Amy Wood is a people person, a natural “connector” — but she’d never phrase it that way. “Think of the kind of people who call themselves ‘connectors.’ They’re kind of the worst,” Amy joked as we settled into our multi-coloured cushioned seats at a local cafe. We were there to discuss her latest social experiment, a Toronto-based platonic matchmaking website she founded called “Yes New Friends” (YNF).
The Saturday morning interview felt like a blind date, actually — the kind of “friend date” that Amy spends hours every week orchestrating for YNF users. I had lost my cell phone the night before due to … overzealous Halloween celebrations, so I couldn’t text Amy to tell her I had arrived. I spent the first half hour of our scheduled meet up tentatively looking up from my book, scanning the room for someone who might look like an Amy, wondering whether my leftover Marge Simpson makeup made me look jaundiced.
It turns out that Amy was doing the same thing — reading her book, looking up occasionally, hoping to catch a glimpse of someone who looked like a Liz. We eventually found each other, and it instantly becomes obvious that Amy is just the kind of warm, open, and personable woman who you would expect to start a friend-making project. She’s a 21st century yenta, but instead of making love matches, she finds friends. Her process involves a fair bit of intuition, although she matches profiles based on everything from common interests to favorite gifs, a practice we should seriously petition romantic dating sites to adopt.
(This is the gif I would choose for my dating profile, in case you were wondering…)
There’s no algorithm. YNF is more like a boutique matchmaking service, although Amy prefers to think of it as a personal project. She says it’s a non-romantic version of that friend who tries to set up all the single people she knows. “It’s not like Tinder, where you just slog through thousands of potential matches,” Amy said. “It’s just me, and I put a lot of time into making these matches, so I’m not above using guilt to get people to follow through.”
The guilt trip seems to be working. More than 80% of YNF users have actually met their friend matches and ventured out into Toronto to undertake the activities that Amy hand-picks, based on their common interests. Compare that to the number of times you’ve been ditched by that person you were chatting with for weeks on OkCupid.
Although YNF caters to women, Amy believes that the friendship drought affects all genders. “I focus on women because that’s who I know. Men have a hard time making friends, too, but I don’t know what they need. Who can read their minds, anyway?” Amy thinks we all tend to focus too heavily on prepping for romantic relationships, rather than building really strong friendships. This, combined with the prevalence of digital entertainment and social media, can lead to a decrease in face-to-face interactions, and can be especially isolating in a city like Toronto. “We go to work, talk to a few colleagues, hop on the TTC, grab something to eat, and maybe call up a close friend, but that’s it.” That is what YNF aims to change.
Amy’s goals do not include making YNF into yet another social networking site. She understands that her one-on-one, non-scientific approach may not yield tons of matches, but she hopes that if nothing else, each participant feels that their life was made better by sharing a new experience with a new person. This, she believes, will make YNF the start of a wider dialogue about friendship, and perhaps a jumping off point for what she calls, “The Friendship Movement.”
Her logic is fascinating and pretty inspiring. She figures that anyone creating a profile on her site is likely open-minded enough to reach out and start connecting the people she knows, or begin seeking out new friendship-forming opportunities. In this sense, that new user has just become her social circle’s own friendship hub: setting up her friends on friend dates, and hopefully inspiring those friends to do the same.
Since talking to Amy that Saturday morning, I’ve connected with her on Facebook and Twitter and noticed how many friends we have in common — a testament to how small Toronto really can be, if you’re socially inclined. I’ve mulled over our conversation some more these past few days and tried to think of the last time I made my mutual friends meet. Maybe there’s someone on her friends list, or on another friend’s friend list, who loves cheese, wears a pedometer without shame, and has a borderline unhealthy addiction to Netflix. Maybe my next amazing friend is just a connection away.Tags: Amy Wood, friend dates, Liz Jukovsky, platonic matchmaking, real talk, the Friendship Movement, toronto, Yes New Friends