In high school and college, you make friends with ease. Between classes, recreational activities, student groups, and on-campus parties, you’re constantly exposed to new people with similar interests, with whom you can forge tight-knit bonds. Once you graduate, however, many people move to different parts of the country or the world. As family and work commitments start to take up more time, these relationships begin slipping away—study after study has shown that the number of friendships we can maintain goes down as we get older.
Faced with this fact of life, you could confide in a robot or join an online forum—but digital friends won’t grab margaritas with you after work or help you smuggle cheap snacks into the movie theater. So how do you build up your IRL social circle? Counterintuitive as it may sound, you can turn to apps to spark new connections.
There’s no shame in taking advantage of technology—especially because feeling lonely and isolated is linked to a variety of health issues. So fire up your mobile phone and start meeting some new people.
Okay, okay, you’ve probably already heard of Facebook. You might be sick of your current News Feed, but the app can also help you meet new people. You just need to use it to get out of your usual rut. Search for and join public groups in your area. Or get involved with local community pages—for example, see if nearby parks have their own pages. Once you’re a member, start reaching out to fellow group members and attending the events these pages host. You’ll be connecting and making friends in no time at all.
Friender takes some of the legwork out of finding potential buddies. First, you fill out a survey indicating your interest (or lack thereof) in more than 100 different topics and activities. Then, much like a dating app does, Friender suggests compatible folks who live in the local area and share some of your interests. Unfortunately, the app is only available on iOS—for now.
Friender for iOS (freemium, from $5.99/month)
Hey! Vina is a women-only friend-finding app, so men can skip this entry. The interface is very much inspired by Tinder: You swipe to find matches. In this case, however, you’re looking for platonic friends based on shared likes and interests, rather than partners whose profile pictures catch your eye. Like Friender, this one is also exclusive to iOS at the moment.
Hey! Vina for iOS (free)
If a one-on-one first meeting feels too much like an awkward first date, go for safety in numbers with Me3, which connects you with two new people rather than one. The card-based interface has the feel of Tinder: You set out your own interests and traits before swiping through potential friends. But with Me3, you’re looking to make a “tribe” of three with other like-minded folk in the surrounding area.
Meet My Dog
Dog-lovers, rejoice! Your pooch could be your best option for making new friends—and it certainly gives you a topic with which to break the ice. Meet My Dog works like a social network for canines, although their owners have to fill out all the profile information. Simply click to connect with other dogs (and their humans) in your area.
Compared to the other options on this list, MeetMe is a bit more of an unmoderated free for all. As a chat app first and a friend-finder second, it can connect you with people all over the world, rather than staying in just one locale. So you’ll meet a broader range of people, but unless you specify that you want friends who live in your area, those connections might not be available to hang out in person. That said, MeetMe is still a good option for expanding your social circle based on where you are, what you’re interested in, and other criteria.
Meetup is based on attending events rather than meeting people. But of course, the two often go hand-in-hand. Chances are, if you join a local walking club or sewing class, you’ll find other people you get along with. The number of events and activities the app covers is impressive, and many are free, although some charge for attendance. The freemium app costs nothing if you plan to attend Meetup events, but if you want to organize your own, you’ll have to start paying.
Maybe your next best friend is living a few doors down from you. So Nextdoor aims to connect you with your neighbors. It starts by asking you where you live (obviously) and then putting you in touch with people nearby. In addition to introducing you to your neighbors, the app helps users get involved in local events, find babysitters, and put up classified listings.
Patook promises to help you build platonic friendships with people near you—emphasis on platonic. The app actually includes an automatic flirting detector to discourage any unwanted romantic moves. Patook can match you with people nearby based on your character and shared interests. If you prefer casually chatting online to meeting in person, there’s a discussion board section as well.
Rendezwho is a very focused app, determined to match you with that one friend you’re really going to connect with—no matter where that person lives. It includes results from all over the world, so you may have to cover some ground to actually meet your matches in person. Before that, you can use messages, GIFs, and quizzes to see if you really have found your new best buddy.
Rendezwho for iOS (freemium, $0.99+)
Aimed at the over-50 crowd, Stitch bills itself as a “companionship app,” although you can use it for dating if you want. You can browse through other Stitch users based on common interests and activities, as well as look up events happening in your area. Unfortunately, the app is only available on iOS, but if you don’t have an iPhone, you can try the web version.
Stitch for iOS (freemium, from $10/month)