Romancing Friends on Dating Apps

By Simone Wolff
Volume 1//Personal Essay

Like many queer people, many of my pre-coming out friendships look pretty gay in hindsight. The way my mother and I plotted how I would introduce myself to my first best friend, Juliana, who I had singled out as the girl for me. The way I loved how Natasha’s hair smelled when I braided it. The way Emily and I would hold hands in the hallways between classes. Many of these girls eventually came out as well, but our friendships never developed into something explicitly romantic or sexual. Instead, these friendships were the place where I learned how to be intimate and loving on a day-to-day basis. I’ve never had much luck with the friendship-into-partners thing anyway.

That means that when I write “just looking for friends” on my Tinder and OKCupid profiles, I mean it. Maybe the format of those early friendships stuck with meespecially the long courtships that would precede themor maybe I just take Dean Spade super seriously when he admonished us to “treat our friends more like lovers,” but most of my new friends come from dating apps. On the flip side, I’ve never met a romantic or even sexual partner online.

I made my first OkCupid account last winter, one year into grad school. I was living alone, far away from home, and for the first time in my life, desperate for friends. Dating wasn’t an issue, as I was in a committed partnership, but it was long-distance so I was especially lonely. I made a profile with pointedly non-sexy pictures, stressed my lack of interest in smoochies in the “about me” section, clicked the “friends” box when asked what I was looking for, and made my profile live.

Within five minutes, I got a message. It was from a cute girl with heavy brown bangs and red lips. She shared my interest in poetry and we bonded in long messages over our favorite authors and also how introverted we were. We met up to go to our city’s “art crawl,” and the art was dull but the company was lovely. A relief from the cloying loneliness of living in that southern city so far away from my family, all my old friends, and my partner, as well as from Taylor Swift as a topic of conversation (kind of the go-to in Nashville). Radha herself is one of those people who is just a beam of light, the kind that falls through your kitchen window onto your cheek in the morning and reminds you of how gentle it can be to be alive.

Over tacos one night, we agreed that we were both “relationship” people, rather than “friendship” people. It was easy for us to find people to date, to fall in love, and to maintain our partnerships. Friendships, on the other hand, were areas of heartbreak, confusion, and loneliness. It seemed like the opposite of how we were supposed to beweren’t friends supposed to be through it all, the most trustworthy and constant? Does it make you a bad person if you find them hard to make and keep?

Radha and I also wondered if it was because we’re queer. Being friends with women seems so desirable, but boundaries within them can be tricky. Many women, especially straight ones, love to PDA with their female friends. Radha expressed that this makes her uncomfortable, like her sexuality isn’t being taken seriously. Gender and sexual dynamics are just as real between friends as between anyone else, and we tend to hold our friendships to higher ethical standards than any other relationship.

While dating sites may be about overcoming the obstacles that keep people apart, dating profiles are basically all about establishing boundaries. Both Radha and I were able to be totally clear about what we wantI specified no dating, Radha included her caveat about PDA. And that’s how two painfully introverted queer poetry nerds found each other and became best friends, a (Tinder) match made in heaven.