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This article is part of a series on the strange, unexpected, and sometimes even borderline illegal services that you can engage on Carousell.  Read the first part on controlled substances here and the second on hacking here.

Snap, list, sell. 30 seconds is all it takes on Carousell to declutter your life.

But now, you can buy a friend too.

Amidst the thousands of sellers on the app offering clothes, shoes and services for a price, there are handful of individuals offering the promise of friendship to interested parties.

There were males, and females.
13 year old students and 28 year old adults.
People looking to help.
People sick of their current social circles.
And people who were just plain lonely.
Of the profiles I encountered, there were usually no names or pictures, only criteria. Girls tend to be preferred over guys, as are those below the age of 20. It also helps if you share similar interests as them such as K-pop, Stranger Things and Shawn Mendes.

Other than that, it all sounds deceptively simple.

“Hit me up,” some write. “Am super friendly.” “Don’t worry, I won’t bite :).”

The price: $0.

It can feel mildly absurd, seeing the sheer number of people on the app advertising their friendship. Some users are at least self-aware enough to include in their listings: “Don’t ask if I’m okay, I’m obviously not, what kind of person sells friendship on carousell.”

I might not have fancied Kpop but I liked Stranger Things and found Shawn Mendes tolerable. And so, I pressed the little grey button to chat.

I met all kinds of people.

15-year olds who proclaimed to love every 80s song and film ever, several self-conscious users who prefaced their listing by saying, “It’s not that I don’t have friends, I just want to expand my social circle.”

And of course, there were those who were “Currently single so you can hit me up if you want.”

Introductions were by far the easiest and the most impersonal.

Everyone started off relatively enthusiastic and friendly. We traded names, ages, facts about what stage of life we were at and what our hobbies were.

However, once we realised we didn’t have much in common, the enthusiasm faded. Of the 9 listings for friends that I responded to, I encountered 3 teenagers and 1 secondary one kid. Safe to say, those conversations fizzled out within the first few exchanges.

For those with whom I managed to get past this early stage, things started to get harder and more personal. We swapped numbers and moved the conversation off Carousell to Whatsapp. We talked about our families, relationship status, career aspirations, and even our opinions on the latest Thor movie.

Being an extrovert, I opened up readily to my ‘friends’, kept the conversation going and tried to reply within a respectable duration of time. Maybe I was trying too hard to be their friend.

Or maybe they were the ones who weren’t trying at all.

Rousing replies from Hope.
Surprisingly, those who confessed outright to being lonely on their Carousell bios were the least responsive. “My phone was so silent after the [school] holiday started that I decided to make some [friends on Carousell],” said Jane on her listing, who often gave me one-word replies.

Hope, who was “bored in [army] camp,” and “looking for people to talk to to make time pass by faster,” replied all my messages with “lol.”

It was as though their very inability to carry on a good conversation was what made them in need of friends in the first place. Or maybe they just weren’t ready to put in the work required to build such a friendship, especially online.

Friendships are disposable. Everyone knows this, but it’s also way more true online than IRL. Online, we expect things to come faster and better; friendship however, is quite the opposite, and demands serious investments of one’s time and effort.

Online, you can hide behind a screen name or fictionalise certain parts of your identity and no one would be the wiser. If you get tired of someone, all you have to do to get rid of them is to stop replying, delete and/or block them.

The best part is, you don’t even have to feel an ounce of guilt about it.

Just last week I was in the middle of a promising and rather lengthy conversation with a Carousell ‘friend’ named Jovi when all of a sudden, he stopped replying.

Was I surprised? A little.

Sad? Not really.

Just as easily as he had cut our connection, so could I without feeling too bothered. If this had happened in real life, things might have gone down differently.

One-word conversations with Jane.
To be fair, Carousell isn’t exactly the most ideal platform on which to make friends. Designed to facilitate fuss-free exchanges, the app attracts those looking for efficiency and simplicity, not people looking to foster lasting, non-transactional relationships.

Unlike online dating platforms such as Tinder and Coffee Meets Bagel where you can be fairly certain that everyone you meet is single and looking, friendship listings on Carousell stick out, are much more ambiguous, and don’t necessarily attract the right people.

In hindsight, I’m not entirely sure what I was expecting to find on the app.

Did I really think I would find my next best friend on Carousell? Probably not.

But did I think it would be this difficult to sustain even a basic conversation with someone? Not really either.

After 14 days, I was down from 9 ‘friends’, to 2, John and Brendan. They were older than I was, and both seemed keen on further developing this friendship.

As for me, I was still in two minds as to whether we would make good friends or not, but being a firm believer in face-to-face interactions over texting (and also a little weary from the constant messaging), I decided to give it one last shot and arranged for a meetup.

Come Monday morning, I found myself outside JCO Donuts, sitting across from John.

You know the feeling you get, when someone opens their mouth and the within the first ten seconds and you just know that this person isn’t the one? Yeah, that happened.

He was polite, nice and a little reserved. But we didn’t connect. Frankly, I think he felt the same way.

30 minutes after we met, we parted ways. Neither of us texted the other after that.

Right before meeting Brendan.
A few days later, I met my second Carousell ‘friend’ Brendan outside of Toast Box, and we had coffee. It was his treat, and in comparison to John, you could say we got along like a house on fire.

Based on what he told me, I was the 6th person who’d contacted him on Carousell asking to be friends and the 3rd person whom he was actively talking to.

In a surprisingly candid confession, he mentioned how he had felt almost desperate posting his Carousell listing asking for friends. It wasn’t that he didn’t have friends, but rather, he did it as a way to challenge himself to step out of his comfort zone and also as a test to see if he could actually build a strong friendship through such a platform.

I was the first ‘friend’ he met in real life.

Despite being a self-described “extreme introvert”, he was unexpectedly forthcoming. We didn’t have much in common—that I already knew. But somehow, our meeting, which I had expected to last 45 minutes at most, dragged to over 90 minutes.

But the big question still remained: could we be friends? Would I meet him again?

Of all the people I had spent the last two and half weeks talking to, he was by far the closest thing I had to a friend on the app.

At the same time, I could see that our road to friendship would be an uphill one. Neither of us were in such dire need of companionship that we couldn’t get elsewhere, nor would it be convenient to sustain this friendship given that we didn’t have much in common.

And so, an hour and half later, I told him I needed to get a move on to work.

As we parted ways, he sent me a text saying we should do this again sometime.

I don’t think I replied.

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