Five long years ago, I was job-hunting, living on a couch, friendless, and in a new city where I had no idea how to meet people. I signed up for OkCupid on a whim, hoping to go on a few dates and engage in some interesting conversation. I thought it was neat that the site showed me a percentage match of how compatible I might be with each user, based on a series of personality-revealing questions.
I went on dates -- lots and lots and LOTS of boring dates. It was nice to get out and chat with new people, and while I got along great with most of my online dating matches (as the website had predicted I would), there were definitely no sparks. I realized that what I really wanted was to build a support system of friends in my new city. I had no interest in having a boyfriend; I wanted to build lasting relationships, and that wasn't going to be likely if the other person was entering the situation expecting romantic involvement. I decided to go out on a limb and try a slightly unorthodox approach.
I changed my profile settings to view other females, and sent messages to all of my "top matches." I explained that I wasn't looking for romance, just friendship, and that we seemed to have plenty in common. While I got a few creeped-out responses, I also got several from people who were very impressed that I had the balls to use an online dating site to find friendships. This is how I met my best friend, Katie, and pretty much every other close friend currently in my life.
So why don't more women do this? I see countless online threads addressing the problem of meeting people when you move to a new city, and websites like Girlfriend Social are popping up to bring like-minded females together. Is it because it makes us feel like desperate weirdos? Creepers? Or is the thought of reaching out to another human being in an honest, vulnerable way just too scary?
Here are four basic rules of thumb to make finding friends using online dating sites, Craigslist or other online resources less terrifying and awkward:
1. Be very direct about what you want.
One of the biggest hurdles to overcome when approaching someone online for potential friendship is the risk of your intentions being misunderstood. Be extremely clear that you are seeking friendship and friendship alone, and do this as early on as possible to avoid any embarrassing miscommunications. If you feel awkward, use humor to break the ice. The person you are contacting is probably just as nervous as you are, and will likely be flattered that you think they are interesting enough to want to be friends.
2. Don't be hurt if they react negatively or don't write back.
As with online dating, making friends online can be brutal. Just because you are looking for friends doesn't mean the person you are messaging shares your goal. Sadly, some people think they don't have room in their life for a new connection, or will tell you you're a creep for reaching out. You don't want to be friends with people like this anyway, so don't let it bother you. In the wise words of Taylor Swift, "Haters gonna hate."
3. Your safety and data security must come first.
While it's nice to be optimistic, not everyone you meet online is going to be who they say they are. Just because someone seems like a nice person based on their profile doesn't mean that they have no ulterior motives. For all you know, they might be a serial killer or a hacker who is interested in stealing your identity or personal information. Never give sensitive information like your phone number, address, or place of employment out online, and make sure when you arrange to meet a potential friend that you do so in a public place.
4. Be honest.
When making new friends, it can be somewhat tempting to exaggerate the amazingness of your life and even your appearance. A good friend will not care if you're unemployed, and won't discriminate against you for your tendency to binge on cupcakes and wine. If you expect honesty from others, you must be willing to offer it yourself, especially when it comes to friendships that start online instead of in person.
Meeting new people can be extremely hard, especially if you've just relocated to a new city. I have been fortunate enough to find amazing best friends online through dating websites, Craigslist, and Meetup groups, and I think with a bit of creativity, courage, and bravery, this tactic could prove useful for anyone. While it may seem strange to message someone for friendship on a dating website, I've found that the response is actually overwhelmingly positive! Follow these four basic tips and you'll be well on your way to becoming an online-networking social butterfly.