I’m all about female friendship and the power of sisterhood. So when the dating app Bumble announced Bumble BFF, its new feature to find platonic friends, my swiping finger was ready.
I moved to D.C. from Austin six months ago, and I haven’t yet found my group of female friends. It’s hard to make friends as an adult — it was much easier in my early 20s, for example, than now, at age 29.
It felt weird swiping for friends on appearance and a few quick sentences, even though I do it all the time while looking for dates. In real life, I never think “Oh, I want to be that girl’s friend, but she’s just not attractive enough for me to hang out with.” But that’s what I started to do.
In the first 24 hours, I matched with only one woman, but she went to Harvard Law School, so I was feeling good about myself. We chatted briefly about her SoulCycle classes, but she seemed to lose interest when I asked how often she saw Michelle Obama at her studio. If she didn’t understand my obsession with Michelle Obama, I knew we wouldn’t make it as friends.
Next, I reached out to a psychotherapist because I’m interested in going back to school for counseling. I told her she had my dream job and she sent an enthusiastic response. But once I asked if we could meet up for coffee or drinks, she vanished. I worried I was coming on too strong, too fast.
I have no problem reaching out to a man that I could be romantically interested in, but trying to have a friendly conversation on the Internet felt unnatural. There’s no protocol for making friends online, I realized. I didn’t know when was the right time to ask about hanging out. Every step of the process felt awkward and confusing.
A few days later, a new Bumble BFF match reached out to me saying she was also from Texas. We chatted for about a week through the app, and then I went for it and asked to meet for drinks.
When I arrived at the bar, she was already there. I walked up to the table wondering: Should we hug? Shake hands? I went with neither. After brief small talk, I went up to the bar to order a beer and chips. At this point on a romantic date, I noticed, I would have been wondering who was going to pay; what I should order to look like I care about beer; and how much I was willing to eat in front of them.
But I didn’t worry at all, here. I wasn’t going to pay for her, she didn’t expect me to. She also probably wouldn’t judge my beer choice or what I ate. Having that pressure off, I felt even more comfortable and able to be myself.
Over beers and chips, my friend-date and I talked about our most recent half-marathons, work and, of course, Bumble BFF. We talked about the women we’d swiped no on — her if they curled their hair too much, me if they listed going to wineries as a hobby. And we talked about how we wanted more female friends. On a first date with a man, I never bring up what I’m looking for in a romantic relationship. I wouldn’t want him to feel like I’m jumping the gun. But with her, it was nice to know her intentions up front, especially because ours were the same.
Our talk also turned to breakups. She opened up about a years-long relationship that had just ended. We talked about how we’re both a little scared we’ll never find the right someone and that has kept us hanging onto relationships that aren’t right. This openness is something I’ve never gotten on a first date with a man. Her willingness to go deeper helped me go there, too.
As more of the story came out about her ex, my judgmental side kicked in real fast. I started thinking: “Can I have someone like this as a friend? This is a lot of boy drama, maybe too much.” But then I remembered I’ve made some pretty terrible romantic choices as well. This was not a friendship deal-breaker.
In fact, I recently ended things with a seemingly great guy after a handful of dates for much smaller reasons: He was always running late; he didn’t initiate our first kiss; it just didn’t feel right. I realized that I am far more judgmental of my dates than my friends. You could say that’s because a potential partner is going to be around a lot longer than a friend, but that’s not always true.
Let’s say this BFF and I really hit it off — she could be in my life for my next breakup, maybe at my wedding, or possibly see me through a divorce. Why am I so willing to accept a friend’s larger flaws and yet I give up on a man for much smaller things? Would my romantic life be vastly different if I treated every date with as much grace as I treated this Bumble BFF?
As our conversation wrapped up three hours after it began, I got super-nervous. Who asks for a second friend-date and how? What if it’s not mutual?
Luckily, she made the move: “This was actually really fun,” she said. “Can we hang out again?”
Of course I said yes.
Meeting new people and facing the fear of rejection doesn’t get easier when it’s platonic rather than romantic, I realized. But on this friend-date, it felt like we were saying what we meant — and romantic dates don’t often feel that way.
With friendship, we have many vacancies and can fill those spots with different types of people. But with romantic love, people are usually looking for one person, which means there’s a lot of pressure to present the best version of yourself on dates.
There was no pressure to be this woman’s only friend — and that gave me the freedom to worry less about rejection and focus more about being myself.
When she texted the next day, I wasn’t worried about saying the wrong thing and abruptly losing my new friend. Our next plans are for brunch after we both finish the Cherry Blossom 10 Mile Race. I plan to cheer her on, like real BFFs do.