make friends onlineRemember when people interested in dating were ashamed to admit that they looked for partners online? It was seen as a sign of desperation and loser-dom to try to connect with strangers online. Can’t you meet real people face-to-face? Sure, maybe other people would “set you up,” but they would know the people they were recommending to you as matches.

Now, meeting potential romantic partners online is ordinary. But what if you are interested in platonic friends?

The New York Times addressed that question in a story that began like this:

“In 2008, when Janis Kupferer moved to Denver for a job, she was 40 and single and knew no one in the area. When browsing, she recalled, she would sometimes click on other women’s profiles and think: ‘Some of these women sound really neat. Why isn’t there a Web site where I can meet female friends?”

I would broaden the question: Why not a website where people can find female or male friends?

It turns out that there are some sites for friendship-seekers. One was started by Janis Kupferer herself. She calls it SocialJane. I’m not interested in dating so I’ve never used an online dating site, but the Times describes the workings of the site as similar to online dating sites. You create a profile and post it, along with a photo, then search the site. You can be as specific or as general as you’d like in describing the kinds of friends you are searching for. Then you send e-mails to the people who interest you and see if they get back to you. If they do, you can make plans to meet in person and do friend-like things.

SocialJane is for women, as is another site, GirlFriendCircles. At least one site, Companion Tree, welcomes both men and women. (Readers, if you know of others, please note them in the Comments section.)

Some of the concerns discussed in the article sound similar to those that were kicked around when online dating sites were new. If you used that method, would other people see you as someone who could not attract another person any other way? Why not seek out other people less obtrusively, at social gatherings, for example?

My guess is that any stigma around seeking friends online will dissipate even more quickly than the stigma of online dating did. We do lots of things online these days. It is expected. We are used to thinking of online searches as offering a broader reach and greater efficiency.

As for the issue of subtlety, the founder of GirlFriendCircles told the Times that the explicitness of intentions can be one of the advantages of the site: “You can skip the insecurity of, ‘Oh, they’re so busy, they don’t need friends.’”

The founders of friendship sites expect users to be people who are new to a place, newly single, or recently retired. Maybe so, but one of the fundamental ways that friendships differ from romantic relationships is that it is perfectly fine to have several simultaneously. Even if you already have friends, including close friends, you can still welcome others. The friends you already have will not hold that against you (at least in theory).

Woman with laptop photo available from Shutterstock