Speed-friending: Can you make a friend in just five minutes?
Speed-friending is the latest craze for time-starved urbanites. Our reporter gives it a whirl - and finds it's not what she expected
Can you make a BFF in just five minutes? Sitting opposite a string of total strangers one Sunday evening, that's what I set out to discover.
Hot from the States, speed-friending is the newest way to find your soul 'mate'. Just like speed dating, it involves chatting to a conveyor belt of complete strangers for mere minutes, before exchanging numbers with those who tickled your fancy at the end of the night.
Unlike speed dating however, getting stuck in the friend zone is actually the aim of the game.
Despite the platonic nature of the event, I still felt strangely nervous as I padded down the steps of a city centre pub into a basement full of new people.
Dotted at tables around the room was around two dozen men and women of all ages and nationalities looking just as eager to impress.
Like me, my first 'date' had read about the speed dating with a twist online, and tottered along on her own for "the craic".
"I've got lots of friends already," says Sarah (28), a teacher from Dublin, "but when I heard about speed-friending I just thought it sounded like a bit of fun.
"At first, I was a bit worried it would be full of weirdos. Everyone has been really nice so far though."
There's barely time to convince her I'm not a friendless freak either before the bell sounds to move on to the next table.
Oh well, there's always next week - the latest craze in socialising is proving so popular here that it's already gone from being a monthly event to a weekly one.
"In the beginning, it was difficult to get people to come along," admits Dereck Phelan, who runs the Meetup group in Dublin. "I guess they thought it was a bit strange.
"Now it's becoming so popular that we've had to make it more regular. Some people come back every week."
Electrician Dereck first started speed-friending when he moved to the capital two years ago, and says he's still pals with some of the people he met on his very first night.
"I had moved to Dublin from Kilkenny and didn't know a lot of people," he continues. "So I decided to try speed-friending. Eventually, I ended up organising the events.
"The best thing about speed-friending is that everyone is here for the same reason. We have a box of icebreakers on each table, but generally we don't need them."
With over 700 Facebook friends, there's no shortage of people I can count on for likes, shares and comments on a day-to-day basis.
Offline however, I could probably count on one hand the number of 'RLF' - that's 'Real Life Friends', to those who don't speak textese - I can truly confide in.
In a world where you can 'Hangout' on Google and Snapchat without uttering a single world, my next potential best pal agrees there's something refreshing about talking to an actual human being for a change.
"I chat to my friends on WhatsApp all the time," tells Fergal (32), an accountant who's originally from Cork. "But I can't remember the last time I struck up a conversation with a stranger in a pub. Most people are glued to their phone when you go out now."
Although ostensibly not a dating event, with almost an equal number of guys and girls in attendance, most of whom are single, naturally romance has blossomed for a number of speed frienders.
One couple recently even tied the knot two years after meeting at the high-speed networking event.
"With speed dating, you're under pressure to impress people," says co-organiser Abi Vembadi. "It's not like that with speed-friending.
"If you hit it off with someone, you can get their number and stay in touch - but it doesn't have to be like dating.
"Most of the time we have an equal number of women and men," he adds. "We look for positive people who are open to interacting with guys and girls and talk to everyone.
"Basically we are helping people make friends."
Conventional wisdom may hold that you can choose your friends but not your family.
In reality though, most of us are flung together by sheer chance at school, college or work, before forking off in different directions later.
As quarter-life coach Paula Coogan later explains to me: "We tend to make close friendships at very early stages in life and hold on tight to those friends during our awkward years when all we want to do is belong.
"However, when we grow up, we start becoming more independent, developing our own interests, dating, going to different colleges and the detaching begins.
"If left to chance, it's really common for friends to drift apart.
"Time is what comes up over and over again as the reason we don't get to see our friends," she says. "Most of my clients say that they want to meet new people, but have no idea how."
Marriage and parenthood are two other big factors driving Ireland's 20 and 30-somethings back onto the meet market, according to more than one of the friend hunters I come face to face with.
"Most of my friends are married or engaged so they never have time to meet up," confesses Fiona (36), a solicitor from Dublin. "Whenever we do manage to meet up all they ever talk about is wedding planning.
"Sometimes it can feel like we have nothing in common anymore."
Foreign students hoping to fine tune their English and befriend a few locals make up the rest of those who parted with a tenner at the door on the night.
Suddenly coming over all United Nations, I managed to make new friends from Brazil, India and South Korea without even leaving the basement of The Stag's Head.
"Making new friends as an adult can be really difficult," says Paula Coogan. "It's like this really awkward dance between two people who want to get to know each other better - but don't want to seem needy or desperate.
"I think speed-friending is a brilliant idea," she continues. "It takes away the awkwardness and uncertainty as you know you're all there for the same reason.
"I'd encourage people to be brave afterwards and get in touch with the people you'd like to see again."
After almost two hours of auditioning new besties, I've exchanged digits with five people. Okay, so it's not quite Taylor Swift standards of serial friending, but at least my #SquadGoals are getting a little closer.
Maybe it's time for a Facebook cull, after all.