Looking for a Friend Without Benefits? Try Match, Bumble and Tinder.


When Jessica Johnson opened new Tinder, Bumble and Hinge accounts at the same time last year, she wasn’t looking for romance. She’s made it clear on the sites that she is happily married.

She just wanted to find some new friends.

“I was just looking for new people to grow and thrive with,” says Ms. Johnson, a realty coordinator in Atlanta.

She had met her husband on Tinder, making her familiar with the app. Despite some online conversations that went nowhere, and at least one woman who tried to flirt with her, “the results were actually really good,” says Ms. Johnson, 24. “I made two friends who are now actually my best friends.”

Dating apps are getting friendlier. More younger people see no problem swiping left or right to find friend matches rather than dates or hookup partners. Millennials and members of Generation Z have been comfortable using dating apps to meet platonic friends for a few years now, especially when moving to a new city. During the pandemic, the practice boomed.

In a recent survey of more than 300 members of Generation Z aged 16 to 24 in the U.S., 35% said they have used dating apps to make platonic friends over the past 12 months, according to OnePulse, a consumer insight app and web portal, which conducted the poll for The Wall Street Journal. Nearly 27% said they used dating apps to make friends because they were lonely in lockdown. More women than men—39% vs. 29%—said they used dating apps to make platonic friends.

Some apps have embraced the friend zone. Bumble has seen growing interest in its friend-finder option, Bumble BFF, over the past year, says Tariq Shaukat, Bumble’s president. During the first three months of 2021, the average time spent on Bumble BFF grew 44% for women and 83% for men. Women had already been steadily using the feature, launched in 2016, for years, while the usage increase for men was more recent.

Increased interest “indicates that as cities are beginning to reopen, people are ready to meet new people and revive their social lives,” Mr. Shaukat says.

Gaby Deimeke, left, with her boyfriend Justin Peters and Alexandra Voelkers, right, with her fiance Joel Stenseth, in Austin, Texas.



Photo:

Ilana Panich-Linsman for The Wall Street Journal

Early on in the pandemic,

Match Group,

which owns Tinder, Hinge, Plenty of Fish and other dating sites and apps, “saw a tremendous uptick of people connecting with others all around the world,” says chief strategy officer Faye Iosotaluno. They used Tinder’s Passport feature, which allows chatting with users anywhere globally rather than just locally, she says. After noticing the rise, the company made the feature free in April 2020, and again this April.

Match Group plans to broaden its services beyond dating to finding friends with its June purchase of South Korean social-media company Hyperconnect. “There’s tremendous growth in this area because now we’re not talking about just singles,” Ms. Iosotaluno says.

When photographer Gaby Deimeke relocated to Austin, Texas, from New York with her boyfriend in September, leaving her friends, “I was like, OK, I need to be intentional about building a similar group of like-minded folks,” she says.

Ms. Deimeke, 26, turned to Bumble BFF. She quickly hit it off with a couple of women. One of them ended up attending Ms. Deimeke’s birthday party in October. “Since then we’ve become super good friends,” she says. Once the friend got engaged later last fall, “I took their engagement pictures and they just asked me to shoot their wedding this fall in Spain. Like literally, we met from Bumble and now we all have these big life moments together.”

Geneviève Knapp tried apps to make friends and lessen pandemic isolation.



Photo:

Genevieve Knapp

Those who use dating apps to make platonic friends can face skepticism or resentment from other users there to date or hook up.

“Tinder wasn’t great because I was trying to find friends, not hookups, and Tinder seemed to be a lot of hookup people,” says Geneviève Knapp, who downloaded the app to make new friends and lessen pandemic isolation in January, about six months after moving to Sherbrooke, Quebec, from Montreal. Mx. Knapp, who uses the gender-neutral honorific, quit the app and joined OkCupid instead.

Sometimes when men realized Mx. Knapp really was just looking for friends, “they just sort of stopped replying,” the 38-year-old graduate student says. Mx. Knapp finally connected with a woman who had also recently moved from Montreal. “We’ve been going out for walks and just doing fun stuff for a few months now.”

Insley Christian Davis, left, and Leesi George-Komi at his graduation from the University of Georgia in May.



Photo:

Insley Christian Davis

People looking for platonic pals on dating apps typically state they are looking for friends and list a range of interests from fashion to bowling to museums. Though the qualities and interests are in some ways similar to what people look for in romantic partners, they don’t get hung up on physical appearance or existential questions like wanting kids. They make it clear they are looking for people to hang with. Sometimes they’ll announce they just moved to a new city and are looking for new friends.

In some cases, friendships formed on dating apps turn into something more. Eager to make new friends in her Atlanta metro area after growing apart from her old friends during the pandemic, Insley Christian Davis downloaded Tinder in early March, on a female friend’s recommendation.

Ms. Davis, a 26-year-old script writer and film director, managed to click as a friend with one man. The two, both vaccinated, went on hikes together and before she knew it, romance blossomed.

Grace Van Patten, left, and her friend, Shelby Clary, whom she met on Bumble BFF.



Photo:

Grace Van Patten

“In early May, I realized I really like him,” she says. The two recently began dating. Ms. Davis remains hopeful she can still find platonic friends on dating apps.

Grace Van Patten, a 23-year-old retail wireless consultant in Cedar Falls, Iowa, says she and her boyfriend were “both shocked” at how well things went when she went looking for female friends on Bumble BFF earlier this year. She instantly clicked with a woman and has since hung out with her often.

“A friend app in the same style as a dating app sounds like such an absurd thing,” she says. “I love telling people how I met her, because it’s pretty wild.”

Write to Ray A. Smith at ray.smith@wsj.com

Copyright ©2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8



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