By Kaitlin Menza
When Joanne, a Bay Area-based college student, first joined Bumble in 2019, she was most interested in finding someone to date. Then she started poking around Bumble BFF, the app’s friend-finding mode. “I thought, okay, let’s try to find some girlfriends on here,” she says. “You never know!” Indeed, Joanne could never have known what was coming her way: a pandemic—and a new best friend.
She matched with Helen, a fellow Northern California college student, in early March 2020, just as panic around COVID-19 was intensifying. Helen typically swiped right on profiles where the person had a cool sense of style or taste in music, and when it came to Joanne, “something about her outfits caught my eye.” They started following each other on social media and sent DMs back and forth. Because they’re both generally shy people, Helen was grateful to see that Joanne shared her enthusiasm for making a new friend.
The pair were giddy with excitement when they finally decided to “meet” during their first FaceTime session within days of matching. “We were pretty smiley and ecstatic to actually see each other,” says Helen. Even though the call was “a bit awkward at first,” soon they were laughing, and the conversation went on for hours. Right away, their relationship dynamic was established. “She’s more reserved, and I’m a bit more of an extrovert,” says Joanne. Helen agrees: “Joanne would open up first and then that’d make me feel more welcome to be myself and just have a fun time talking.”
They bonded over a similar taste in TikTok videos, a love of fashion, their shared college major (they’re both studying business) and culture (they’re both Vietnamese-American). “We just hit it off really well,” says Joanne—which, she adds, “was a surprise to the both of us.” Soon they were texting or FaceTiming all the time, particularly as the pandemic drove everyone into their homes and away from friends and classmates. “Helen told me that she was lonely,” says Joanne. “So I started bugging and calling her every day and night.” Sometimes they’d FaceTime for hours without even talking that much, just keeping each other company through the screen. Other times, they’d sit together while doing their make-up or trying on outfits.
Eventually, they decided it was time—safely, carefully—to meet up in person. In June, Helen went to Joanne’s house for dinner with her and her family. “I was nervous, because I’m more shy and quiet and I don’t really know how to act around other people’s parents,” Helen admits, but luckily, “Her parents are very welcoming.” After the meal, the two friends did their makeup together, listened to music, and headed to a nearby park at “golden hour,” that photogenic time just before sunset, to stage a little photo shoot. At their next hang, Helen joined Joanne and some friends for a picnic. “My boyfriend and his best friend didn’t know that it was our second time meeting,” Joanne says. “They thought we’d been friends forever.”
While they still bond over TikToks and makeup, the pair’s relationship is much more intimate than that. “When we first talked to each other,” Helen says, “she wasn’t hesitant to be more vulnerable. I feel like that really makes up a friendship, when you’re able to get to a deeper level and when it’s a safe environment to talk about whatever.” Joanne feels similarly. “A lot of things in life, regarding our culture and parents, mean we just relate to each other really well,” she says. “With Helen, I don’t have to explain myself. I just have to tell her how I feel, and she’ll get me.”
Though they were hanging out in person for a while, the slow transition to post-pandemic life in the U.S. has actually made it tougher to see each other, as Helen is now a student nearly six hours away at the University of California’s Irvine campus. So she and Joanne have maintained their rigorous digital communications, and they’re planning summer visits. Joanne has big plans for the two of them: “We’re looking right now for a job so we can work together, either regarding our majors or anything that we can do to get extra bucks on the side.”
And even farther in the future? “After we both graduate, we plan on traveling together,” Joanne says. Their first stop is Bali, and after that, the sky’s the limit for these two.