Every year, Valentine's Day serves as a reminder of love's significance. With stores decked out in pink and red and stocked to the brim with heart-shaped goodies and an array of chocolates, romance and courtship are at the forefront. While a romantic relationship can be fun and fulfilling, there's another type of relationship that can be just as great but is often taken for granted: friendship. Finding a good friend can be as hard to find as a good romantic partner, but these Chattanoogans are putting in the work to go on "friend dates" and find their BFFs.
Girls just want to have fun!
When Hannah Mitchell, 25, moved from Kentucky to Chattanooga for her job, she didn't know anyone in the city except for her boyfriend, who'd moved with her. In her first months here, if there was something she wanted to do or somewhere she wanted to go, she'd take her boyfriend with her.
Work gave Mitchell an outlet to make friends, but she also had a desire to meet people outside of her job, to provide a greater work-life balance. Yet she says there was awkwardness and discomfort that came with trying to make friends in-person.
Enter The Girls Chattanooga, a social group started by Mitchell for women like her who want to make new friends and have fun doing it. For the group's inaugural event last December, Mitchell organized a meetup at Ice on the Landing, with a private area for everyone to introduce themselves, socialize and fill up on snacks before hitting the ice. Despite Mitchell's initial concerns that no one would show up, the event was a success, with about a dozen women of various ages and backgrounds attending, getting to know one another and sharing in the experience of trying not to fall on the ice.
"It was hard not knowing anyone, but I was confident that putting a group of women in the same room, in the same space, who are all there to do the same thing ... was going to be successful, regardless of who showed up, regardless of how old they were, regardless of what they looked like or what they like to do," Mitchell says, reflecting on the event. "I was really confident in that, and I think it went really well."
Kaulyn Henderson, 25, moved from Dallas, Texas, to Chattanooga in 2021. She moved with her boyfriend and knew no one in the area other than him and his family. After breaking up with him, she says she's been working to rediscover herself, which means taking herself on self-dates and making time to search for and spend time with friends outside of her busy work schedule as a full-time nanny.
In her search for friends, Henderson says she joined a volleyball league and Facebook groups, attended local events and used Bumble, a dating app that offers a friendship feature for people seeking platonic relationships. Comparing online and in-person methods, Henderson says she finds it easier to make friends in-person because the connection is more organic. She found The Girls group through social media and made plans to attend the ice skating meetup, despite being nervous about it at first.
"I think it was successful. I really enjoyed it," Henderson says of the event. "I had fun; I learned a new skill. I didn't fall down on my butt, so I didn't embarrass myself, and I walked away with three potential friends. So I'll call it a success."
Social media — it's not just for pictures of your pets!
Making friends in a new city is hard. Making friends during a global pandemic is even harder. This is the situation Kayla Babb Kniedler, 37, found herself in when she and her husband moved back to Chattanooga right before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Once pandemic restrictions were lifted, Kniedler and her husband found themselves searching for friends and opportunities to socialize.
Making friends as an adult is difficult, Kniedler says. Not being in school, not having in-person jobs and not having children are all factors that affect Kniedler and her husband's opportunities to meet people. In her search, Kniedler joined friend groups online.
These groups included Chattanooga Friends, a co-ed Facebook group with over 3,000 members, and Chattanooga 20s/30s, a group on Meetup with over 500 members. As she became more active in both groups, posting frequently and creating events for members to gather and socialize, she found herself promoted to an administrator/organizer for the groups. In this role, she expanded the Meetup group into Chattanooga 20s/30s/40s to include a broader age range.
Kniedler compares the process of making friends to dating. She says you have to "keep putting yourself out there and hanging out with different people" to successfully connect with others. It's also a bit of a numbers game. You might not make friends immediately, but your odds get better when you invest more time into meeting new people.
Chattanoogans discuss their methods for meeting people and making friends in the Scenic City
"The grass is greener where you water it, and it's kind of the same thing with relationships, whether it's a friendship or dating," Kniedler says.
Having recently graduated from college and moved to Collegedale for work, Tanuj "Rick" Guha, 26, hasn't made many close friends yet, but his outlets for meeting people are numerous. He's used Bumble, Facebook and even Reddit, and he's joined meetup groups, including Chattanooga Friends.
Personally, Guha prefers reaching out to people over social media or at meetups rather than using Bumble. The one-on-one nature of Bumble can cause conversations to dry up quickly, Guha says. With meetups, you're likely to see familiar faces the more you attend, and you face less pressure to make individual friends in a larger social setting.
Prior to living in the Chattanooga area, Guha lived in several cities across the country. He notes that this area has a more relaxed feel, and the people here are less judgemental than elsewhere. Regarding advice for others seeking friends, Guha says you shouldn't be afraid to take the first step to reach out to someone, and if the friendship doesn't work out, there's no shame in walking away from it.