Platonic Matchmaking for Intentional Friendships
Matchmakers aren’t just for romantic relationships. Here’s how you can formally arrange your friendships.
The words “free” and “friend” share the same linguistic root, pri, meaning “to love.” The word “friend” was originally applied to the free members of one’s clan, as opposed to enslaved people who were separated from their families and communities.
The oppressive systems under which we all live thrive on profit rather than relationships. They are designed to undermine our freedom by fragmenting our communities and creating friendship deserts. People move, commute long distances, work long hours, and for the past two years have had to grapple with social isolation during the pandemic. According to a 2021 report by the Survey Center on American Life, the number of people with zero close friends has quadrupled since 1990, while friendships in general have declined considerably. Even before the pandemic, loneliness was killing us. Research shows that isolation and loneliness can have a host of deleterious effects on both our mental and physical health, including high blood pressure, heart disease, a weakened immune system, and a higher mortality rate. Friendships, on the other hand, play a significant role in improving overall health, which includes reducing stress, increasing the ability to cope with difficulties, and promoting a sense of belonging and happiness.
Struggling to find friends after I moved from Colorado to California in 2008, I followed the conventional wisdom of joining social groups to expand my circle. I became a member of the PTA and a couple of book clubs, attended artist gatherings, and signed up for an improv class and tango lessons. Acquaintances even made unsuccessful attempts to play friend-matchmaker for me. In an entire decade of toiling in the friendship desert of modern adulthood, only a couple of the seeds I planted actually germinated. This spurred me to think about arranged marriages.
I grew up in Iran, where it wasn’t unusual for people to partake in arranged unions that turned into loving and long-lasting relationships. I decided to apply the principles of arranged marriage to friendships: Begin with commitment, create and rely on an agreed-upon structure, and let fun and intimacy arise and nurture the relationship. I wrote a short op-ed about the success of my experiment for The Washington Post in late 2021, and since then I’ve been overwhelmed with responses from people all over the world.
The part most people appreciate about this arrangement is that it takes the guesswork out of friendships. In current models of relationships, it’s not uncommon for one person to consider another as a good friend while to the second person, they’re merely an acquaintance. Committing and defining the relationship right away eliminates this type of misunderstanding, reducing time wasted in unfulfilling associations. And unlike meetups and clubs, the main objective is friendship itself.
But embracing friendships through this model, especially in the U.S., also requires debunking some myths. The most pervasive one is that “arranged” means “forced.” Not only are arranged friendships not forced, but, counterintuitively, they offer more freedom and options than conventional ones. You can customize your friendship group based on your own friendship needs and desires. Plus, unlike ending a marriage (arranged or otherwise), exiting the arrangement is rather simple.
So here is a basic guide for those who want to try this approach:
1. Come up with a plan.
First, identify your friendship needs. We’re conditioned to envision an ideal romantic date, but we rarely take a moment to explore how we want to spend time with friends. Start this process by imagining an ideal scenario in which friends have a meaningful and fulfilling time. Then ask yourself what types of camaraderie you are most missing in your life. Write down the activities you’d like to enjoy with others, your favorite topics of conversation, and anything else that might be pertinent friendship-wise. It’s OK to exercise your discerning taste just as you would with finding a romantic partner.
Then, create an ideal friend profile. For example, most of my friends up to this point were men, and I wanted more women and nonbinary people in my life. Our arranged members are women from different backgrounds and ages.
2. Begin identifying candidates.
Ask your potential friends about their passions and hobbies and whether they are also seeking friends. If they’re interested, share this guide and your own vision and ask for feedback. If you’ve found only one friend, take walks together, or go to dinner or an art gallery while you’re on the lookout for others. Let the tenets of your ideal friendship guide you on how to proceed.
I used my intuition and asked those with whom I felt a kinship if they wanted to join me in the arranged experiment. I found my people at social gatherings and conferences, but you can find friends on social media, at clubs, and even through apps like Wink or MeetMe.
(Keep in mind the model we’ve workshopped is intended only for platonic friendships. If you’re hoping to develop a romantic relationship with someone under the auspices of the arranged group, things could get messy.)
3. Perform a commitment ceremony.
This step might feel awkward to some, but we found vows clarify what we expect from one another and what we bring into the relationship. Once you have a desired number of friends, meet for a formal gathering. In our commitment ceremony, we vowed to be as supportive and loving as ideal friends. We also promised that if we were hurt by another’s action, we would talk about it, so mending could ensue.
4. Utilize the power of rituals as glue.
Rituals aren’t exclusively for religious practices but an integral part of how humanity has evolved and built community. Whenever we get together as a group, we begin with a small initial ceremony. It can be as simple as going around and recounting how we feel and what we’re grateful for. The group listens attentively and cheers and toasts the speaker after they’re finished. Once a year, we perform an “I love you because” ceremony, a way we take time to appreciate each friend. These practices deepen our bond and intimacy. If this isn’t your jam, there are numerous guides online for building intimacy, such as The New York Times’ 2015 article “The 36 Questions That Lead to Love,” that are useful in bringing structure to relationships and can be incorporated into each meeting in a ritualized way. You can pass a talking stick, strike a bell after you’ve finished speaking, or create your own ritual that resonates with your group of friends.
5. Tap into pleasure as a sustainable fuel.
There is a misconception that going deep and indulging in pleasure can’t go hand in hand. Our group isn’t afraid of intimacy or tough topics. We’re raunchy and love to laugh together too. One of the reasons our relationships have survived the pandemic and other obstacles is that we look forward to getting together. The pleasure of gathering in a supportive and loving space where you feel seen and cherished is always energizing. It allows us to prioritize our friendship over other commitments. The joy we receive during our meetings, in return, supports us in other aspects of our lives—we’re more equipped to deal with challenges, feel more resilient, and become less stressed.
6. Be honest.
Just like in marriage, honesty is the foundation of friendships. Modern connections are particularly tricky because they can be fragile—an unsatisfying meeting, a misunderstanding, or even one social media comment can end a friendship. Because we’re committed, we work things out in an honest, loving way. For example, in the course of resolving a small misunderstanding with a friend last year, we learned that our subsequent conversations led to greater intimacy, which has only deepened our friendship.
In the past four years, our group has been meeting every few months. We split into smaller configurations throughout the year and gather for special occasions and day trips. I have regular lunch and adventure dates with two friends. No matter what’s happening, we keep connected and available to offer and receive support. Our arrangement has allowed us to thrive in friendship.