NEW YORK: Women have long relied on dating apps to find romantic partners, but many now are going online to seek another special someone: a friend.
Friend-finding apps such as Bumble BFF and GirlCrew are becoming more popular with women, many of whom work remotely or move around the globe for career pursuits.
"Cindy wasn't my first," said Priya Vedhara, 35, smiling as she sat next to Cindy Santos, 39, another Brooklyn resident whom she met through Bumble BFF. Two months later they are friends who share a glass of wine as well as life's complaints and comforts.
"I swiped and we matched," said Vedhara, a regional manager for a hair loss consultancy who said an initial volley of online messages revealed their shared sense of humor.
The first time they met in person, they shared a "hilarious" night on a dance floor, recalled Santos, a child welfare project manager, who moved to New York from Philadelphia in March 2017.
"Very quickly I thought to myself, 'Yeah, this could be a good girlfriend for me,'" said Vedhara, who recently moved to New York from London.
Both women had previously used dating apps to meet men. But they met each other on a break from romance to focus instead on cultivating platonic friendships with women to better weather the ups and downs of living in New York City.
"Having a very strong group of female friends in the UK is something I deeply missed here," Vedhara said. "I found I couldn't enjoy the city without some good girlfriends."
Making friends can be more challenging as people grow older, especially at a time when remote employment and independent freelance work have become the norm, experts said.
Loneliness is a global challenge. Nearly half of Americans say they sometimes or always feel alone or left out, according to a 2018 Cigna and Ipsos study. Britain last year appointed a minister for loneliness to address the social isolation felt by more than one in 10 people in the country.
Friendship carries both mental and physical benefits, said Ali Mattu, clinical psychologist at Columbia University Irving Medical Center.
"Going from not knowing each other to identifying shared interests is one of the first steps in making a new friend and apps, online communities, the internet can fast track that," Mattu said. "They make it a lot easier to get over that first big step."
Bumble BFF, which the dating app Bumble launched worldwide in 2016, counts among its friendship successes an Atlanta-based group of baseball-loving women who go to Braves games together, said Bumble Chief Brand Officer Alex Williamson.
GirlCrew's 100,000 members in more than 50 cities across seven countries include women who may want to team up for an afternoon of axe throwing or hiking or a pottery class, said co-CEO Pamela Newenham.
(Reporting by Jillian Kitchener; Writing by Barbara Goldberg; Editing by Richard Chang)