Once, when I was small, a horrible rumour went around school that my best friend and I had "broken up". I remember my heart sank - did that mean she'd promised to be best friends with someone else and not told me? Luckily, a quick meeting ensued and our best friend-ness was reaffirmed - it was nothing but gossip after all! My memory's quite foggy, but I'm quite sure we were the longest running pair of best friends in our year, and a bit famous for it too.
My point: as children, our friendships are everything. They can feel like mini platonic marriages, or - outside of familial bonds - the anchor to our miniature world. Maybe that's why kids form friendships with such speed and ease; for a while there it's almost the whole point of life. (Plus we're a lot less fussy. I'm sure if I re-met half my childhood friends, we wouldn't have much to discuss. Except that time the school genius started screaming about the planetary system and tried to kill us all with a broom.)
Anyway, then you grow up, get lumped with adult obligations, not enough hours in the day, etc. And the energy directed at forming and maintaining new friendships is dramatically diminished. As are the friend-making opportunities: no more lolling around on the mat for you, munching apples and burbling songs with your peers.
(I would assume.)
Still, by adulthood, most of us have made enough friends along the way to feel content - and have kept some semblance of the ability we had, as children, to form new friendships. I know a couple of my closest friends were only made in the last year or so, which gives me hope.
But what if your chum-number just isn't doing it for you? You're sick of your old ones, you've just moved cities, or your friends have all moved to London to battle the recession?
Well, then you might like to join in on the last bastion of formalised internet social arrangement: the platonic friend-making site. They've been quietly sifting around for a while now - there are even a couple in New Zealand - but as of yet they are nowhere near as popular as online dating, or as widely known.
Yet friend sites are beginning to take off in a major way with women in the States, and just like internet dating, we'll probably follow suit here eventually. As The New York Times points out, there are three major sites currently in operation in the US - SocialJane.com, GirlfriendCircles, and Girlfriend Social.
Each offers a similar membership structure to dating sites, whereby you browse the person or people best suited to you, and some hold events too, like speed-friending. Most users are in some kind of transitionary phase of their lives - post divorce, newly married, new city/country - and the appeal seems to lie in the explicitness of the interaction: you're busy, you don't have time to join a pottery course on the off-chance you accrue a new pal.
In its infancy, those few who were open about internet dating got faced with a (no doubt heartening) blend of pity and confusion. Making new friends on the web would probably elicit the same reaction, initially - but that wouldn't last. After all, the online dating stigma is now all but gone. Either we all just got used to the idea, or these days our lives depend so completely on the internet the only thing we do without it is breathe, so it just makes more sense.
There would be marked differences, though. Scavenging for new friends in such an explicit way would probably make people feel a bit more erked out than actively seeking a boy or girlfriend, a wholly accepted and expected activity. And while a bad date can easily be terminated, I'm not sure how easy it'd be not to crush some lady's feelings (or have yours crushed) if it didn't 'feel right'.
Still, people go around refusing friendships every day - just a bit less overtly. Accepting coffee invites you plan never to take up; making fake-polite gestures in the way of 'let's catch up'; letting communication lapse, and whatnot. What diff if it starts on the screen?
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Have you found it difficult to make friends later in life, as compared to when you were little? Would you go online to make new friends? Do you think this trend would take off in New Zealand? I want your thoughts!By Rebecca Kamm @rebeccakamm Email Rebecca