It's hard to admit to loneliness as a mum. My family recently moved to a new town and although I've been taking my children out and about and meeting other mums, making good friends takes time.
In the meantime, what we do have in the UK is a sudden proliferation of new sites – you've probably seen them advertised on Facebook - aiming to match parents with others in their area with similar interests so you can make new mum friends. But I'm cynical - would it really work?
I fill in my profile on the free site Mumamie.com – my name, my children's ages, my age and location, and an 'about me'. Hmm...what to write that doesn't sound desperate? This reminds me of typing my online dating profile back in my twenties.
I write: 'I've recently moved to [my town] with my family. My son is just turning 4 and is really into trains and bikes etc. My daughter is nearly 1 and into most things! I work part time from home. We like to go to the playground, have play dates, bake, craft...'
I fill in a detailed questionnaire about everything from what qualities I hold dear in friends (thoughtfulness, loyalty, intelligence, creativity), to my religion to what my children like to do (playgrounds, soft play and so on), and upload a picture of me with my children.
Then I click the 'Find matches' button, feeling remarkably excited and totally cynical at the same time.
Hooray – I've got 10 matches, all within the same county. They are graded in terms of how much of a match we are (presumably, which questions we answered the same).
It sounds bitchy, but looking at the other mums' profiles I immediately decide some of them aren't interesting to me as friends.
One sounds obsessed with attachment parenting – all well and good, but I'm not that extreme. Another lives too far away. Another has a job I don't like the sound of. Another can't spell.
As with internet dating, I'm finding myself making (probably absurd) snap judgments. But when I think about it, when I meet people in real life, I also make quick judgements about whether I like them enough to pursue a friendship. We all do.
I also discard any profiles that haven't been filled in. This leaves me with five profiles – one is also a writer, another is new to the area like me, and one has children the same age, which all sound promising.
I write a short message to each of the other mums, again desperate not to sound freaky.
'Hello! I've just joined and you're one of my matches so wanted to say hi. My name is Olivia, I'm 36 and recently moved to [our town] with my husband and two children (nearly 1 and just 4). I have just gone back to work part time after mat leave – I'm a journalist.
I would love to make new friends here for play dates etc.
Would be lovely to hear more about you and your little ones
Cringing at the embarrassment of searching for friends online, I log off and wait for replies. I'm frankly not expecting anything to come of this.
A reply! Not from the mums I thought sounded most promising, but from a yoga teacher who's the same age as me, with children nearly the same age as mine. She lives half an hour's drive away but her profile picture – her and her son in matching silly wigs – strikes me as funny and she looks nice. And she wants to know what days we are free!
I message back.
Another message for me from one of my matches. Her children are the same age as mine, and she sounds lovely, but it turns out that she's 22. I know this sounds judgmental, but at 36 I'm looking for mum friends around my own age or older, so I don't reply and feel bad about it.
But in the end, no-one has time to waste. I'm not so lonely that I need play dates with everyone – it's only worthwhile for me if a genuine friendship can be built, and with a generation between us, we are probably going through completely different stages of our lives. It's important to me that a mum friend remembers the 80s. Sorry, but there it is.
I check out another site, Match Up Mums. It seems great – you fill in a questionnaire even more detailed than MumAmie's - what papers and books you read, for example, your degree subject and university, even your views on breastfeeding versus bottles, and routines.
For £20-35 you get matched up with a group of local like-minded mums, with an email telling you what you all have in common and a WhatsApp group set up to get a conversation started. Sadly though, I can't join because it's only rolled out in London so far.
I register with ParentsNearby, a free app which matches parents with others based on how close you are. The only information I have to put in is my town and my children's ages and genders, plus a photo, which I leave for now. It matches me with 10 mums in the 25 miles around me.
Again, a few I wildly judgmentally disregard – one has given her daughter a name that tells me we would be on different wavelengths. Another calls herself a princess. Others have much older children. I message four other mums who all have young children like me.
All this time I've been going to playgroups with my children one or two days a week. I'm starting to meet some of the same parents again and again, swapping numbers and getting to know them. It strikes me that my snap judgments in 'real life' are similar to the ones I have been making online.
I just feel more drawn to some mums than others – my unconscious criteria seem to be friendly, interesting mums roughly the same age as me, who seem intelligent or creative. Bonus points for having children the same age as mine, and living in or near my neighbourhood. It sounds so awful written down.
No replies from my ParentsNearby contacts.
My MumAmie 'friend' messages back about meeting up – she knows a great local playgroup. I reply.
I am secretly hoping I never hear back from my MumAmie contact. If I met this 'match' naturally, in real life, at a mum and baby group or through a friend, and we hit it off, I would love to go on a 'friendship date'... but to meet her like this would feel excruciatingly awkward. What if we disliked each other on sight?
I met my husband through Internet dating and have no taboos about that, but friendship dating is something I can't get my head around. I'm convinced that this is far too random a way to find a real friend. It could just work out, but what are the chances?
To my relief, there is no reply; our 'friendship' seems to have petered out before even getting started. And I still haven't heard back from anyone from ParentsNearby.
A new site pops up on my Facebook feed – MummySocial. Uh-oh. I suppose I had better register for the sake of this article. I fill in my town and am surprised to see around 20 other mums in the area. Hardly anyone has bothered to fill in their profile so it's hard to know who might be a friend.
Through MummySocial you can arrange meet-ups too (in my area, no-one has) and there's a message board for conversation. In my region, another mum has posted a random, impersonal message about ways to treat pelvic pain – seemingly out of the blue. No-one has 'liked' it.
I now know that I could not go through with meeting mum friends through a website set up for that sole purpose, although I like to talk to other mums online on sites where we already have things in common like work forums, or chatting to friends of friends on Facebook, or through blogs.
And best of all I like to meet other mums in real life – that way, you know right away if you're going to click.
I log off, unable to face contacting anyone and relieved my experiment is over. And my children and I head to the playgroup recommended by my MumAmie contact to make some real friends. Maybe I'll even see her there and we might become best friends... you never know.
How have you met other parents?
More on Parentdish: Making friends with other mums