By Kaitlin Menza
When Angèle moved from the small, sunny town near San Diego, California where she grew up to the cloudy skies and cobbled streets of Guildford, England for a job as an au pair, the culture shock was fierce and immediate. “I’m from a tiny beach town where everyone talks to each other,” she says. “In Guildford, everyone seems to keep to themselves a bit more. I remember walking around, smiling and saying hi to people, and they’d turn around to see who I was saying hello to! I realized that’s not really something you do in England.”
When Angèle shared her struggles with the family she was living with and working for, they suggested she sign up for Bumble. Uninterested in dating at the time, she resisted—until she realized there was an option to meet friends on the app, too. Creating a profile felt strange at first. “Obviously, when you’re doing it for dating, you’re trying to find the most attractive photo of yourself,” she says. She portrayed herself slightly differently when looking for friendship, focusing instead on selecting images that showed her fun side. Then, she sought out women who’d approached their profiles the same way, with funny or creative answers. Angèle wound up meeting with the very first person she swiped right on: Emma, a fellow expat, from Sweden.
Meeting for dinner at a restaurant, “I felt like we clicked instantly,” says Emma, who had lived in England for a while but was new to Guildford, too. “I find that it is very difficult to make friends at this age if you don’t get them through work or university,” she says, but Angèle was very easy to talk to straight from the beginning. “Although we didn’t know anything about each other, it felt like we had already known each other for ages,” says Emma. They chatted about the cultural idiosyncrasies of the U.K., and their shared studies of and interest in mental health. “I mostly remember us laughing and not being afraid to be goofy with each other,” says Angèle. It was such a comfortable hang that for their second meet-up, the two women chose a more relaxed locale: Emma’s house.
“We just got a bunch of junk food and watched films and spoke the whole night,” says Angèle. “It felt perfect—like she was my best friend already.” Given her experience in England so far, Emma was able to share advice on the expat experience, as well as recommendations for things to see and places to eat, “which made life a little bit easier,” says Angèle. Angèle began making friends with other au pairs as well, but as they often didn’t stay very long before returning to their home countries, she returned to Bumble to expand her circle.
Next she met up with Aby, who was from Devon, England. “I moved for work after university, and really struggled to meet friends in my area,” says Aby. For their first meeting, Aby and Angèle chose a bar. “I was so nervous; I’d never met anyone from Bumble before! But Angèle was friendly and easy to talk to,” she says. It didn’t feel awkward at all, and their similar situations gave them plenty to discuss. Then came Charlotte, an expat from France, who says her first encounter with Angèle followed a similar pattern: anxiety about making a new friend, followed by vigorous conversation. “I think we were both stressed because ‘friend dating’ was quite new to us,” says Charlotte, “but after a few minutes of talking all the stress went away, and we chatted for ages.”
All of the women have come together for birthday parties and game nights at Angèle’s house, but their individual connections remain the strongest. With Charlotte, Angèle goes on weekend camping trips and double dates with their boyfriends; with Aby, she sees shows in London’s West End and tries new restaurants. Emma and Angèle, meanwhile, share a sense of humor as well as deeply held principles, Emma says: “We both care about similar political causes and can have great discussions around those topics.”
And they’ve been there for each other during the big and difficult moments, too. While on a vacation, Angèle learned that the family she was working for had to move suddenly, leaving her without a job or a place to live. She called Emma crying, and “Emma took me in and helped me move, just like that, no questions asked,” Angèle says. When Angèle returned from her vacation, Emma helped her with her CV. Later, when Angèle and her then-boyfriend Chris—whom she also met on Bumble—learned she was pregnant, Emma was the first call she made, followed by Charlotte and Aby.
Angèle and Chris are now engaged, and though they’re very early in the wedding planning process, the bride knows one thing for sure: Emma, Aby, and Charlotte will serve as her bridesmaids. In the meantime, they’re godmothers to her baby girl, Clementine.
Looking back, Angèle almost can’t believe she let nerves get in the way of every single one of these meetings. “I remember thinking, ‘I don’t really want to do online friend dating. I don’t think it’s going to amount to anything,’” she says. It can feel like a risk—but a smaller one than, oh, picking up one’s life and moving halfway around the world. Now, this American feels nothing but gratitude. “Bumble brought me lifetime friends, my soulmate, and my daughter! I have family here now,” Angèle says. England, which once felt so cold, is now truly home.