The buddy system
A new friend-finding service offers an organic way to make pals.
Joe Drake is social glue. The 31-year-old former corporate-event planner is that guy who knows everybody and their mother. Now he’s profiting from his popularity. In May, Drake launched Meet Joe, a Roscoe Village–based company dedicated to connecting the lonesome with his extensive network. Most are Drake’s personal friends, but he occasionally connects paying clients with one another. While hiring Drake as a platonic friend-pimp for $29.99 (the fee for one meeting) could lead to lifelong friendships, it could also be a one-way ticket to sweaty palms and pregnant silences.
Lonely folk looking to expand their social network contact Drake online. Drake meets clients in a bar or coffee shop and asks a barrage of questions to find out what they’re looking for in a friend. “This is not a rent-a-friend service,” Drake explains. “You’re not buying my friendship or anyone else’s. My clients pay me to introduce them to people I think they’ll like. I want people to use me as an agent for friends the same way you would use a real-estate agent if you were looking for a house.”
Introduce yourself to Drake online at meetjoe.net.
Alison, a 28-year-old from Streeterville who didn’t want her last name printed, hired Drake in July after seeing a magnet ad stuck to a Redbox kiosk. “I’d been in Chicago for five years, but my friends were all getting married and moving out to the suburbs, so they weren’t really available anymore,” she explains. Over drinks, Drake introduced Alison to three contacts: one other client and two of Drake’s personal friends. “I went in expecting it to be completely awkward, but conversation started pretty quickly and lasted for two hours,” she says. “In the end, the only difference between meeting people any other way is that these are prescreened for me.”
Meghan Malloy is one of Drake’s personal friends whom he introduced to Alison. She says the service works in part thanks to Drake’s background in hospitality, an industry of outgoing people eager to converse with strangers. “Women especially have a hard time meeting each other once friends start getting married and having kids,” Malloy says. “[Meet Joe] is nice because I know that every time I walk into one of these meetings, I already have something in common with everyone there.” The only problem: the stigma attached to friend-referral services. “It doesn’t really make a difference,” Alison says. “You’re getting exactly the same thing in the end.”