I Don’t Know How To Make Friends: The Tinder Blues

When I first started this quest, there was one app I was hearing about above all others. Literally any time I brought up my “journey to healthy adult friendships via social media,” this was the chief advice: Get a Tinder account.

According to the Irish Independent, 150,000 Irish people use Tinder. Among my age group, it is more popular than OkCupid and Plentyoffish (although the Irish lesbians etc. I know have sworn by Plentyoffish as much more effective and active than OkCupid, a literal switcheroo from the American experience). Tinder has been accused of being the shallowest app of all time while also praised for solving a “problem of humanity.” Most of the women I know who use Tinder for dating say they wish it would die off already so some other, slightly less mediocre app would rise up and take its place. Once I was done with Tinder, I too wanted to be the one to pour the gasoline and drop the match. I’m sure there’s a deep and mournful irony there.

Tinder is considered a dating app. “Dating app” is a term that is very roughly applied in this case, like calling a chipmunk a “furry thing.” It’s technically correct, and no one can say that it isn’t a “furry thing,” but there’s a much more accurate term out there and it’s not “furry thing”.

Tinder was modeled off of Grindr. Grindr is an app designed specifically for gay men and the very specific world of gay male hookup culture. It is not really a dating app. It is an app for finding sex partners in your immediate area as soon as possible. That’s why it sorts based on location and proximity, and that’s why it’s based on appearance as opposed to, say, in depth questions about how many kids the users want and whether or not they believe in the death penalty. Using Grindr, which could not have been more specific to an already highly specific culture and community, as a model for your “straight people + friends” dating app is one of the most hapless decisions I have seen in startup world. I have Feelings with a capital F about this. I have ranted many a time about Tinder and the way it a) commandeered something quintessentially gay from gay culture and b) poorly applied that gay standard to a very not-gay audience with the flakiest possible results. I’m not saying this was the wrong move because of cultural appropriation or whatever. I’m saying this was the wrong move because you can’t take an apple with a complex history, complex social rules and really fucking specific needs and say oh, I bet I could grow a fucking orange that way. That ain’t how you get oranges, buddy!

And yet here I was, using Tinder to make friends. Maybe the logical place to start is at the bottom. Maybe I just want to get to the end of this series and be able to say, like Saint Drake, that though I started from the dredges of Tinder, I am here. Maybe here will be a very good place.

Tinder is not a very good place for making friends. Why everyone I encountered seemed to think this remains baffling. For those of you who recommended Tinder wholeheartedly, I no longer trust your advice on anything. I don’t think I even trust your broccoli salad recipe anymore. Like, this recipe calls for pine nuts, but I can’t tell if you want me to put pine nuts in there because they’re supposed to be there or because you want to set me up for utter failure.

Every step of creating a Tinder profile reminded me of why this was a horrible idea. 

First of all, I need to connect to my Facebook profile. This is because Tinder likes to tell you when you have shared interests with another person. These interests are generated from your Facebook likes. I don’t even know what my Facebook likes are. Considering I have had this profile since I was a senior in high school, I assume some of these likes include “It rough!! ;) ;)” and “The Numa Numa Song”. I also seem to have gotten some randomly generated spam likes for baby formula. That’s good — I need a best friend with as healthy an interest in baby formula as I have. 

Choosing profile pictures? My thought process went something like this: Great, now I gotta figure out which one of my photos make me look like a great person to befriend. Can’t choose all my hot profile pics, because that looks childish and conceited. Okay, maybe one hot pic. Let’s be honest, no one is gonna read the damn profile. They are gonna look through my pics and swipe right or left. Might as well look like I took a shower. This picture is a year old, is that okay? I was befriendable a year ago. Ugh, why am I doing this? This is such a shitty idea. I’m using the picture with my guns out. I’m doing it, damn it. Is that gonna make the gym bros befriend me? I hate gym bros. Oh my god, Kate, no gym bro is ever gonna swipe on you. Gym bros are not here to make friends, Kate. They’re here to smash. Get your shit together, Kate. Is four pictures too many? It would be weird to only have one picture. I have a lot of angles. I’m a multifaceted person, and I’m probably easier to befriend if I have multiple facets. This is already the most stressful thing I’ve done today.

My policy was to swipe right on everyone. This policy was changed slightly when my partner was over my shoulder and noticed her horrible ex on the app — I did swipe left on that one. Later she noticed someone who she sort of knew but who she knew hated her ex — swiped right. The enemy of my enemy is my (potential) friend.

I was set to girls only. I know, I know. I will be totally real with y’all: I am not interested in befriending whatever dudes are using Tinder. How many dudes on Tinder you think are there to platonically befriend a lesbian? Given their record as a group, I am much more content to befriend them in person over a period of time that allows me to find out whether or not they make shitty jokes about minorities and believe in the concept of friendzoning.

It felt very unnatural to communicate with people this way. Tinder offers you very little by way of interaction opportunities. You have two options: talk with the person in the iMessage style chat that appears when you both like each other, or meet up with them in person. Turns out that swiping right on everyone will give you a bajillion matches. Of those matches, I would say one third actually reached out and initiated a chat. Of those with whom I actually chatted, I would say one sixth proposed meeting up in person. Of those who proposed meeting up, I have met approximately zero of them. The conversation never got past, yeah, definitely, we should hang out. At the time of this article’s publication, I’ve got two people that I might meet up with at some point, maybe. What I know about them is how they look in four pictures and three of their Facebook likes.

Is this my own damn fault? Oh, for sure. I could have engaged these people in deep Tinder chats. We could have discussed shared interests and discovered new connections and texted long into the night until I knew for sure that we were going to hit it off as friends.

But Tinder fundamentally discourages this kind of connection-making. Tinder ends up like any other app you browse while waiting for the bus, and it knows it. Tinder doesn’t care what your level of commitment is, to relationships or to the app itself. If anything, it doesn’t seem to want you to take it very seriously. There’s game language scattered throughout — “play again” comes up, and if you upgrade, just like in Candy Crush, you get more matches. Grindr was for busting horniness. Tinder feels like it’s for busting boredom. In my house, my roommate sometimes asks if we want to “play Tinder” and swipe through her matches for her. After all, that same repetitive gesture, one anyone can do just as well on public transportation or a toilet, gets to be a chore. It’s something that you might have downloaded to procrastinate, but you’ll find yourself procrastinating from Tinder. 

I did use Tinder to get stories from other users about how new friendships and Tinder have overlapped for them. The huge majority of people I talked to said that they didn’t come on Tinder to make friends; if they’ve made friends on Tinder, it’s because they started dating or sleeping with the person, and it didn’t work out. Most of them said that these post-date-failure friends were more on the acquaintance to “a cool person I once hooked up with” scale of friendships. No one seemed to be finding their bosom buddies on this app. Exactly two different people told me they had used Tinder to source people for their art projects, and as a result they’d met interesting people who were “interesting to be around in a platonic way.”

Only one other person I talked to said she joined Tinder to make friends. She is an American traveling in Europe, and this is one of many methods she is trying to meet up with people and socialize on the fly. I was excited to meet someone who was in a similar boat, especially a person who is my age. I asked her how the whole making friends via apps was going. She said not too good. I said it would be cool to hang out while she was in Dublin. She said she was heading to Amsterdam in the morning.

A lot of these users who I heard from also wanted to add that they’d had horrible dates on Tinder, and if I was writing an article about Tinder horror stories, they’d love to contribute. None of this surprised me.

I started this journey thinking that it would be a struggle in part because I thought that making friends is so different from dating. I see now that I was very wrong in that assumption.

My roommate Emma and I had a conversation at a pub a while ago, the same weekend I was reaching the end of my patience with Tinder. Emma feels similarly, but she has been using the app to find dates. I was going off on a cider-soaked rant about how there is no substitute to meeting a real person in a real space. This rant was directed at her disappointment in online dating, and I was attempting, again, in a haze of fermented apples, to be supportive.

Approximately, the rant went something like this: “Tinder and all that just doesn’t work for us. Because, say, see that girl up at the bar? You could go up to her and make eye contact and right off the bat, you know whether or not you have chemistry. Because you were drawn to her and she holds your gaze and you know she’s drawn to you, too, and that’s it. Like there are a lot of people here tonight who are attractive. I acknowledge that there are a few people who are hot in a way that I find hot. But that doesn’t mean that I am drawn to any of them. I am a bad example, okay, but you know what I mean. There are some hot people here tonight, right? But you’re only drawn to one or two of them. And if you talked to them tonight, or even just made eye contact with them, you’d probably know if there was something there. You will never ever get that from some online profile or even chatting online. You have to physically be there with that person.”

That was not terribly coherent, but the takeaway is that the next morning, I remembered that conversation while opening up Tinder, and realized that I needed to take my own advice. Whenever I’ve made my closest friends, it didn’t happen because of a list of shared interests or the way we both dressed. It happened because of something inexplicable. We could just tell that we’d be friends. We had friend chemistry. 

I have not officially deleted Tinder from my iPad. Like I said, there are a few folks left who maybe, just maybe, I’ll meet up with in person. And if I meet up with them, I think we’ll know pretty immediately whether or not we have friend chemistry.

Tinder hasn’t got shit on friend chemistry. But maybe the next app will.

Full-time writer, part-time lover, freelancing in fancy cheese and cider.

Kate has written 131 articles for us.

29 Comments

  1. Hi Kate ! Thanks for suffering like this for the rest of us <3.
    I'm on Tinder + OkCupid as well both hoping to make friends / date people. And i've had people tell me "HUUUGE Mistake ! Don't use Tinder to find friends!". And even OkCupid, I mean, it feels a bit artificial, it's not like you start off KNOWING you have a common interest strong enough to justify talking to this person long enough for friendship to bloom. "Oh you like Orphan Black too ? That's cool.".

    Here's what I've tried as well that have worked better for me : meetup weekends. More precisely, London based meetups for people wanting to get out of London. So far I've done two weekends in the Peak District and the Lake district, and I had ridiculous fun and met people who made me laugh like crazy. The last weekend went so well we plan on seeing each other again in 10 days.

    Downsides: it costs money + all the friends you make live in London.

    I also tried meetup evenings around me and it's not as fun. It also feels a bit artificial, you hang out for an evening with strangers you're not sure you want to see again. The other problem is most of them are (probably) straight so making queer friends is still not happening. Also it brought me to a 100% dickfest of a "comedy club" with an all male line-up making rape jokes, getting naked on stage and talking about their dicks. EKKK.

  2. I get where you’re coming from, I’ve so been where you are. I wanna give you a big hug because I know how hard it is. But it does get better!

    When I first moved to my current city, it took me over a year to make friends. That was 7 years ago. Then I came out about a year and a half ago. Even though my straight friends stuck by me and were awesome, I knew that I needed to make friends who I could talk about girls to and who really understood me. My straight friends, while they were great listeners, just couldn’t relate.

    I wasn’t about to go another year of being friendless. I realized that when I moved here, I wasn’t as proactive in trying to make friends as I could have been. I just thought it would happen naturally. And it did…eventually. This time though, I knew that I was going to have to work at it, and work hard. Most people already have their friend groups, and typically aren’t looking for someone new to come in and shake things up. Somehow I was going to have to push through that. Plus, I work a lot too, so this was going to require me to stretch myself SUPER thin for awhile. But it was totally worth it.

    I do not sport – I am a band geek. However, I joined an LGBT Kickball league. I just decided to suck it up, try to not embarrass myself, and spend the time between and after games getting to know the people on my team. And gradually, things started to happen. If someone asked me to hang or invited me to an event, I said yes. I said yes to everything. Even if I had zero interest in said event, I still went. It led to meeting so many other people, on my team and on other teams. I met people who were sporty and others who had joined for the same reason I had. And people from both sides of the spectrum are some of my best friends now.

    I’m a band geek – so I joined a local marching band. Yeah, as ridiculous as it sounds, I did it! I was surrounded by people who got me, who I got, and have been able to establish some awesome friendships from this.

    I joined so many groups and attended so many events, I don’t even remember them all. A year later, I’ve been able to dwindle my list of activities down to just a few things that I have time for and that I actually enjoy. The real friendships I made from saying yes have stuck, and I couldn’t imagine my life without the people I’ve met.

    I read your first article, and I really get what you’re going through. I felt exactly the same way. I know how it feels to think you’ll never meet anyone in any of those situations (a bar, a club, a sport, etc). I guess all I can say is you just never know when you’re going to meet someone. I met my best friend at a bar – we still laugh about it and how surprising it is. Looking back on it and how different my life is now compared to when I came out, my advice is to open yourself up to every opportunity, and let life surprise you. :)

    Best of luck to you!!

      • Totally understand Chloe! There comes a point where you really have to make a decision on whether it’s worth it or not. I definitely wouldn’t drive an hour and a half to sport! :) I don’t know if you have any local lesbian/gay/gay friendly bars, but I started hosting live trivia once a week at one down the street for me. It’s helped me meet a lot of like-minded people! Of course “public speaking” isn’t for everyone, and that’s what this is, but it’s an option! And I get paid to have fun with friends! :)

  3. I was curious when I saw this article! In January one of my resolutions was to find more adult friends. I turned to Tinder to find said friends. I only talked seriously with a handful of people and met up with all of them in person. Of the 5 people I me, one is my roommate and one is my current girlfriend. So I would have to say that the app can work… if you use the app as a stepping stone and don’t actually use it how it wants to be used. Does that make sense? I knew the second after meeting with my tinder “friends” who I could actually be friends with and who it was time to say, “nice meeting you, see you never”… in much nicer words of course! The thing is I was COMMITTED to meeting people so I instigated a lot of conversation.

    I’m with you 100% though. Nothing. NOTHING. Compares to meeting someone in person and feeling that instantaneous friendly feeling. Friendship is a chemical thing to me. You have to have that chemistry and you know it when you see it.

    So… I guess my point is that making friends on Tinder is possible… but it takes some work.

  4. I love all of your articles!

    Friend chemistry is 100% a thing and it is very, very important.

    All of my social nemeses are just people with whom I have terrible, terrible friend chemistry.

    Bad friend chemistry = our interactions are always painfully awkward.

    Bless us, may we go out into the post-school world and make all of the friends.

  5. I just moved to a new city and have been trying to make new friends. I’ve used tinder and it lead me to this awesome person who was just looking for friends. Tinder told us we had a friend in common and that helped determine if maybe we could be friends. Anyway we hang out often and I am so lucky that she is good at making friends, because I benefit by proxy.

    So it can work, but it’s a lot of work. I think you have to be willing to do a lot of the legwork if being the first to say hi and inviting someone to meet in person, with specifics.

    I find it hard to talk to strangers in person, it’s so much higher risk of embarrassment. I don’t know what to say, or how to interject myself into conversations. How long do I hold eye contact? Do I look shifty or desperate?

    I joined a sport and I’m hoping friends come out of that.

  6. “Friend chemistry” is such a thing! My closest friends feel like they “happened” to me, because we were just drawn together somehow and I don’t know how! All three of my closest friends ended up being queer, even though we didn’t all know at the time, then two of my three close friends ended up being asexual like me, and HOW DOES THAT HAPPEN. Somehow we find our people, the ones who will be with us all our lives, even if you don’t feel like you’re trying very hard and you don’t even know where to start.

    I have to tell myself this sometimes, because I’m moving to a city where I only have one real friend, and I don’t really know how to make friends outside of school. But it’s going to happen, I have to believe that!

  7. I;ve had bad luck with dating apps like tinder and Wing Ma’am when it comes to making friends/dating. I’ve seen a lot of women who are now using tinder as a social experiment. Also, been reading about meeting people via uber and lyft car-pooling. Worth a try?

  8. When I moved to a new state after graduating college, I tried to use OKcupid to find friends. I definitely understand the whole problem of the conversation ending with “sure, let’s hang out.”

    I got to that point with about 5 folks. I eventually met up with 2 of them, only after messaging them multiple times to line up schedules. I sent those messages while trudging through anxiety. For some reason, it was really difficult to say, “so are you free this weekend?” or “what days are usually free?” or whatever.

    There’s no “flow” in a first-time internet chat, which I think is part of what Kate was getting at with the vibing-in-person paragraph[s]. Creating that flow out of pixels (no intonation, no body language, etc) is fucking hard, emotionally. Although, once you get yr fingers to type, it’s really easy physically. I just had to coax myself into breathing again once I’d hit *send*. And if those people don’t like that I messaged them so much, well fuck it, I’ll never meet them. Bitches. Okay..not really.

    Then I moved to Alaska be with my dream girl and evolve into an astroherbalist, ha. Now most of my friends are stoner fisherman.

  9. Becoming a regular at a chill bar is how I’ve made my most recent batch of friends. I was invited to this weekly event called “chick picks” by an acquaintence, which has a pretty queer crowd. I loved the event, ended up going every week and started drinking with this group of hilarious older trans women – next thing I know, I’m invited to Thursday night dinner, which is a trilingual homey feast that lasts into the wee hours.

    Plus making friends with the bartender is always cool. Mine got me laid recently, he was pouring me a shot in celebration of my new job, “decided” not to take the shot himself and passed it to another regular that he thought I’d find cute. He was correct!

    • I always read the tip to frequent a bar and befriend the bartender during my frequent google searches of “how to make friends” lol. I’m not that experienced at going to bars so going to one alone is really intimidating to me. On top of everything I’m also really shy and awkward.

  10. I vassilate between fangirling over how Kate is back in my article-reading life (visit London- I’LL BE YOUR FRIEND) and feeling blue because I too do not have any friends.

    Well, I have friends. I have old school friends (back home). I have old school friends in London that I don’t see. I have work friends. I have queer friends. I have Jewish friends. I have therapy friends. I have Fat friends. All from different communities but we’re all so busy and none of them are really super solid best friends.

    When I was a tween I spent a lot of time concerned that my friendships weren’t ‘deep’ enough- and I mean we all know now it’s because I was a baby queer. Ah hindsight. But I still have that yearning- to make more of those acquaintances, that those drinks lead to deeper connections, or that I’ll meet other people who think- Hey She Is Cool, I Want To Make Her My Friend – in the way that I do about people but don’t know how to make happen.

  11. Does anyone live in/near Miami? I have just moved here 6 months ago, and it is difficult to find friends. Even when I meet people in person and they ask for my number to hang out, they end up flaking out when we try to make plans. It is really strange. I have looked through the Meetup groups here and they don’t seem promising, but I will give them a try. But if anyone wants to hang out and lives in Miami, let me know!

  12. This is so very true. I am happily married but as I like meeting new people and getting new perspectives I’ve used meetup. Great in New York as I travel lots, but less so where I actually live which is the middle of the Irish Sea.

    I tried HER, the app formerly known as daatch, and cannot get a grip on its modus. It seems a bit like Pinterest for the reticent. Also this sweep right thing sucks as when friendship is the aim looks aren’t so important. My concern is are they near, do they have the same likes and dislikes.

    Maybe Kate and I need to do an autostraddle meetup in Dublin.

  13. Meeting people has been so hard for me as a recent college graduate living in a new area. On Tinder I always end up with matches, but no one ever messages me lol. I also feel weird about trying to use it to meet friends. It feels kind of misleading to have someone match with me because they are interested in me romantically only to have me message them back and say that I only want to be friends. I do put that I am looking for platonic friends as well in my profile but a lot of people only look at the pictures without looking at the full profiles.

  14. Oh gosh… Yeah, I feel this haha. Just moved to a new city and got really exciting about Tinder because my flatmate said she was on it.
    How’d that work out? Not super well…
    First few weeks was really cool, I had some great conversations with a few people, exchanged fb details, discussed hanging out, and then eventually went on a few dates. Which was awesome
    …at the time, then after I got home it really really wasn’t.
    I guess because when you’re meeting people on Tinder, even if you discuss just wanting to see if you’re friends, it’s got this overarching dating vibe to it. You put a lot of time, emotional investment and often money towards meeting people.
    Unfortunately for me, what I worked out about myself is that I really can’t tell based on a few conversations and a date or so whenever I like a person enough to date them or even be awesome friends with them. I just don’t know if I like them enough to make the emotional investment, and because the likelihood is slim and I am a bit of a chicken, it always just ends up being easier to just not.
    This shouldn’t be so different from meeting a person at a party and feeling a connection afterwards, but for some reason it seems to be, like because you’ve met someone specifically within the context of dating, casual hook-ups and photographs.
    Idk if it’s just me, but Tinder also feels really restrictive. At least with OKcupid etc you have a bit more leeway in terms of preferences and gender. Tinder by nature is pretty looks obsessed, and it’s hard to express any political opinions, and while that shouldn’t always be a problem, in this context it feels really cis and hetero normative even when searching just for queer peoples.
    It would be nice to have better social and dating networks for stuff like this.

  15. I feel like so many of the people who’ve recommended Tinder to me, a) are in a long-term monogamous relationship and/or b) have never actually tried the app. In a flurry of loneliness, I tried it one night and did not like it. But I was looking for romance not friendship.

    I’ve met a number of friends/friendly acquaintances through OKCupid. There’s more to go on there, but I realize it’s not popular everywhere and without a local community of users, it’s nothing.

Contribute to the conversation...

Yay! You've decided to leave a comment. That's fantastic. Please keep in mind that comments are moderated by the guidelines laid out in our comment policy. Let's have a personal and meaningful conversation and thanks for stopping by!