How my search for female friendship lead me to an unlikely online community
I live in New York City, one of the most vibrant, people-packed places in the world—and yet, I still get lonely. Maybe even more than just lonely. Sometimes, it feels downright isolating. Like lots of people, I suffer from mild Seasonal Affective Disorder, and when the skies become as gray as the streets that surround me, it’s hard to not turn into myself, stop making as much of an effort with friends, and blame the feeling of social depletion on merely being “independent.” But as people, we crave support and community and camaraderie. Many of us need it to feel fulfilled, happy, and confident.
So then, why are so many of us so lonely?
According to a Cigna report released earlier this year, loneliness in America is at an all-time high. Nearly 79% of Gen Z respondents and 71% of millennials reported feeling lonely, compared to just half of the baby boomers. So the feeling is more than just a personal one, it’s generational.
Like so many of us do when we feel alone, uncomfortable, or just bored, I tend to take to (probably poorly) placate my feelings of social inferiority by scrolling through social media. Some psychologists attribute this kind of behavior to the exacerbation of loneliness in millennials.
“Millennials are lonely because it appears like the rest of the world is having fun without them, says licensed psychotherapist Amy Rollo. “That’s because people post their highlights on social media, and it looks like everyone is living a great life. In truth, we are comparing our life to other people’s filtered lives.”
I am fully aware of this fact (heck, even I have carefully crafted my own social media feed to make myself and my life look a certain way), yet on particularly lonely nights, I still find myself mindlessly navigating to a Facebook group I had recently joined, which involves all NYC-based females who listen to the same pop-culture podcast, The Morning Toast.
On one of those nights, I found a post that read: “Does anyone ever just feel really lonely in this city? I’ve been here less than a year and have noticed that the city has a way of making you feel very big, or very small. Not sure if it’s: A) Not making enough money to do everything I want; B) Living in a Harry Potter closet and feeling cramped; C) Not knowing enough people to hang out with; D) Being 24 years old and never knowing WTF I’m doing in life; or all of the above. Please share your thoughts/experiences.”
Over 80 comments and 200 likes later, and an outpouring of support came from women who had never met each other.
“Oh yeah, girl!!!! Adults for some reason have a hard time befriending each other. You’re not alone!!! We are all here ❤️,” one kind commenter wrote.
“Seriously this city feels so isolating!” said another.
Immediately, I felt seen and understood. There are 400 million people active in Facebook groups, according to Mark Zuckerberg’s 2019 F8 speech, and the entire platform is trying to make these online-based “communities” a central part of its experience, shifting the importance to who you are individually “friends” with to who you might meet. And based on the almost 100 sub-groups made for this one podcast (from women who watch the same shows to women who share beauty tips to single women looking for advice), it seems it’s growing fast.
Before I knew it, the poster had collected numbers and created a collective group text for everyone who wanted to be included. With 140 members and counting in the chat, it couldn’t be more clear that women were craving this sense of togetherness and friendship and all it took was one shared interest (a podcast we all listen to daily) and a shared feeling (loneliness) to bring us together. Soon, meetups were being planned, Bachelor-watch parties were being had, and support was given to women who were going on dates, going through breakups, and more.
As human beings, we need community for support. And now, thanks to tools we have at our fingertips, we’re able to access that sense of community online with people we may have never gotten a chance to connect with otherwise.
Bumble BFF has contributed to more meetups of females looking for friendship, while online networking communities like Girlboss help women navigate career and work waters. Even Reddit threads like this Girl Survival Guide are helping women feel less alone in the things they are going through.
There’s just one tiny caveat: These online communities do not replace our need for face-to-face interaction.
“While communication is more accessible, real relationships are even harder,” notes Rollo. “While online communities help connect us to others, it can also stop us from connecting in real life. With everything, we need balance. We can’t have all our relationships be online. We need to balance both needs.”
Making friends as an adult takes time (studies say up to 90 hours together) and effort, which these easy, online conversations do not. That’s why it’s important to branch beyond the comfort of online to friendships IRL, too.
According to Lydia Denworth, friendship expert and author of Friendship: The Evolution, Biology, and Extraordinary Power of Life’s Fundamental Bond, “If you use social media as one more way to communicate with someone you also see in real life, it strengthens the bond. It can also be a great way to find groups of people with shared interests. But if someone is using social media passively—scrolling through everyone else’s feeds and feeling left out—then it isn’t helpful.”
So, while scrolling through the dozens of messages in the group chat of women all looking for the same thing as me, I am reminded of a quote from Michelle Obama that a friend of mine shared while watching her on Oprah’s 2020 Vision Tour:
“People are hungry for connection and community. With social media and Instagram, we feel lonely. When we show up [in person together] it reminds us that we are alike.”
I make it a point to interact with the group more, find out which members live in my neighborhood, and eventually, make it a goal of mine to meet up with them in-person. I am thankful for the original poster’s bravery in sharing her own feelings of loneliness, which in turn, made me feel a whole lot less down about mine and feel more motivated to meet these likeminded ladies.
Because while the reality is that some of us will always have those select, true-blue friends throughout all stages of life, others change as our lives do, and that’s okay.
Nicole Sbordone, licensed therapist and author of Surviving Female Friendships: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, says that the more we put in effort, the more it will alleviate feeling lonely and isolated. “We need to re-define how we make friends, as well as how we define a ‘friend,'” she says.
She encourages everyone to not only get creative about how they go about making friends (via friendship apps or social media groups, like the one I joined), but to be bolder about getting out of that comfort zone to ask someone get coffee or meet up. And honestly, what’s the worst that could happen? You could just make a new friend.