Victoria Stokes went on some blind friend dates to see if the internet could expand her social circle.
It’s a Saturday night and I’m trying to decide what to wear before a big date. ‘Should I wear
the low-cut top or the slightly more conservative one?’ I wonder. ‘I don’t want to give off the wrong impression. What about lipstick? Is red too try hard?’ I’m rummaging through a make-up bag when a feeling of panic washes over me. ‘Oh god,’ I think, ‘What if we’ve nothing to talk about?’
I’ve experienced first date jitters like this before, but tonight is different. See, tonight I’m not heading out to meet some random guy for drinks and hopefully a cheeky shift at the
end of the night. Nope, this evening I’m going on a blind date with a group of girls I only know through the internet, hoping that we hit it off and become life long pals, and for some reason the nerves I’m feeling are way more intense than they would be if I was just meeting some lad from Plenty Of Fish.
Let me rewind a bit. I moved to Dublin from ‘up the country’ three and half years ago and I didn’t know a soul in the city. I was fortunate to make a handful of good pals fairly quickly, mostly through house shares and work, but expanding that into a fully fledged social circle has been difficult. Almost everyone I know in Dublin is either from here or has friends they went to college with. I, on the other hand, landed here as a total blow-in with zero connections.
So, when my social life started to stagnate I turned to the internet. Online there are so many more options for making friends than there used to be. GirlCrew is a Dublin-based start up that connects like-minded women and encourages them to go to events together. There’s also Hey Vina! dubbed ‘Tinder For (Girl) Friends’ and more recently Bumble BFF; an offshoot from the dating app of the same name.
For months I sat on the sidelines of a GirlCrew group chat that had migrated on to WhatsApp, too shy to really get involved in the conversation or accept the numerous drinks invitations. But then, with a little bit of self-coaxing, and a gentle nudge from my editor who wanted me to write this feature, I dove in and arranged to meet a handful of the girls for cocktails one evening. Around the same time I downloaded Bumble BFF. I’ve been using Bumble, and similar apps for dating, for some time and had grown tired of the constant swiping and disappointments, so I was initially reluctant to seek friendship in the same way. But for me, ‘dating for friendship’ – as I’m going to call it from here on out – doesn’t feel like that at all.
In fact, there’s a wonderful sense of camaraderie about the whole thing. All the people I’ve spoken to on the apps have said the same thing: making friends as an adult is hard. Many had outgrown their childhood friends, returned home from an extended period of travel or, like me, moved to a city where they knew no one. There’s a comfort too that everyone’s on there for the same thing. With dating apps the lines are always blurred, it’s hard to tell if a guy is really seeking a serious commitment or just a hookup, but when you’re dating for friendship everyone has the shared goal of wanting to expand their social circle. Perhaps that’s why chatting to potential new BFFs felt a whole lot less pressurised than trying to impress some random guy on Tinder.
A week after my friendship search began, the night of my cocktail date rolled around, and a after a brief case of mistaken identity (recognising a stranger’s face in a packed bar is hard, okay) I was nestled around a table with 10 other women I’d never met before. Here are my initial observations: it’s amazing how much conversation a group of women who are complete strangers can pack into a small amount of time. It’s also amazing how quickly you can start to feel comfortable around people you’ve never met before (even for someone who is fairly shy like me) and how easily people settle into their own little sub-groups. I guess in any social situation there are people you naturally gravitate towards.
For me, those people were two girls around my age who were also single and navigating Dublin’s tricky dating scene. We hit it off with little effort, and headed off to another bar to get cocktails with just the three of us. It was a hoot! Normally I take a while to ‘warm up’ to new people, it takes me a little time before I feel comfortable enough to let my guard down and fully be myself, but tonight was different. I did not stop laughing.
Fast forward to a few hours later, and two of us are in the queue for a club sharing stories about boys, gasping for air mid-laugh and charming the bouncers to let us skip the queue. This is why women are awesome. Meeting up with a group of strangers is nerve-wracking and yet we’re prepared to make ourselves vulnerable. Within a short space of time we can go from first name terms to swapping secrets and protecting each other against creeps in the club. We finished the night belting out the rap to Fresh Prince Of Bel Air, spinning around the dancefloor and promising to meet up again. I made it home at 5am.
I’m fortunate to have had such a positive experience on my first go. I know that not everyone is this lucky. There are women who could go on 10 blind friendship dates and still not find someone they’d really be pals with, but the good news is, there’s simply no end out there to women who are keen to form new friendships. One girl whose evening plans had been cancelled dropped a message into the group to ask if she could join us for cocktails just a few hours before we were all due to meet up. How comforting that you could save yourself from a Saturday night in and have an instant group of gals to go out with on such short notice.
Of course, like any friendship, forging a proper connection takes time, effort and a commitment to having regular catch ups to build and maintain it. I formed a WhatsApp group with the two girls I met on my blind date. I’m writing in it to make plans with them as we speak.
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