch. You can also add your guilty pleasure, describe yourself in five emoji, and, if you like, craft a brief description.

As was the case with Bumble BFF, it seemed like there was no shortage of women on the app. There were no lingerie photos, which was a nice change, and, when you match with someone, you can opt for an "introduction" through the app. An automated message from a Hey! Vina employee appears: "Hey! So excited to introduce you two awesome women. I find it's best to say a quick hello, then make some plans to meet up straight away. How about grabbing a coffee this week? Have a great time!" It loses its charm when you realize its the same message for every "introduction," but does seem to get the conversation going more quickly.

On the app, I came across many women who expressed a desire to find the Samantha to their Carrie, proving that Sex and The City's representation of friendship really is everlasting. And, not so shockingly, everyone seemed to love avocado toast.

I made plans to go for a walk with a Clara*, who worked near my office. While she was nice, the conversation was similar to the one with my Bumble BFF match. Perfectly okay, but nothing extraordinary. Were my friend expectations too high? Was I the awkward one?
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Photo: Real.

Real was the only friend app I tried that allows you to be friends with men, too — revolutionary! However, it was also the biggest failure of the bunch.

You don't see someone's photo until you match with them. Instead, your profile is an avatar that you create with included stock photos (among them are some strange ones of space and a concert-going crowd), and words that layer over the photo to describe your interests. It's a fun idea, but it took a while to create and I didn't feel like the resulting collage actually represented me.

I only swiped through maybe six profiles before the app informed me that I was out of people to match with, despite the fact that I was open to meeting people who were 36 miles away from me. I only matched with one person — the app's developer — and we never messaged back and forth.

That being said, Real is still very new, so maybe it just needs to build up a user base. But if you just want to find someone to go to happy hour with you, your time is better spent on Bumble BFF or Hey! Vina.
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Photo: Friender.

Friender is the only friends app I've tried that feels like it is an app that's made for platonic relationships, not a dating app masquerading as a friend-making app. When you log on, you create a profile with a photo and a brief description of yourself. Then you indicate your interest level in different activities.

You'll only see other users who share one of your interests. This means that you can easily make plans to go climbing with a potential friend or see a dance show. Having a common interest makes the likelihood of finding someone you'll enjoy hanging out with much higher. Plus, you have more to talk about right off the bat.
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Photo: Collins Nai/Mallory Heyer.

Ultimately, I realized that friend-dating apps have a lot in common with their romantic-dating counterparts. It isn't easy to create a friendship without much, if any, context, and some awkwardness is inevitable, though Friender alleviated some of these feelings.

Swiping and messaging is something that takes some time and effort, so it won't be for everyone. But I found that just having conversations through the app could be a fun way to learn about the different kinds of people around you, even if you don't arrange to meet up in person.

And, in a big city like New York, which can feel lonely at times (even for the most well-connected social butterflies), a friendly match or two is always welcome. If anything, it's a reminder that there's a big, wide world out there and everyone is just trying to find their place in it — yours truly included.
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Still curious about those friend apps? Check out Hannah's quest to make new NYC friends through the power of the swipe.

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