I wanted to write a post after my first Bumble BFF date, but then I thought that one date was certainly nowhere near enough data points to prove a trend – after all, I did a comprehensive blog post on my 55 OkCupid dates. Then I met a second person, then a third, and then a fourth – and now I finally feel like the time is ripe to opine on whether Bumble BFF works or not. (tl;dr: it may.)
For the uninitiated, Bumble BFF is a mobile app that connects people who are seeking platonic friendships.
It is a spinoff from Bumble, which is a dating app with a feminist twist – upon matching, women have to make the first contact before a conversation can progress. (I am uninformed about how Bumble would work for non-heterosexual relationships.)
Why I joined Bumble BFF
My motivation for joining is pure. I simply wanted to expand my social circle and meet some new people I enjoy hanging out with. Research has shown that with every romantic relationship you enter, you lose an average of two friends. It certainly makes sense in my now-partnered status, where spending time with crazy party girls and/or back burner guys just isn’t as appealing anymore.
How I created my profile
Based on my preliminary research on the mechanics of making friends, I quickly understood that a friendship profile must project a very different image from a dating profile. I swapped out all my close-up, wide-eyed, vaguely pouty selfies with fun activity shots – look at me in a party photo booth with my friends! Here’s me adventuring in Japan! Here’s another one of me in front of art! It was important to be seen as fun, and not just a pretty face.
As for the 300 characters in my bio, I tweaked and tweaked it until I settled on something that I thought would both indicate who I was and who I didn’t want to meet. I made sure to avoid any mention of brunch, rosé or girlfriends, and also wrote my bio in such a way that a brunch-eating, rosé-swigging girlfriend might perhaps find inaccessible.
What the swiping process is like
Unlike Tinder, I swiped with a great deal of deliberation. I read every single bio, or noted the absence of one, who would automatically be deigned to a left swipe.
The other mechanic within Bumble BFF that encouraged thoughtful swiping was that matches must communicate in the first 24 hours of matching before the match expires. (The 24 hour cap is lifted with a paid upgrade.)
This means that strategically, I should only swipe right to as many matches as I can handle because the alternative would be to ‘waste’ them. Compare this with Tinder, where you can accumulate a vast number of matches and message them at any point in time, assuming that they do not unmatch you. I knew that I wanted to meet up with a maximum of three new people a week, and with that in mind, I stopped swiping when I had enough budding conversations going on, or started swiping when I needed more going on.
Talking with Bumble BFFs online
The process leading up to the face to face meet up is challenging precisely because there are no social norms that dictate this courtship. How do you say hello without being creepy? How do you move offline at the right time without seeming thirsty or disinterested? Who does the asking out? When the date is over, who sends the “I had a nice time, blah-blah-blah” text?
I like initiating a meetup within the first 3-5 messages exchanged. I certainly don’t need a texting buddy.
Meeting your Bumble BFFs offline
Despite my small sample size, I will hypothesize that turning a match into a friend will take as much trial and error as online dating would. There will be people that seem more interesting online than off. There will be first dates that fly by with pleasure despite the full confidence that that will be the last date. There will be dates with so much potential, but your schedules constantly clash and then one of you gives up on trying to orchestrate a meeting.
There will be dates where you leave dreamily envisioning a future of braiding each other’s hair and sharing your souls but then realize that these fantasies ring hollow when your friendly text is ignored. There will be flakers, ghosters, and the worst of them all: club promoters.
But there will also be people that you share indubitable chemistry with; I’m just not sure I’ve met them yet. And I think therein lies one of the many issues with trying to force friendship into an online dating model.
1. There is a socially understood script for romantic courtship, but not for friendship.
In dating, the onus is (typically) on the guy to take the lead. He initiates the date. He plans the date. First, second, third, and fourth base are tangible milestones for physical intimacy. After a few months of dating, it is common knowledge that the exclusivity conversation comes next. (Or not, if you’re just in it for the lay and that’s been made clear.)
Not so much for friendship. There is no obvious marker for friendship, no clear line to draw as to where you two stand. When does a person become a BFF? Which leads me to my next point.
2. Attraction is formed in seconds. Friendship takes repeated exposure.
In general, friendships are formed due to some combination of proximity, similarity and repetition. A lot of our friends are made from places where you gather on a regular, frequent basis – school, work, neighbors, etc. Precisely because there are no clear markers for the evolution of a friendship, you pretty much have to keep interacting on a semi-regular basis until some kind of kinship emerges either from the discovery of a shared interest, worldview, or some circumstantial duress brings you two together.
Is progressive intimacy something you can orchestrate in a Bumble BFF scenario? I would argue that it is possible by following the rules of proximity and repetition, but would require constant effort on each other’s part to make a point to meet up and interact. It’s a lot of effort, relative to how we make friends the old-fashioned way where they just happen to be around. Which then leads me to next point…
3. Finding a romantic partner ranks higher than making one friend out of many.
The amount of effort someone is going to put into finding a romantic partner is almost certainly going to be higher than making a friend. Yes, I can keep trying to orchestrate semi-regular dates with a Bumble BFF, but that is typically the kind of effort reserved for romantic courtship. It’s a lot of fucking work, and for what return? For someone where the line in the sand is constantly moving, for someone who will just be one friend out of many?
Many people balk at the idea of having to do the whole online dating jig. Why can’t I just meet my lover at my workplace? Why can’t I just form a romantic connection with the person who stands in my morning coffee line everyday?
People feel this way about romantic partners, and I suspect feel even more hesitant to put in such deliberate effort into making friends. And here’s what I think it boils down to: if in relationships, trying too hard is a turn-off, in friendships, trying too hard is a faux pas. On a superficial level, one’s value as a friend can be demonstrated by their popularity, i.e. how much they don’t need friends.
Bumble BFF has not been long enough for people to form lasting friendships yet. (It’s interesting, because couples can get married in 6 months, but sufficient time lapsing is almost a necessary criteria for friendship.) The big question that comes to my mind is: Would an online dating model work for friendships?
I like the idea of connecting people who otherwise wouldn’t meet, but the lack of a social script post-meeting makes it awkward to organize subsequent dates. I haven’t had a successful second Bumble BFF date yet. There are only so many personal facts you can share with each other because who wants to spill their opinions, hopes, and dreams to someone they have only met once? (Per the Seven Levels of Intimacy I share in this post)
I haven’t experimented with this yet, but I suspect the typical drinks-and-conversation format is not ideal for subsequent friend dates. An activity is probably necessary – a class, a party, etc. I would also ask to become Facebook friends on the following dates, so the friendship maintenance can be conducted online instead of awkwardly, in person.
In the meantime, I’m probably joining a book club.