My favorite hobby is telling people about my friends. My best friends. One time, when I was describing an important woman in my life to a man, he asked, “Aren’t we a little old for ‘best’ friends?” I took this to mean he didn’t have any but pretended to laugh at myself anyway to avoid a confrontation. The truth was, I was living in San Francisco at the time, surrounded by women I adored, and I couldn’t imagine existing without a best friend within arm’s reach.
Then, in 2015, after eight years in the Golden State, I followed a dream and a hunch to New York, where I knew almost no one. I spent my first year in the city exploring the outer limits of what I called “alone time,” which made it sound more like something Oprah would recommend and less like the desperate loneliness that it was. Rock bottom was watching Fifty Shades Darker in a full theater with only two hot dogs to keep me company.
When I decided I needed more friends, I typed “how to make” into Google, and was comforted to find that, right below “slime” and right above “cake,” other people were wondering how to make friends, too.
I’d seen the big yellow billboards advertising Bumble BFF — an app to make friends — and scoffed. It was one thing to search for potential dates via app, but couldn’t I just make friends the old-fashioned way? The problem was, I wasn’t. So one night, while sitting on my couch with zero plans on the horizon, I toggled my Bumble app to its “BFF” setting, telling myself it was just a joke. I quickly created a profile: “I love endorsing my friends on LinkedIn,” read my bio. Approachable, I thought to myself. Out of pure laziness, I used the same photos I had for the dating portion of the app. I began swiping, and I immediately fell for the first girl I saw. She stood in a white shirt and jeans, a field of sunflowers behind her, a teacher from Chicago. I wanted to go on a friend date with her so bad. But I swiped right and never saw her digital presence again. Into the Bumble BFF vortex I went.
Swiping for friends was eerily similar to looking for dates in that it was a complete emotional rollercoaster. I would get attached to girls who would never match with me, and watch as my overtures evaporated into thin air when they never responded. I was ghosted when I said a restaurant known for its $17 dollar cocktails was out of my budget, even though I included multiple “lols” to soften the statement.
Basically, during my first few months on Bumble BFF, I couldn’t get anyone to go out with me. I called my mom and she said, “It’s not you, it’s them,” and I thought, Is my mom breaking up with me too? I vented to friends across the country, over the phone, and they told me to be less picky. By then I was obsessed with getting at least one woman to agree to a coffee, so I began swiping right on more ladies I had less in common with. Just like the men I’ve always imagined I would date, I realized I had an idealized version of what my new New York best friend would look like, too. When I let go of that fantasy, and opened up to the idea that I might want a friend who was totally different from me, I began to get matched. And thus, I set out on three friend dates.
Of course, I was running late — I’m always running late. Being on time has been a New Year’s resolution of mine for five straight years. RuPaul once said he stopped being late when he realized he was just addicted to the drama, but if I was getting coffee with RuPaul he could be as late as he wanted! Unfortunately I’m not RuPaul and I was not making a good first impression.
I texted her to let her know I was running five minutes behind, and then realized I was headed to the wrong coffee shop and have to text that I was actually running 20 behind. She said it’s fine, and that I would be able to identify her because she’d be clutching her yoga mat “like a baby,” and I thought to myself, I love babies, should that be my opening line? When I finally arrived and spotted Date #1 and her yoga mat, I ran to her table and immediately started shedding layers in an attempt to correct my body temperature (I’m a nervous sweater). “I’ll just grab a coffee,” I said, as casually as possible, “I’ll be right back!” At this point, I was panting. And of course, the line was massively long, but what choice did I have but to commit to it? As I waited, my date and I kept making eye contact over the barista’s head. I was smiling so furiously my teeth hurt. Finally, I got my iced coffee and headed over to our shared table.
Unfortunately, the music was so loud I could barely hear her and I kept saying “What?!” and then nervously laughing. I was surprised to find the encounter felt similar to romantic dates I’ve been on before. We were both sizing each other up, already feeling out our potential for a future by assessing how much we did and did not have in common.
I figured things were going well when she asked me to go to the Planetarium afterward. I actually really wanted to go but couldn’t, as I’d made plans to relax alone immediately following our date that I’d been simultaneously dreading and eagerly anticipating. I did mention I was writing an essay about the psychology of lying, though, and she offered to let me borrow a copy of National Geographic that covered the topic. I try not to let my face betray my excitement. Future plans mean friends, right?
When I stumbled upon an advice column late last year wherein writer Casey Johnson advised being the type of person to stays for one drink instead of four, I decided that in 2018 I was going to drink less. I want to be the person who stops in for a quick drink and leaves right after in a trail of mystery. Any yet, while scheduling my second friend date, I was nervous enough to suggest a quiet wine bar with a good happy hour. The thought of another coffee made me anxious.
On the night of the date, I tried on approximately seven different outfits. A vinyl skirt and beret? Too much. Cropped black jeans and white sweater? Not enough. I settled on a black sweater and PVC pants that, later in the evening, proved almost impossible to pull back up over my thighs. Just right.
On the way there, I listened to Oprah’s Super Soul podcast where she told me that, “YOU are what YOU have been waiting for” and I immediately felt a surge of love for myself and for Oprah, which felt like a good way to start a date. I arrived at the wine bar we decided on and appreciated the fact that I was not sweating. Progress! I immediately recognized my date from her photos and introduced myself. We started chatting, and when I remembered it was happy hour, had to resist the urge to gulp down my red wine since she was so maturely sipping hers.
She told me that she doesn’t like girls who liked brunch and I lied and said that I hated brunch too, probably too emphatically to be believable. She told me she dated a chef and I say that I dated a chef once too, though “dated” was probably too generous of a word. She looked at me sadly even though it was supposed to be a joke. I laughed nervously, which is evidently my preferred mode of communication. She offered to stay for another, but I had work to do and politely declined. A few days later, I asked if she wants to go to a reading. She couldn’t, but maybe some other time! I’ll take it.
I was nauseous for Date #3, but that could have been due to the copious amounts of coffee I’d just consumed on an empty stomach. We met at a coffee shop in Harlem, the neighborhood in which we both live. I decided to walk there despite my past sweating issues. (I’m a risk taker!) She was quiet, and I think she maybe didn’t like me or maybe I was projecting, something my dad says I do a lot. (I’m a projector!) Either way, from the get go, I could tell the date’s expiration date was fast approaching. I attempted to linger over our cups of coffee when I suddenly and urgently had to pee. When I realized the bathroom door said “Out of Order,” I suggested we make an expedition out of my small bladder situation and head over to the Shake Shack bathrooms across the street.
It was a lame attempt, I admit, not to mention an unappealing one, but by that point we both knew the date was over. We said our goodbyes and I scurried to the nearest bathroom alone (despite it saying “For Customers Only,” which I still feel guilty about). I thought maybe she’d text me after but she doesn’t, and I don’t text her either, and our friend date fades quickly into a distance memory.
To be honest, I’m not sure any of my friend dates worked out. I’m not even sure I’ll see them again, much less create long and lasting friendships like the ones I had in San Francisco, or even the more organic ones I’m managing to make here in New York City. But I don’t consider them a failure. More than anything, these dates made me feel less alone. Even when I didn’t have much in common with the person sitting across from me, sharing how isolating this city can be, how hard it is to make friends in your twenties, and how strange it is to meet people through your phone screen was an oddly comforting experience. I might even say it was worth the trouble/sweating.
Despite my lack of tangible success in the form of friendships made, I keep the app on my phone. For some reason I don’t want to delete it. Maybe because the simple act of trying turned out to be as good of armor against loneliness as anything else.
Collages by Louisiana Mei Gelpi.