When recent college graduate Tyrah Green decided to move across the country to Oakland, she knew she would need to make new friends.But the coronavirus pandemic has closed bars, canceled parties and kept people out of the workplace, slamming the door on the usual friend-making opportunities. It was a challenging proposition for Green, but COVID-19 was not going to stop her from leaving Brooklyn.
So before Green got on the airplane in June, she decided to use dating apps to get to know people in the area. She changed her location from Brooklyn to San Francisco on Hinge, and she immediately connected with people online, landing a date before she even touched down at SFO.
“So I do actually have that one person that I know who lives around here who I spend time with, which has been really great,” Green said of the person she met through Hinge. “I’m really trying to rethink what authentic connections and interactions are, and not be ashamed of how lonely I feel at times.”
As a pandemic playbook has emerged for moving, working and socializing remotely in the Bay Area, new ways to make friends have also grown organically out of the disruption caused by the coronavirus. Recent arrivals — including college graduates like me — have taken to dating apps for more than romance and hookups, matching with a wider range of people, then asking them for friendship instead of love. And just as Zoom happy hours with far-away family and virtual apartment tours may remain after the pandemic fades into history, making new friends on the internet is here to stay.
When I decided to move from Philadelphia to San Francisco to work at The Chronicle, I was just like Green: excited about the move but friendless in my new city. Friends from college, worried about my complete lack of a social life once I arrived here in June, urged me to match with people on dating apps like Hinge and Bumble. “Everyone’s doing it,” they assured me. I felt uncomfortable, but after a month of near isolation, I decided to give it a shot.
And they were right. Conversations online turned quickly to socially distanced walks, picnics in the park — and often, friendship. Everyone was doing it.
Ross Matican, a recent graduate of Carleton College in Minnesota who moved to San Francisco this summer to work as a journalist, met a new friend on Grindr, a hookup app for the gay, bi, trans and queer community. Now they meet up weekly for masked, socially distanced walks to ice cream shop Salt and Straw. “No one is dating right now,” he said. “So I just want to make new friends.
“People in the past would have been like, ‘Ew, why are you doing that?’” he said of becoming friends with people through dating apps. “Now, I’m getting surprisingly well-received responses.”
Making friends this way is not an entirely new concept. Dating app Bumble launched Bumble BFF — intended specifically for platonic relationships — in 2016, the year I went to college. Back then, no one I knew used the app, or admitted it if they did. You were judged.
But now that the pandemic has forced us to confront the uncomfortable in almost every facet of life, judging someone for making friends on a dating app feels very 2016.
Datings apps have been a connection conduit for 20-somethings and older adults, but college freshmen, many anticipating a first semester or full year of remote learning, have found more straightforward ways to meet.
Livvy Platerink, a first-year at UC Berkeley, met her classmates on a Facebook group and Instagram page. While incoming undergraduates often introduce themselves online before meeting in person, this year most of their friendships will have to stay on the internet.
Scrolling through the introductions on social media, Platerink discovered a friend of a friend from Monterrey, Mexico. They immediately bonded over their mutual acquaintance and have decided to stay in touch, even though they may not meet in person this year. “I got to create this connection I never would have even made in person,” she said.
“I’ve always been told, ‘Don’t make friends online.’ I heard terrible, terrible stories,” Platerink said. “But I think that different social platforms are making it a lot more safe, and it’s definitely becoming more socially acceptable, especially as I’m entering a completely new environment. It’s really transformed the way I’m able to meet people.”
It might have taken the suffocating isolation of a global pandemic to force people to embrace it, but making friends via dating apps or on social media allows us to cross into diverse social orbits we would never encounter otherwise.
Matican, for example, recently connected online with someone who works in architecture. “I don’t know how else I would have known him,” he said, adding that he probably would have befriended mostly co-workers in journalism if he were working in person.
As for me, posting on my own Facebook Class of 2020 page found me a potential new friend. Despite the fact that we both just graduated from Brown University, Tyrah Green and I had never met before we both moved to California. Our paths didn’t cross in four years at the same institution in Providence, R.I., but we met up for the first time on Sunday.
Anna Kramer is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @anna_c_kramer