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Everyone’s thirsty for friends

People are turning to TikTok to connect IRL, and FOMO is back, baby!

Rebecca Jennings is a senior correspondent covering social platforms and the creator economy. Since joining Vox in 2018, her work has explored the rise of TikTok, internet aesthetics, and the pursuit of money and fame online. You can sign up for her biweekly Vox Culture newsletter here.

If you happen to live in the Moncton, New Brunswick, area and have been feeling sort of lonely lately, some good news: Earlier this month, a 23-year-old named Brently and his pal Jeffrey made a video in which they announce that they’re looking to make new friends. “We’re pretty cool guys who like hanging out at this park,” Brently explains, adding that they’re into movies and comic books. It went viral on Twitter when someone captioned the video “this is the most depressing shit I’ve ever seen.”

To be sure, the person who made the tweet was immediately called out for being kind of a jerk toward Brently, who from this and other videos appears to be a genuinely kind and upbeat person and who seems like he’d make for a wonderful friend. But it’s just one example of a specific kind of post I’ve been seeing more of, in which one person makes an earnest plea for connection. A friendship thirst trap, if you will.

As social distancing becomes less of a term plastered all over the grocery store and more a relic of the weirdest year ever, all the fun, messy, and sometimes horribly lonely feelings related to having a social life are starting to creep back into our lives. The most recent New York magazine cover story centers on the return of FOMO, or the sense that even if our social lives have felt suddenly packed over the past month or two, we’re just as likely to feel left out. “You may ask yourself (I may ask myself): How did everyone get these invites?” Matthew Schneier writes. “Have they actually been tending to their relationships during quarantine, going to Zoom drinks while I was rewatching The Good Wife? Did everyone get in shape except me?”


#newbrunswick comment or shoot us a message to be our friend my email is #friendship #lonleypeople

♬ original sound - Brently

I keep seeing people encouraging each other to “get out there.” Last week, a 30-day dating challenge went mildly viral on TikTok, in which people must delete their dating apps, leave the house, and strike up conversations to meet people the old-fashioned way. IRL, a new social network backed by SoftBank and valued at about a billion dollars, is targeting teenagers to connect and meet up (TikTok is reportedly working with IRL on a product integration).

One of the most viral stories to come out of TikTok this year has been the saga of “Marissa from New York,” sparked by a video in which a man overheard a group of friends in a New York City park gossiping about their friend Marissa, then posted what he’d heard on TikTok and told his followers to “find Marissa” so that she could confront her supposed friends. The internet found Marissa in a matter of hours, and within days, she’d launched a project called #NoMoreLonelyFriends, devoted to planning public picnics in city parks. (Whether the whole thing was faked in order to promote said project is up for debate, but at least Marissa is super popular now!)

It feels like the stakes of “getting out there” have never been higher. It’s birthday season in my particular social group, and each weekend since I’ve been vaccinated I tell myself that this is going to be the one where I stay in and recharge, and each weekend there’s somewhere I absolutely must go and drink and dance and hug my friends. It’s been thrilling and wonderful, and yet a nagging part of me is still grumpy about the nights I missed, nights I either wasn’t invited to or couldn’t make, wondering whether everyone else was having fun without me. I want to be everywhere, with everyone, but I also sort of want nobody to text me ever again.

“Hi, I’m at my breaking point, please stop making plans on the weekends during the summer, it’s mid-June and if you wanted to hang out with me on a weekend I’m not free until late August,” vented TikToker Jake Cornell, who’s become something of an everyman for a certain type of overworked, self-deprecating Brooklyn millennial. The subtext here is that “yes, please stop filling my calendar with plans, but also please don’t, because if I’m not invited I’m going to absolutely lose my mind.”

It’s a thing that’s at this point pretty cringe to talk about — “I don’t want to go but I have to be invited” is a very specific brand of, like, 2014 Twitter humor — and what we’re ultimately describing is just being a regular person who sometimes feels left out but also enjoys watching the worst reality shows imaginable and speaking to nobody. This summer, the one that we were promised all the way back in March 2020, the one where everything would suddenly be normal again, that particular ennui comes with a whole new meaning. I get jealous over Instagram Stories of other people’s parties even as I post pictures of my own parties; I get jealous reading about the nights that much cooler people than me are having in Brock Colyar’s excellent new newsletter project, “are u coming?” in which he shadows influencers chasing vibes on a Saturday night, even though the idea of being at a Bushwick rooftop party with a bunch of 19-year-old YouTubers sounds exhausting.

And yet I think there is something inherently sweet about publicly thirsting for friendship. Loneliness is already a massive health crisis in the US and much of the world, even though to admit to it is still a source of shame. Perhaps one nice thing to come out of the pandemic is that it has helped normalize speaking about our individual loneliness and, most importantly, reaching out into the digital void in the hopes that someone else might reach back. Brently, for his part, has hit 60,000 followers since his video went viral. Even if most of them don’t happen to live in New Brunswick, hopefully at least a couple of them have become internet friends.

This column first published in The Goods newsletter. Sign up here so you don’t miss the next one, plus get newsletter exclusives.

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