Standing in front of Francois Payard Bakery at Columbus Circle, Walter Piper shifts his weight nervously from one foot to the other.
The 28-year-old is waiting for Jay, a bioengineering student whom he met online just days prior. To take the pressure off of their first meet-up, they planned to run the 10K loop in Central Park together before work.
But this isn’t the beginning of a romance — the two men met through an online “friending” site, gofindfriends.com. Piper, despite having more than 300 friends on Facebook, found himself in a predicament shared by many millennials: He had no real friends to hang out with.
“I had been in a relationship for the past year, but I was lacking social connection outside of that,” says Piper, a Ph.D. candidate in neural science at NYU, who moved to the city from Oregon two years ago.
Thus, one night in late May, Piper found himself signing up for an account on GoFindFriends after spotting an ad for the site on Google. Within days, he and Jay arranged their first running “date,” and soon they were planning regular jogs through the park.
“It’s really hard to make new friends when you move to the city,” explains the site’s co-founder Peter DiBari, who only knew one person in the city when he moved here from Boston three years ago for a job at American Express. He tried making connections at work; through the site meetup.com; and at sports leagues, such as ZogSports, before realizing they were all “awkward and weird.”
DiBari, 38, and co-worker John Boese, 40, decided to create a new site based on matching people’s personalities as well as interests.
“We tried to take the best part of online dating and use it for online friending. You can browse profiles, see who you like, see pictures, e-mail people, and set up events to do together,” DiBari says of the site, which launched in February. Though he won’t reveal exact numbers, he says membership is “in the thousands.”
Once new users register and set up profiles (including photos and activities they’d like to do in the city), GoFindFriends uses an algorithm to match them with potential pals, and users can also browse profiles as well. The site is free, but limited to NYC 20-somethings.
With GoFindFriends and similar sites like Make Friends NYC and Wolfpack popping up for people seeking platonic relationships with both men and women, it’s clear millennials crave real-life connections. But why not just go out and meet people? We do live in a city of 8.5 million people, after all.
“Millennials are used to dating in a Tinder world. They don’t know how to date in real life,” and now the same applies to making friends, says David Ryan Polgar, author of the book “Wisdom in the Age of Twitter.” The digital lifestyle expert says young people have become so dependent on texting, e-mailing and Snapchatting that they’ve forgotten how to interact in person, which is why forging new friendships as adults has become so painfully awkward.
Polgar explains that sites like GoFindFriends do well because users start in their comfort zone online, but open themselves up to vulnerability by agreeing to meet in person.
“It’s hard to make friends, especially with girls,” confesses Hanna Fillingham, 23, who hails from London but moved to the city this summer to pursue a journalism career. “If you go up to a guy [to ask him out on a date], you won’t usually be turned away horribly. But if you approach a group of girls, they can be quite rude, and they can reject you.”
Fillingham eventually saw an ad for GoFindFriends while surfing the Web, and signed up for an account. A few days later she spotted Janeth Guijosa, 26, a user who had similar interests. After a few messages back and forth, they met up in Herald Square.
“We went to different bars and bought pretzels from the vendor on the street and got caught in the rain,” says Guijosa, who moved to Midtown from Chicago this summer. She laughs: “It was actually very romantic.”
As for Piper, his running buddy eventually moved away from NYC, but he’s still hopeful.
He says: “It’s comforting to know that if there’s ever a week where I feel like I don’t have enough social connection, I have GoFindFriends in my back pocket.”