I have an embarrassing confession to make. I don’t have a lot of female friends. I used to have male friends but over the last few years, both the male and female have left my life, for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it was a difference in lifestyle that changed the dynamic of the friendship. With others they behaved inappropriately once social networking became an everyday part of life and put you in the path of people you wouldn’t normally associate with (I’m looking at you, partner of my sister’s best friend who thought it was acceptable to send suggestive comments to my inbox). Sometimes, the friendship just fizzled out because we were different types of people. So, during a recent conversation with someone it occurred to me that perhaps part of the reason why I’m struggling in my everyday life is that I don’t have the right support network. I can’t just magic one up out of thin air, but I can build a new one.
I started thinking of ways I could do this. I said to myself, there should be a Tinder for making a new best friend. I haven’t had a female bestie since 2003. That’s a long time without girly in-jokes, secrets whispered over lunches and sometimes just watching a movie together, the occasional nonsensical comment being thrown in while we enjoy each other’s company. It’s actually a very long time.
My last female bestie was named Dawn. We were probably quite an odd pairing to look at, Dawn having a kind of Xena Warrior Princess appearance, but with freckles, and me looking more like a really short Nana Mouskouri at that time. Her passions were kind of similar to mine. We liked rock music and motor racing, but whereas she was nuts about Smashing Pumpkins and thought Billy Corgan was an actual God, I was leaning toward pop punk and Britpop, favouring Dexter Holland and Jarvis Cocker’s quirkiness. We managed to watch Formula 1 together without arguing, something I’ve never achieved with a male friend, accepting that we both wanted David Coulthard to win but I’d be happy for her if Jacques Villeneuve got on the podium and she’d be willing to accept a Giancarlo Fisichella podium place if it made me smile.
It wasn’t always an easy friendship but when we fought, we usually made up by eating Quality Street and heading to Global Video to choose a film to watch together. When my husband arrived on the scene though, she became quite paranoid that I was going to ditch her. I had no intention of doing so. I needed a female bestie more than ever because so many exciting things were happening that I wanted to share. First dates, first kisses, first shags. And of course, all the challenges that come with being with an older man meant I needed a listening ear and sound advice. She couldn’t and wouldn’t give me that. She didn’t want to hear anything about my relationship and baulked at the idea of meeting him. She couldn’t be happy for me and actually said the words, “You’ll forget about me, so I need to make a life for myself.” So I was ditched. That stung. I’m not going to lie, it still stings. It all came to a head on my birthday in 2003 when she threw a tantrum because I chose to have dinner with Alex on my birthday. I invited her, but of course she didn’t want to come and play third wheel. So, there was a very big fight and it was over.
I do have female friends. There’s Kim, who is awesome but I don’t see her much because she has her own shit to deal with and still lives the girl-about-town lifestyle. Then there’s Kirsty, who has a son the same age as mine. She actually has three of them and she lives in another town so getting together has been difficult due to geography and family commitments on both our ends. Then there’s Louise who I haven’t seen in almost three years, but she still totally counts as a friend, right? Not to mention the numerous school friends who I still count as friends, even if we haven’t met up in years. Lesley Anne, who is down in Newcastle. Claire, who is now a photographer and lives up in Glasgow. Various autism mums I meet occasionally at National Autistic Society meetings and all the girls I know only online.
But since Luke was born, making friends has been more difficult. Despite trying my best to fit in at the local mums and toddlers group, I didn’t make any meaningful connections. In fact, most of them walk past me in the street with their noses in the air pretending they don’t know me when I say hello. As for uni, that’s been a bit of a disaster. I only made it out to one tutorial and two days schools this year and the only person I connected with was a much older man called Donald. He is a thoroughly nice bloke though.
That’s why I decided to try Hey Vina. It’s time to get serious about making new friends. The adult world is nothing like childhood when it comes to making friends. It’s far more complex. I need someone who understands my lifestyle. I need a best friend who gets the restrictions that being a tee-total, allergic to everything, pescatarian brings to my social life. I need a best friend who understands that because my life is all about caring for Luke, we have to stick to a very rigid timetable and pre-plan most things in advance. I need a friend who understands depression, anxiety, working in an industry that is still very misunderstood and mostly unheard of in Scotland and most importantly someone who won’t force me to drink alcohol or think I’m weird because I just don’t want to do it.
That’s a tall order, isn’t it? It’s a lot to deal with, even for me, so why should anyone else want to invite that into their life?
I read reviews of Hey Vina online and searched for comments about it on Twitter. All positive, so I downloaded the app and made an account. I found myself struggling to create a profile that reflected who I am, so I had two or three attempts at that before I swiped either direction on anyone. I ended up with this:
“Loved up wife – proud autism mummy – cat sleuth writer – blogger of perfume and gadgets (basically a geek who likes to smell nice) – Open Uni creative writing student – F1 fan – Jack Russell enthusiast – mildly obsessed with chocolate – gamer – and I totally believe in magic!
What’s Your Age? Late 30s
Where Do You Work? Anywhere there’s Wi-Fi
Where Did You Go To School? – The Open University
What’s Your Guilty Pleasure? – If it gives you pleasure and hurts no-one why feel guilty?
What Do You Love Most About Yourself? My resilience? Maybe. Definitely not my decisiveness
How Do You Spend Your Sundays? Watching F1 or blogging”
I joined some groups on the app to reflect not just who I am, but who I think I would connect with best. So, that’s dog owners, women who code, sober sisters, stay at home moms, bloggers and lit lovers. I then trawled through all the “Vinas” available to me, including, bizarrely, a lot of women from New South Wales, Australia! Anyone who was outwith a 50 mile radius was out. Anyone who was under 21 or over 50 was out. Then I rejected everyone who was part of certain groups, for example the jet setters group, the dancing queens group and the party girls group. There’s just no way I would be besties with a globe trotting, cocktail downing, party diva. Maybe ten years ago, but not now. Then I waited…
After five days and I finally got a match! I was so nervous about messaging her, but she seemed really nice. She had just finished her PhD in Russian literature and had no kids. I could see how working so hard at that could restrict her chances for making friends. So, we exchanged messages for a couple of days and then they spaced out to every other day and then she went quiet on me. So, after a week of not hearing from her, I sent a message to ask how she was and what were her plans for the weekend, telling her about mine. And she didn’t reply, so that was that. I scrolled back through our previous exchanges and it occurred to me that we had descended into discussing the weather. It’s no surprise that ended.
And then I realised that I hadn’t had any other matches. A month into Hey Vina usage, I had only one match and she was bored with me. I checked my stats and it turns out that eight women had swiped right on me but I had rejected them. So, it seems that jet-setting, party loving women would love to get to know me even if my life is drastically different from theirs. Either that, or there are women in New South Wales looking for a penpal BFF. Or there’s teens out there looking for a mummy figure. Oh well.
It led me to wonder what the real problem is here. Do I shut people out? Am I not giving enough people a chance? Could I be closing the door on a potential friend because I don’t believe that opposites attract, particularly when it comes to friendships? To be honest, yes, I am guilty of doing my own thing too much. I feel comfortable in my own company. I try to give everyone a chance but when someone’s desperate to go for cocktails on a Friday night to wind down from the working week while I’m elbow-deep in blogging and trying to coax Luke through his latest meltdown, I can’t see how that will ever work.
Hey Vina could potentially be a success for many women, but for me, it just made me feel even worse about myself. I don’t have a flexible lifestyle that allows newcomers in easily and that makes me feel really sad about my present life and my future. It’s also made me more determined to get back out to work in some capacity rather than continuing to work from home, to meet more people, even the wrong ones. It’s never a bad thing to meet new people.
Of course, it’s possible that I’m just not likeable enough and will never find that elusive female bestie that I am seeking. It’s possible that it’s already someone I know and neither of us have realised and it’s even possible that my next best friend will be a man. I’m open to that idea. What I will say is that I am always a believer that the right people come into your life at the right time so all I can do is keep my eyes peeled and my diary open and wait for someone I truly click with to reveal themselves.
And until then, I’ll keep the app on my phone. You never know…