Marissa Meizz, 23, was out to dinner with a good friend in the East Village in mid-May when her telephone began buzzing. She tried to silence it, however the texts stored coming. They all needed to know: Had she seen the TikTookay video?
She clicked the hyperlink and a younger man appeared onscreen. “If your name’s Marissa,” he stated, “please listen up.” He stated he had simply overheard a few of her buddies say they have been intentionally selecting to carry a party when she was out of city that weekend. “You need to know,” he stated. “TikTok, help me find Marissa.”
Ms. Meizz’s coronary heart sank. After getting in contact with the person who posted the video, which amassed greater than 14 million views, she confirmed that she was the Marissa in query and that it was her buddies who had conspired to exclude her from their occasion.
Her emotions have been damage. But quite than sulk, Ms. Meizz determined to do one thing about it. She went on TikTookay to disclose that the video had been about her. The response was instantaneous. “People immediately started messaging me saying, ‘Let’s be friends!’” she stated. “‘Screw your old friends.’”
Ms. Meizz’s story took maintain because the coronavirus pandemic has radically remodeled relationships. Some outdated friendships have withered after a scarcity of in-person interactions and folks have cast extra on-line connections to alleviate loneliness. What occurred subsequent to Ms. Meizz encapsulated these adjustments, together with her on-line and offline worlds blurring to create one thing new — and joyful.
Within days of her revelation on TikTookay, Ms. Meizz, a dressing up designer, obtained greater than 5,000 messages. Strangers invited her to their birthday events, housewarmings and weddings. Some who lived exterior New York City requested if she might arrange a publish workplace field so that they may very well be pen buddies. Thousands — particularly Gen Zers and millennial adults — appeared hungry for brand new connections as summer time started and coronavirus restrictions lifted.
“I was like, OK, how can I use this to help people?” she stated.
The reply: Ms. Meizz determined to carry a meet-up.
In June, Ms. Meizz posted a TikTookay telling everybody on the lookout for new buddies to satisfy at Central Park on a Saturday. The video went viral. On the day of the meet-up, 200 folks confirmed up. For over eight hours they laughed, performed video games, chatted and bonded.
The occasion was so successful that Ms. Meizz began No More Lonely Friends, an online community of people looking to make friends in real life, or IRL, meet-ups across the country.
Ms. Meizz has since held meet-ups in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston, Washington, Philadelphia and elsewhere. The events are free and open to anyone. Though the crowd skews young, hundreds of attendees of all ages have showed up as word of the events has spread through TikTok’s “For You” page, which is powered by the app’s recommendation algorithm.
“At some point everyone has had that feeling of loneliness or, man, I have no friends,” said Max Grauer, 24, a pastry baker in Los Angeles who recently attended one gathering. “Being locked in your house for months on end, there’s a release of going out, seeing new people and experiencing new faces.”
The No More Lonely Friends gatherings are the latest example of online interactions turning into real life events in the pandemic. In May, after an invitation to a 17-year-old’s birthday party went viral on TikTok, thousands of teenagers showed up in Huntington Beach, Calif. YouTubers, TikTokers and live streamers went to make posts about it for those who couldn’t attend. Eventually, there was a riot and the police moved in, arresting 150 people and issuing an emergency curfew.
Ms. Meizz’s effort is far less chaotic. She said she tries to greet all the attendees and help make connections between them. She bops from group to group to ensure that no one is left alone. To break the ice and help cover event costs, Ms. Meizz recently began selling merchandise, including T-shirts that say, “If you’re reading this, we should be friends.”
“The cool thing is everyone there is to make friends, so everyone looks like they’re already friends but in reality everyone’s showed up alone,” she said.
Many attendees bond quickly. A large group from the Los Angeles gathering reconnected the next weekend for a beach trip and have started a group chat on Instagram to plan future outings.
Some people have joined multiple meet-ups. Makenna Misuraco, 26, a mental health counselor in Philadelphia, attended a No More Lonely Friends event in her city and recently traveled to one in New York City. She said Ms. Meizz’s exclusion by her friends resonated with her, as did how Ms. Meizz then took the experience and turned it into something positive on and off the internet.
“Social media can be a very bad place for people,” Ms. Misuraco said. No More Lonely Friends “brings people that are all in the same boat, looking to make friends and craving good human interaction. When you go there, you know everyone has the intention of meeting friends.”
Jiovanni Daniels, 25, a singer in New York, said he has been to all three meet-ups in the city after finding out about it on TikTok.
“You never know who you might meet,” he said. “Every type of demographic has popped up there. I’ve met people in their 50s and early teens.” The main attendees were those in their late teens to late 20s, he said, and they “go at 11 a.m. and stay until 8 p.m. or 9 p.m.”
Ms. Meizz is planning more gatherings in U.S. cities and said she hoped to expand internationally when the pandemic eases. Though No More Lonely Friends isn’t a business, the events have attracted interest from brands. This month, representatives from Arizona Iced Tea showed up to one gathering with free drinks and merchandise.
Ms. Meizz said she was keeping an eye on the latest coronavirus surge, fueled by the more infectious Delta variant. To be safe, she only holds events outdoors.
“I check the cities, I go to vaccination rates and make sure that things are still open and I’m not doing anything illegal,” she said. “I always look out for everyone’s safety and everyone feels comfortable.”
As the gatherings have grown, some logistics have become more complicated. One Sunday meet-up this month in Central Park attracted more than 600 people over eight hours.
“I looked it up and as long as I don’t have a foldout table or giant speaker I don’t need a permit,” Ms. Meizz said. “We’re just a group of people gathering. But we’re talking to people about permits and stuff to make sure.”
The community also extends online. People search the No More Lonely Friends hashtags and Instagram comments to reconnect with people they met or to discuss attending the next event together.
At the recent Central Park meet-up, Ms. Meizz was calm and upbeat. As people clustered in groups, some mingled and greeted potential new friends. One man brought out his acoustic guitar and played under a tree. Others played card games or volleyball. Some ate snacks on picnic blankets.
At one point, in a moment captured for TikTok, Ms. Meizz grabbed her phone and panned to the cheering crowd behind her as they raised their hands. Ms. Meizz, who hasn’t spoken to the former friends who excluded her from the birthday party, said she has more than enough new friends now.
“It’s kind of just turned into a big giant family,” she said.