Image Credit - Harli Marten

What Dinner With A Friend Society Tells Us About Friendships… And Dating 

This academic year, we welcomed the Dinner With a Stranger (DWAS) Society to campus, and I took immediate interest. For those unaware, the gist of it is: friendship blind dating. Members, like myself, complete a monthly questionnaire, and are matched up with one person, or a small group of people, with whom a blind friendship date is arranged.

My experience with DWAS society, and the whole concept of friendship blind dating, got me thinking: why do we consider friendships so differently to romantic relationships?

Hinge, Bumble, Tinder  — there are countless apps trying to facilitate finding your person. Dating shows, like Love is Blind, Love Island, and Married at First Sight, are all about finding a relationship, and social media is saturated with “dating advice” on “how to get past the talking stage”, “how to meet people in the wild, rather than on the apps”, “how to ask someone to be exclusive”. And yet, none of this attention or energy is applied to finding good friends. The pressure compounds us to find our person, not our people.

Part of the problem is in the language. You meet someone (whether in person, or through an app), and enter a talking stage. From there, you start going on dates and enter the “dating” phase. After a while, you may have a conversation about being exclusive, and perhaps further on about becoming partners, or boyfriends and girlfriends. We have mapped the journey from singledom to commitment to a tee. We know what it means to be ghosted, or to be in a situationship, or (for the lucky ones) to be genuinely loved. 

Friendships are not such well-charted waters. If you’re looking to make connections and new friends, you might be out of luck. We have no word for the stage between meeting someone for the first time and becoming their friend. We have no conversation to define whether you even are friends. We have no term for a friend who strings you along, the way a situationship might, no guidelines surrounding when it’s appropriate to ask for someone’s contact details in a platonic way. And any language we use to describe forming friendships is adapted from language originally used in dating: friendship dating, friend-dates, friend breakups. This speaks to a wider preoccupation with finding a partner, over finding good friends. We take for granted that good friends will just “happen” to us.

But, at its core, the process of establishing a connection with someone and bringing them into your life is the same, regardless of whether it’s a friend or a partner. You meet someone. You ask for their Instagram, Snapchat, or phone number. At some point you reach out to them, and perhaps message back and forth, or maybe jump straight to the next reason to hang out: “Come to this society event with me”, “My friend is having a flat party- you should come along”, “Are you free for lunch on Thursday?”. If that goes well, you continue making plans together until one day, they refer to you in passing as “my friend”. That’s how you know you’ve done it.

Last October, in the lead up to Halloween, I went home for a weekend and dragged my family to a pumpkin patch with me. As we sat, eating lunch in the cafe, I looked over my Mum’s shoulder and saw three elderly women sitting down with tea and cakes. Only one of them faced me, but I watched as she sliced into her cake with her fork, her face lighting up with excitement for it. 

It might sound silly, but I saw her then as she would have been fifty years ago – young and energetic, excited about small things which might one day lose their charm. Her friends shared out their cups and poured tea from little teapots, and the woman facing me smiled more as they continued their conversation. I don’t know how long they had all known each other, but they seemed to share something which had stood the test of time. I rfealised this was what I wanted someday: to spend my golden years drinking tea with my friends and remembering our youth. I want to spend my last stretch of time on earth with those who have known me for the longest, known me through phases and rough patches, and stuck with me the whole time – that’s what love really is, after all. Dating is a revolving door. Friendships are a warm living room with a big solid door to keep the cold out. I’d rather end up a Golden Girl than be like Allie from The Notebook.

Not everyone has such luck with friends. Some have to kiss a few frogs before finding their people. And since we have no framework for talking about friendships the way we do romantic relationships, friendship breakups can be even harder than romantic breakups. When we go through a romantic breakup, we can turn to books, films and TV shows all stuffed with the experience of losing a lover and how to find your way through to the other side, how to get over what happened enough to find someone else. Many of us can attest to the agony of breaking up with a really close friend, and how that pain is worsened because there is no language to discuss it. There are little to no films, books, or TV shows to turn to for the answers, or to have that pain feel seen. Friendship breakups hold all the torment of romantic breakups, with none of the support or recognition.

Perhaps none of those old ladies at the pumpkin patch had ever found their person, but they found their people, and that seems far more important to me. I don’t know which of my friends will be there with me, having tea and cakes at a pumpkin patch in October fifty years from now. Maybe I’ve already met them, maybe not, or maybe I’ll meet them through the Dinner With a Stranger society.

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