Finding friends in the electronic age

While browsing online a few weeks back, I happened upon a new app which allows women to ‘swipe right’ (à la Tinder) to find female friends in their city. Potential friends are initially matched using similar interests and stages of life. From there, users can select those who seem the most interesting and/or compatible. Unfortunately, it’s not yet available in Australia, but the developers plan to expand this way very soon. This is good news for people who may be time-poor, shy about initiating new friendships or just looking to expand their real-life social network and don’t know where to start.

Like most people, I have a motley crew of friends. Old friends from school days, friends I have met while pursuing hobbies and interests or online, work friends and friends-of-friends who have now become very dear.

These friendships have evolved because, at some point after the initial meeting, both parties made the choice to nurture them. This may have been a conscious decision, however there is still an element of circumstance about it: ‘If our mums didn’t know each other–’, ‘If I had gone to a different school –’, ‘If it wasn’t for Pilates — then we probably never would have met.’

Which is what makes the Hey! VINA app so novel. After more than two decades of the World Wide Web, we’re now accustomed to the idea of finding a romantic match online. But even though social networking has increased our overall connectivity, a platform which allows us to deliberately and deliberatively find a platonic match is still quite rare – and more so for men than women.

The concept of ‘matching’ is quite an interesting one, especially where friends are concerned. While some of my friends share some of my interests and values, many don’t. And none of them really share my temperament. For the most part, these are positive things. Diversity brings new experiences and new insights, which are both necessary for growth.

As the humanist writer Ralph Waldo Emerson said;

‘Better be a nettle in the side of your friend than his echo’.

In this I am lucky to have friends who won’t shy away from challenging me to consider another perspective. However, perhaps choosing friends in a more deliberate fashion means having people who ‘get’ me in ways some of my existing friends may not. And, to my mind, to be understood by those around us is just as important as being challenged.

While Emerson argues that our differences can unite us, he acknowledges that those friendships built on unequal investment and regard generally disappear. He writes:

‘Why should I cumber myself with regrets that the receiver is not capacious? It never troubles the sun that some of his rays fall wide and vain into ungrateful space, and only a small part on the reflecting planet. Let your greatness educate the crude and cold companion. If he is unequal, he will presently pass away…’

Here, Emerson is not referring to the natural ebb and flow of interaction, or those friendships which can be resumed after a lengthy absence without discomfort on either side. He is referring to those friendships where one party is demonstrably more invested than the other. We’ve all known the frustration of the friend who does not respond to messages or initiate contact, who rarely enquires how we are or shows little interest in our lives.

These are the behaviours we wouldn’t tolerate in a committed romantic relationship, but somehow we tolerate them in supposedly committed platonic ones. But perhaps this is where the problem lies; in discrepancies between each individual’s expectations of what it means to be committed, as well as differences in availability and amount of connection needed. Romantic relationships often have mutually-agreed standards, even if they are not explicitly articulated. In my experience, friendships evolve quite differently and sometimes there isn’t even an avenue to discuss the dynamic.

If apps such as Hey! VINA can facilitate real life friendships whilst eliminating some of these discrepancies through compatible matching, then finding friends in the electronic age just got a whole lot better.

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Melita Caulfield

Melita believes in living mindfully and authentically which is reflected in her writing and artistic expression.

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