Anyone who's graduated from their college/party years to real, job-having adulthood knows how difficult it can be to make new friends as a grownup. Work friendships can get complicated. Compliments to other women can be misconstrued as flirtation. And we all just feel kind of shy sometimes. Yet you see them everywhere — South Florida is full of cool chicks whom you just know could be comrades... if there were any way to break the ice and get to that point.
Annik Adey-Babinski moved to South Florida for poetry school. While earning her master's degree at FIU, she had plenty of friends; she lived on vibrant Miami Beach and hung out with classmates. But life happened, and most of those cohorts moved away.
Adey-Babinski, 28, who got a job at a welding magazine, a boyfriend, and a home in the 'burbs, decided to stick around but found it hard to make new, close, female pals. "I joined a gym for women; I went to one Toastmasters," she remembers. "But nothing was really clicking."
About six weeks ago, she realized that "I don't think it's just me having trouble connecting" and set out to do some friend matchmaking.
She's been involved with cool community art projects, like the O, Miami poetry festival — but this... "I knew it had to be a web concept," she said, "in order to reach people beyond my network."
She poked around online and found similar concepts, like Girlfriend Social, which she joined but found lacking. None of the sites had many members in Florida. "They're based on the dating-website model where you search and you contact people," she says. "Girlfriend Social — it was all pink, and you have the same worries you have about a dating website — you don't know who's on the other end, and it feels a little weird to randomly message someone." Girlfriend Social is free and supported by sponsorships.
Adey-Babinski thought she could do better. She came up with a survey that asks people to describe themselves and lets them choose things they're into (yoga, fitness, museums), then developed a website, ladycrush.org.
Adey-Babinksi sent out a mass email, and soon, 20 people had filled out the survey to request a friend. Some were young mothers. Some were teachers. There were people from the service industry and the poetry scene. A few lived in Broward County and one in Gainesville.
She also went to the Miami Flea (a thrifting event) and recruited participants. Adey-Babibnski had thought her project would appeal mostly to people who'd just moved to Florida, so she was surprised to meet Miami natives who were eager to join. "They've known the same people here forever and don't know how to branch out."
Adey-Babinski carefully considers each person and tries to pick out a great match. She'll scour Instagram and Twitter profiles to get a better sense of a person's personality. "Then," she explains, "I send individual emails with the name and the email of their match and what kinds of times were good for both of them to meet and three friend-date suggestions." She suggested free bayfront yoga for two yoga lovers and thrift-shopping at Flamingo Plaza on Saturdays for a pair of thrift shoppers.
She suggests the new friends meet quickly. "I also include suggestions for what they can ask the person about to get the conversation rolling. These often have to do with cross interests. One person said their match must love dogs, and another said, 'I don't have a dog, but it would be great if the other person had one.'"
In just two weeks, she's used ten people to make five matches, and she's working on finding matches for the next ten now.
She hopes she'll get feedback. "I have a debriefing form I send them with the match, for me to understand, 'What did they do, how did they like their friend, etc.' so I can tailor the match next time." If a friend date went terribly, she says, she hopes the participants will let her try again with a new match.
She says she's still in "beta mode," but within the month, she hopes to schedule a meetup — maybe a book club or a beach day — if the friends want to meet in a low-pressure environment.
Because of the time it takes to make matches, she may monetize it in the future — perhaps charge a per-match fee that also allows admission to all the events — though she'd let the first 100 signups remain free forever. If the number of people seeking friends grows exponentially, she could incorporate "machine learning" — letting the database make matches.
And guys — there might be something for you down the line. For now, Adey-Babinski says, "I want to focus on helping women make friends, but I'm open to seeing what could develop in terms of expanding to men in the future."
In the meantime, she uses Twitter and Instagram to create positive vibes and encourage friend-making, however it may come.
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