I was recently catching up via FaceTime with a girlfriend who moved from New York City to Los Angeles right before the pandemic changed the way we live our lives. She was telling me how it’s been lonely at times, but that she’s invoked certain coping strategies that have proven effective at helping. It makes sense that she’s embraced online dating as a means to make connections, but when she told me that she found a new platonic hiking buddy on Tinder, I was super surprised. That’s probably because [stage whisper] I don’t know how to meet new people online.
For those who haven’t turned to mobile apps to meet new people online, the idea of connecting digitally might not be attractive. But, the alternative is weathering an isolating pandemic in isolation. and since authentic human connection is so important for mental health, that’s perhaps not the best idea ever.
Whether you’re a beginner when it comes virtual meet-ups or you just need a refresher, help is on the way for you to learn how to meet new people online. Below, find the best apps for making new connections, advice on how to keep things natural, and tips on how to do it all safely.
How to meet new people online, with the help of the following 7 apps
1. Hey! VINA
If you’re desperately seeking a pall who’ll binge reruns of the The Hills with you or someone who will adopt you into their book club (better yet, a weekly wine and cheese party that masquerades as a book club) try Hey! VINA, which bills itself as “Tinder for (girl) friends.”
2. Bumble BFF
If the world of dating apps were a Friends season, Bumble’s episode would be “The One Where the Girl Messages the Guy First.” If that feels like a safe space for you, then have at it. But I also highly recommend Bumble’s under-appreciated platonic function, Bumble BFF. If you’re looking to squad up, it’s an excellent place to explore.
Friender is exactly what it sounds like: And if you’re looking to make friends and find people to social-distantly hang with during this time, it’s up your alley. Friender asks users to rate their interest in different activities and hobbies, so you’ll be able to weed out the people whose social preferences aren’t are super aligned to yours.
As if it isn’t difficult enough being a mother, new mothers in isolation have lost many places for finding IRL camaraderie. Peanut aims to offer a support network for moms to find other moms.
5. Plenty of Fish
While Plenty of Fish is best known as a romantic dating platform, it also caters to platonic connections. As its website specifies, Plenty of Fish is friendship-friendly.
A-okay if your dog is your best friend. But if you’re on the market for a bit more companionship, that makes sense, too. BarkHappy can connect you with other dog owners in your area, whom you can connect with on your common furry-friend interest. Maybe you’ll find a new dog-walking buddy using this way to connect that’s social-distance-friends and gets you out into fresh air.
OkCupid may feel old school, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a super-solid means for meeting people online. You’re able to narrow down searches specific to platonic connections.
3 tips on how to meet new people online without being awkward
1. Be unafraid to put yourself out there, and keep it moving
“Just put yourself out there and have a conversation,” says Sarah-Rose Marcus, a PhD candidate at Rutgers University who studies online dating. “You are home and safe, so don’t overthink it.” Her advice is to keep things casual when conversing, and to move off the app when you feel a connection forming. “My research shows that moving to a more synchronous format to express yourself, like FaceTime or Zoom, is ideal after a few back-and-forths online,” she says.
2. Insist on a video meet-up early on
While you can create a social foundation by bantering via a string of messages, it’s not the same as talking face-to-face with someone. Or, you know, screen-to-screen. Virtual dates are the new normal, says cyber-dating expert Julie Spira.
“Going on a virtual date—whether on in in-app mobile dating feature, or using FaceTime or Zoom to virtually meet your date—is essential.” —cyber-dating expert Julie Spira
“As your communication moves forward from matching to chatting, and from chatting to texting and hopping on the phone, there’s that in-between phase of scheduling a virtual date, where you can see if your digital connection continues to grow through real-time video conversations,” says Spira. “Going on a virtual date—whether on in in-app mobile dating feature, or using FaceTime or Zoom to virtually meet your date—is essential.”
3. Keep virtual dates quick
Since exit plans are hard to come by in this pandemic landscape (no one has much going on by way of conflicting plans), it’s key to strategically time block your virtual meet-ups. Otherwise, if a meeting doesn’t seem to be going well, it’s hard to leave because the person on the other end knows you have nothing else to do.
“I recommend scheduling the first date as a casual virtual happy hour that lasts no more than 20 minutes,” says Spira. “You’ll know pretty quickly if you’d like to continue the conversation, and, if so, schedule a follow-up where you can dine together while apart or play a game online, such as Words with Friends, or stream a series or movie—complete with popcorn and commentary.”
Things to be cautious about
Just like with real-life romantic dating, you’d be wise to “anticipate that some people won’t look exactly like their photos,” says Spira. “Most people are having bad hair days with hair salons closed in many states, so just be yourself and don’t sweat the small things.”
If you do meet in person, make it a public location for safety, and choose an outdoor activity that revolves around your shared interests, suggests Marcus. “Do you like hiking? Rollerblading? Running? Pick one of those and have fun,” she says. “You can also pick a bar or restaurant outside, but see if your partner feels comfortable first.” And on the safety front, Spira adds to “remember to wear your masks, gloves, and carry a small bottle of hand sanitizer. If they don’t follow that same regime, it’s time to walk away.”
Even though everything feels riskier than ever, connecting during quarantine can have some serious benefits. For one thing, you start in a more intimate place with a new person. (For example, “What do you do for work?” has been replaced with “How’s your quarantine going?”)
To sum it all up, not all hope is lost if you’re feeling lonely during the pandemic. If you have a few reliable apps, know how to keep a conversation rolling, and can mask up appropriately, you can still connect with people. And the fact that we’re all in this together creates common ground that makes it easier to overcome distance and really connect…emotionally speaking, of course.
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