Buddy System

In today's busy world, more people are seeking friends, not lovers. online and through blind dates

December 09, 2007|By Tanika White | Tanika White,Sun reporter

Renee Samuels and Nikia Knox talked online for weeks and went out on a first date this fall. Jessica Leshnoff and Janelle Erlichman Diamond were set up by a mutual friend and met for the first time two years ago over steaming cups of coffee.

None of these women found a love connection. But there's no need for pity here. None was looking for love in the first place; the goal was to make friends.

"I was nervous because I had never been on a `friend date' before," says Leshnoff, 29, a communications specialist for Maryland Public Television. "But after we were talking for a few minutes, it was fine. We really hit it off. I thought she was really cool and nice. We became e-mail buddies, and now we're neighbors. We're a friend date success story."

Once the mode of choice for those looking to make a love connection, the blind date is being used more and more by those hoping simply to meet new friends.

Some call it a "friend date"; others call it platonic blind dating. Whatever the term, the practice has become more prevalent as our society has gotten busier, more technology dependent and more insulated, experts say.

"Especially because people today can be so cut off," says Daniel Buccino, a clinical social worker at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, "some of these social networks and other friends can be very important. You've got to try to get out there and meet people in whatever way you can."

In school, friends are easily made during study groups, dorm parties or extracurricular activities. And on the job, co-workers often grow into friends.

But many of today's working people change careers or cities so often that making real friends in the office poses a challenge. And what of those who wish to meet people with whom they don't share a cubicle?

"I don't have trouble making friends. I adore my friends," says Katrina Blodgett, 33, of Washington, who has blindly met many new friends - some even in other countries - after she joined an online sewing group. "But they're all the same as me. We're all lawyers. [Platonic blind dating is] a really great way to diversify my friends. Now I know a bunch of different people, and none of them are lawyers."

Samuels, of Northeast Baltimore, also loves to sew. But within her core group of friends - professional, modern women who don't know a bobbin from a bobby pin - the 31-year-old City Hall worker had trouble finding someone with whom to share her enthusiasm. So she joined a sewing message board and began posting her thoughts.

This fall, she suggested to a woman she had been chatting with online, Nikia Knox, that they meet - in person.

Their date, at a fabric store in Mount Washington, began tentatively, with Samuels waiting for Knox to arrive and wondering whether their "date" would go well, if their online ease would translate in real life, or if they'd even recognize each other from message-board photos.

"I'm a little nervous," Samuels said, before Knox arrived. "In a lot of ways, I don't think it's any different than dating. You want them to like you. The one thing is, when you meet on these different online groups, you have something in common. We have a built-in activity."

Knox and Samuels' first date went off without a hitch. The two perused georgette fabrics, flipped through pattern magazines and gossiped about which stores have the best sales. In the early minutes of the meeting, they talked in quiet tones. By the end of the evening, they were laughing out loud.

"It felt like she was a long, lost friend," says Knox, 31, a corporate trainer from Owings Mills.

Samuels felt similarly about Knox.

"I thought she was awesome. I thought she was really great, funny, warm and creative," Samuels says of Knox, adding that the two have not gone out on another date yet, but have been in contact online and plan to meet again in January.

"It's great to find a local friend who has the same interests as you," Samuels says. "I think it's really hard when you get out of college to meet people outside of work."

On the other hand, for Leshnoff and Erlichman Diamond, common career goals are what brought them together.

Erlichman Diamond, lifestyle editor at Baltimore magazine, was working as a fashion and retail reporter in Washington when a friend told her she had to meet Leshnoff, who also is a writer.

"We started our `flirtation' with e-mails, and then we decided to meet," says Erlichman Diamond, 31, who now lives in Canton.

In many ways, that first friend date mirrors a romantic blind date, the women say.

Leshnoff remembers agonizing over what to wear ("I think I wore like my favorite black jacket or something like that," she says.) And Erlichman Diamond says the location of their date was carefully strategized.

"We met for coffee first, because it's an easy out if it's awkward or there's no connection," she says. "And then you move on to dinner."

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