Women Can Connect, Click by Click

Web sites seek to help women find friends

A version of this article was originally published July 15, 2012 in The New York Times

IN 2008, when Janis Kupferer moved to Denver for a job, she was 40 and single and knew no one in the area. When browsing, she recalled, she would sometimes click on other women’s profiles and think: “Some of these women sound really neat. Why isn’t there a Web site where I can meet female friends?”

So Ms. Kupferer decided to start one. Thus was born, which now has about 16,000 members nationwide. It works much like a standard dating site: you post a profile, including a photo and some information about yourself, and search the database. The criteria can be as specific as “I’m looking for a French-speaking woman who owns poodles,” Ms. Kupferer said. The next steps sound familiar, too: you fire off an e-mail and wait for a response, then perhaps meet for coffee. But ultimately, instead of ending up in bed or at the altar, the idea is that you acquire a running buddy or a lunch date.

In the last few years, a cluster of such sites has cropped up. GirlFriendCircles, which claims almost 12,000 members, orchestrates outings and “speed friending” events. Girlfriend Social cites 45,000 members and hosts periodic get-togethers.

As their names suggest, these cater exclusively to women. But a few sites, like Companion Tree, are open to members of both sexes. Inspired by the success of online dating, their founders saw a market for a similar model in the platonic realm.

Some friend-seekers may prefer less contrived settings, like a hiking club, which do not necessitate broadcasting a friend hunt. But according to some advocates, one advantage of these sites is that very explicitness. “You can skip the insecurity of, ‘Oh, they’re so busy, they don’t need friends,’ ” said Shasta Nelson, the founder of GirlFriendCircles and author of the forthcoming book “Friendships Don’t Just Happen.”

The sites generally charge a subscription fee, like $29.95 for six months at GirlFriendCircles, or feature advertising. But who would pay, directly or indirectly, for friendship? The writer Rachel Bertsche, 30, asked herself that as she prepared to explore the option.

In 2007, she moved to Chicago to join her future husband and found herself in need of local girlfriends. Eventually she tried GirlFriendCircles, an experience she chronicled in her 2011 book, “MWF Seeking BFF.” At times, she remembers thinking: “This is horribly embarrassing. You say, ‘I’m looking for new friends,’ and people hear, ‘I have no friends.’ ”

Like Ms. Bertsche and Ms. Kupferer, users of these sites are in transitional phases: they recently arrived in a new city, or divorced, or retired. The sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild, author of “The Outsourced Self,” believes these sites have a “double edged” quality. The market, she argues, has eroded many traditional supports, but it provides them in altered form.

Some predict that online friend-making will become increasingly common and lose any stigma it may have. After all, Internet dating, once considered a last resort for the desperate, is now as unremarkable as meeting someone at a party.

Amanda Blain, the founder of Girlfriend Social, wants to reassure women that this is an acceptable way to meet friends. “It’s O.K., we’re busy, we’ve got a lot of stuff going on,” she said. “You’re not weird or strange.”

Source: The New York Times

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