Why Going On Dates to Find Friends – Not Love – Is Getting Popular
In the late 90s, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai taught us, “Pyaar dosti hai [Love is friendship].” Two decades later, Dream Girl highlighted how people from different walks of life — irrespective of their gender, religion, and class — are craving companionship and social support. Real life isn’t as much of a comedy of errors as the movie, but a sense of hopeless isolation is indeed the jarring reality of the present day. Courtesy of dating apps, opportunities to fall in love are now abundant. What’s missing amid the charged atmosphere of endless romantic possibilities, paradoxically, is companionship.
Even before the pandemic struck, a chronic loneliness epidemic had gripped millennials and Gen Z-ers alike, with research deeming them the loneliest ever in the history of humankind. The result: an expansive section of young Indians looking to build friendships — with or without benefits — online. “[People] have been comfortable using dating apps to meet platonic friends for a few years now, especially when moving to a new city. But since the onset of the pandemic, this behavior has boomed,” states an article in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), commenting on the same phenomenon being observed globally.
With people seeking connection and companionship after months of isolation, the trend has become even more pronounced in the post-pandemic world — with online dating pools now doubling up as friend-mines.
It’s not that the pandemic has single-handedly made it more challenging to meet new people in traditional ways. The digital revolution — that led us to prefer online shopping over walking into brick-and-mortar stores, got us used to getting our groceries delivered to our doorsteps within minutes, and normalized reading books on our devices rather than spending hours at libraries — had already begun eliminating opportunities to develop organic friendships in traditional settings. In the process, the convenience it afforded us, came at the cost of forming human connections. But in the form of dating apps, technology has presented us with a fix, too. As the saying goes, modern problems require modern solutions.
“I wanted more friends. I moved to New York less than two years ago and have been trying to expand my circle as I build roots in the city… I jumped in, swiping myself, and found, to my surprise, a lot of guys were cool with my rule,” journalist Alyssa Bailey wrote.
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Months of de-socialization due to the pandemic have also made people socially awkward, with reports suggesting that ever since things began going back to the pre-pandemic version of “normal,” more and more adults began experiencing stress around social interactions and even running out of things to talk about.
For this army of lonely wallflowers — alongside folks who have always been introverted — striking friendships online without having to step out of their safe space physically or carry on a verbal conversation nervously, can afford them the chance to form a more authentic connection with a stranger in a relaxed, flexible manner. It’s worked for dating — making dating apps a common feature on the phones of many, many single individuals. Why not use the same formula to make friends, too, right?
Even if one is looking to date, building a friendship with the person one potentially partners with isn’t a bad idea. A 26-year-old scriptwriter that WSJ interviewed, had clicked with a man soon after downloading Tinder in March. They went on hikes together, and their friendship blossomed. “In early May, I realized I really like him,” she said, adding that they started dating soon after.
Unlike the discomfort and awkwardness associated with traditional first dates — where one is constantly on edge, assessing whether their date is a good match, while also ensuring that they’re putting their best foot forward so they can be perceived as an ideal date — hanging out to chat, do an activity they’re both interested in, or simply play a game or two online, can feel relatively more relaxed. As an old acquaintance of mine had said, a first date is like a job interview; it’s rare to find people who’d say the same thing about hanging out with friends.
Further, pursuing a relationship right off the bat with someone one found on a dating app might, on occasion, deny one the chance to organically forge the kind of meaningful connection that helps couples weather the turbulent rollercoaster ride that life can be. Pursuing a friendship first can not only build a stronger, more stable foundation, but also enable people to understand each other’s interests, values, and aspirations without being hindered by the vested interest of a shared future.
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Before I realized that dating apps could be an avenue to make friends in a new city, I met a man in 2016, bonded with him on our shared interests, experiences, and temperaments, and soon, confused it for love. When you meet someone on a dating app, that’s where your mind tends to go, after all. We dated for a year and a half, only to realize that we were not at all meant to be a couple. Sanity prevailed upon us, and we have continued to remain friends with each other and, now, with each other’s respective partners, too.
Focusing on meeting new people and making new connections — rather than finding love on dating apps (it’s great if that happens, of course, but it’s not as common as it might seem to onlookers) — seems like a better way to approach both friendships and relationships through the platforms.
There’s a flipside to the phenomenon, too, unfortunately. For years, one of the biggest critiques of dating apps has been their superficiality. While choosing people based on their appearance might be integral to dating for many, it’s certainly not elemental to a friendship. But the fact that we’re used to swiping on dating apps based on how attractive we find each profile, can interfere with our pursuit of friendships.
Not only that, but many women — like Bailey — report being ghosted by their matches when they tell them they really meant what they wrote in their bio: they’re, indeed, only looking for friends. But, at the end of the day, it is their matches’ prerogative to choose a dating app for its intended purpose. In addition, it will, perhaps, take a while longer for society to normalize making friends online without deeming people who do so as “creepy loners.” The stigma around dating apps for dating, too, took a few years to fade, after all.
“It would be nice to say, 100%, that going on dating apps to make friends does work… But I think it’s the luck of who you match with and how much time and effort you’re willing to put into it,” Georgia Evans wrote in TimeOut. “We’ve got to give up this idea that we can put someone in the bin if we aren’t immediately vibing. Giving people the space to fully open up allows you to make a much better assessment… [C]hances are you’ll find your tribe if you look hard enough.”
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