A friend in need: Putting ‘speed-friending’ to the test

We’ve all heard of speed dating, but speed friending? Lorraine Courtney goes in search of friendship and puts it to the test.

IT certainly looks like speed dating. 

People sit down in pairs and chat with one another for five-minute intervals before the host blows a whistle noisily.

They scribble onto index cards their rating of the compatibility they felt with the person they’ve just met. 

Then they move on to the next guy or girl with smiles, handshakes and introductions.

I hand over my €10 and in return get a piece of paper with two columns labelled “Name” and “Contact” and the chance to make new friends.

First up is Iveel. He’s 31, from Mongolia and works in data analytics.

He’s come along tonight with hopes of meeting like-minded people.

Mark, 29, is originally from Limerick and says that he’s here tonight because he feels we Irish can be quite insular at home.

“When we’re living as expats we tend to be very outgoing and sociable but here at home people tend to stick to their own friendship groups,” he says.

“People are trying to connect with each other in new and different ways now though.

A friend in need: Putting ‘speed-friending’ to the test

“Back home in Limerick the Men’s Sheds have become a great way to socialise.

“This is my first time speed friending but I’ve gone to board game meetups before and I met people there that I’d be in touch with on a regular basis now.

“I’m not just friends with them out of convenience like when you’re thrown into a class with people at college. We all share a love of games and that bonds us.”

Twenty-seven-year-old Ruth moved to Dublin just over a year ago and it’s also her first night friendship-seeking.

“I came along tonight with a friend,” she says.

“I found it hard to meet new people ever since moving here. I work with a much older workforce.

“They all have families and young children to go home to in the evenings and nobody is interested in going out.

“I have gone to evening classes to try to get to know more people but you’re not really able to start chatting to somebody at a yoga class.”

Her verdict?

“This is definitely a nice idea.”

By nine o’clock, I have three new friends, or rather, three new email addresses.

A sign of the times?

Sort of.

A friend in need: Putting ‘speed-friending’ to the test

Organiser Dereck Phelan is originally from Kilkenny.

He also found it difficult to get to know people when he initially moved to Dublin.

The speed friending event is organised through the group’s www.MeetUp.com page and now has more than 3,000 members.

“We get a lot of people who work in companies like Google and Facebook. They’re working long hours and not meeting new people,” he says.

“Speed friending is very quick: you have a list of contact numbers after an hour and a half.

“Each night attracts new people as people tend to meet new people the first time they come along so they don’t have to come back.”

In some ways, speed friending isn’t an entirely new concept.

Befriending services have been around for a very long time.

Charities like Alone and Making Connections offer a type of befriending service for older people and Depaul Ireland runs the service as a support for people who are homeless.

Loneliness appears to be on the rise.

A friend in need: Putting ‘speed-friending’ to the test

Half of all Irish people aged between 16 and 24 feel like they have no one to talk to about their problems, according to a survey released last summer by the Samaritans, and 72% of that generation said that they feel lonely even when they are surrounded by other people.

The research was released to coincide with #TalkToUs, a new campaign aimed at getting people to contact the Samaritans.

You see, young people are far more likely than any previous generation to be told that their twenties are supposed to be the prime of their lives.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way.

Remember when you were a child?

You made friends at school and in the park based on the thinnest of reasons.

Sometimes there wasn’t really a reason at all.

A friend in need: Putting ‘speed-friending’ to the test

We also grew up on a diet of sitcoms with casts of characters with buzzing social lives and ever-enduring friendships (think Sex and the City and now Girls). 

Taylor Swift’s carefully curated girl gang is turning female friendship into a commodity at a time when young women are more vulnerable than ever.

We are exposed to the cautiously edited images of seemingly perfect lives and friendships on Instagram. That’s the irony.

We’re living in a world where technology is allowing us to be more connected to others than ever before but it seems to be the wrong kind of connection.

A friend in need: Putting ‘speed-friending’ to the test

We’re not making friends. 

Maybe it’s because we work too much, maybe it’s because we have families, maybe we now just collect friends on Facebook and Twitter — always there but at a safe distance behind a computer screen.

The need to leave the house or actually speak to another human being has been by-passed.

We’ve become choosy about who we spend our time with.

A study from the University of Michigan psychologist Ethan Kross shows how online social media, rather than making us feel connected, contributes to loneliness and reduces overall life-satisfaction.

A friend in need: Putting ‘speed-friending’ to the test

Kross says the study shows that Facebook was making the participants unhappy.

He notes that other, cross-sectional studies have revealed positive associations with Facebook use, but notes that his is the first to study subjective well-being over time.

“Although social media is a great way to stay connected to those far away from us, we are relying on these sites and apps for all interactions,” says Dublin-based psychotherapist Amanda Lynch.

“It allows us to check in on friends and family by glancing at their wall posts or their photos etc yet conversation becomes minimal, if at all.”

On top of this, living alone is becoming less the exception and more the rule.

The 2011 Census indicated that there are now 392,000 one-person households in Ireland.

This number has grown significantly over the past five years, by 62,500.

What’s more, single-person households will be one of the huge social trends of the next decade or so, accounting for 70% of the growth in households by 2026, according to official figures.

Some people enjoy living alone, and most people need time to themselves, but this has nothing to do with loneliness.

Being alone is a completely different experience to being lonely and being surrounded by people is no guarantee of happiness. 

A friend in need: Putting ‘speed-friending’ to the test

Studies are reporting the devastating impact of loneliness, with one stating that, for older people, it could be a serious health threat.

A University of Chicago study revealed that loneliness can raise your levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which can lead to an increased risk of heart attack and stroke.

“Not being engaged with others can cause feelings of great loneliness which can cause a person to question themselves,” says Lynch. 

“This can most certainly lead to feelings of depression, isolation and also may call into question a persons worth.

“If a person begins to feel in this way, seeking out help is vital, whether it is speaking about how you are feeling with a friend or family member or going to a professional to discover what the source of these feelings are. To combat loneliness we need to speak, to talk, to engage.”

What advice would a psychotherapist give to those going through a friendless phase?

We often hear that we should join an evening class and get out and about, but what personal coping mechanisms should we be using?

“Getting involved in groups and community activities is always a great way to get out there and meet new people,” says Lynch.

“Setting goals like signing up for a class or joining a group can make a massive difference.

A friend in need: Putting ‘speed-friending’ to the test

“However, if a person is suffering from loneliness it is often difficult to throw themselves into new activities.

“The best advice that can be given if someone is suffering to this extent is to seek out professional help, opening up the dialogue to why they are suffering from loneliness can make a massive difference in integrating back into a social life.

“There are countless services available to help.”

So I’m asking all of you reading this now. 

Who wants to take a chance? 

Who wants to go against the norm? 

Who wants to be a bit crazy?

Who wants to be my friend?


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