One Friday in 2014, Elva Carri wanted to go to a club night in Dublin. But her closest friends lived in another town, her housemate was working and her sister had plans with her boyfriend. So she logged onto Tinder.
Only this time, she changed her gender status so she only appeared to women.
“It occurred to me that there must be lots of other girls online, fed up of being at home on a Friday night,” she recalls. As she scrolled through the women’s profiles, she realised how much more normal they looked than the men she usually scrolled past. “They played the violin, or liked baking – there were none of the weird topless photos guys post.”
Carri explained to the women that she just wanted to go out dancing. “I thought: If I match with three people, we’ll have a good time,” she jokes. “I’m crazy for doing it, and they’re crazy to reply.” To her surprise, around 100 women replied.
This impulsive Tinder hack turned into something much bigger. Carri started by creating a group on Facebook for all the women who had responded, then she left her computer for a few hours. “When I came back they had already organised a night out in a cocktail bar,” she says.
By happy coincidence, Carri’s discovery took place on the weekend of International Women’s Day. Four years on and GirlCrew has more than 100,000 members across 46 locations. In 2018, Carri and her cofounders launched an app in several countries, with more than 25,000 registered users (it launched in the US last week, on International Women’s Day).
The app is divided into news (“Hello ladies, I really want to visit beautiful Idaho but need a companion/s who can drive in [the] US”), events (“Snow trip!!!”) and groups (“Dating Advice”). In the cities groups, messages often start “I’m new here” or “Just moved”. The posts are often a reminder of how society revolves around the Smug Marrieds. Women describe films they want to see, or invite others on the trips they dream of taking, or plan events such as an “anti-Valentine’s Night”.
Ellie Smyth, who volunteers at GirlCrew’s Dublin HQ, says the app helped her overcome her anxiety. “A lot of girls I was friends with in school went off and got married, or moved to Australia,” she says – a pattern of emigration that she says is still common in Ireland. “That is why GirlCrew was great, because you could say: ‘Who wants to go to the cinema?’ You have instant friends.”
Ironically, given GirlCrew’s anti-dating vibe, one of those friends became so involved in Smyth’s offline life that she helped her boyfriend prepare to propose. “Now she’s going to be one of my bridesmaids,” Smyth says.
Below, we speak with Pamela Newenham, another GirlCrew cofounder, who helped take the group global.
What kind of women use GirlCrew?
The vast majority are in their late 20s and early 30s. When you’re in college, it’s really easy to make friends, but things change when people graduate and move cities for work, or move abroad. A lot of people in their early 30s find their friends have moved away or settled down, and they’re the only single one left in the group.
Where did the name come from?
In the beginning, the members were all single women roughly around the same age, just living and working in Dublin. It wasn't called GirlCrew at that stage – the group on Facebook was called TinderCrew, then later, one of the members didn’t want to be in 'TinderCrew' so she suggested they change it to GirlCrew. Some people said they think GirlCrew sounds like it’s for young girls, but we thought LadyCrew sounded very old – and we all call each other girls!
Why women only? Couldn’t you have a mixed gender site?
There are other apps out there marketing themselves as a place where men and women can be friends, but we go on all of them and we always get chatted up. We actually did GirlCrew for men – we called it WingMen. Lots of men said they wanted it, but it didn’t work at all. Women will go online and chat about anything whereas men tend to lean towards topics – they don’t want to have general chats.
Do men ever try to sneak on?
Sometimes guys try to trick us, but we can see everything. So a guy will sign up and then he doesn’t get in, so he changes everything to make us think he’s a girl. But we can still see.
Why GirlCrew rather than Tinder?
Our members get annoyed with the online dating scene. It's really hard, and it can be expensive too.
How stereotypically girly are the members of GirlCrew?
It really varies. We have book clubs in groups around the world, and they spend very little time talking about books, [rather] eating brunch and drinking wine. But we've also seen really unusual events, like axe throwing. We've done everything from surfing and kayaking, to networking events and blogging meet-ups.
Do you spot different conversations in different locations?
Actually, we see that women across the world are the same. They encounter the same problems, they have the same advice and recommendations. Someone from London could post seeking dating advice and people from Melbourne and Brussels will respond.
How important are friendships you make online?
We don’t think you can really make friends unless you meet up offline. It is really hard to tell who a person is just by chatting online and people can present different versions of themselves. A lot of our members have become really real friends. They've even become bridesmaids at each other's weddings.
So what happens offline?
Most events are really spontaneous. Someone will say: “It’s really sunny outside, does anyone fancy a drink after work?” We believe real friendship happens in person, and that’s why events are important.
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