Now Going Viral: Meeting Online Friends in Real Life

Marissa Meizz, 23, was out for dinner with a friend in the East Village in mid-May when her phone started buzzing. She tried to silence it, but the news kept coming. They all wanted to know: had she seen the TikTok video?

She clicked the link and a young man appeared on the screen. “If your name is Marissa,” he said, “please listen.” He said he had just heard some of her friends say they made a conscious decision to have a birthday party when they weren’t at the this weekend City was. “You have to know,” he said. “TikTok, help me find Marissa.”

Mrs. Meizz’s heart sank. After contacting the man who posted the video with more than 14 million views, she confirmed that she was the Marissa in question and that it was her friends who plotted to keep her out of her party.

Your feelings were hurt. But instead of sulking, Ms. Meizz decided to do something about it. She went on TikTok to reveal that the video was about her. The reaction was instantaneous. “People immediately started texting me saying, ‘Let’s be friends!'” She said. “‘Damn your old friends.'”

Ms. Meizz’s story took off when the coronavirus pandemic radically changed relationships. Some old friendships have withered from a lack of face-to-face interactions and people have forged more connections online to alleviate loneliness. What happened next to Ms. Meizz summed up those changes, blurring her online and offline worlds to create something new – and joyful.

Within days of her unveiling on TikTok, Ms. Meizz, a costume designer, received more than 5,000 messages. Strangers invited them to their birthday parties, housewarmings, and weddings. Some who lived outside of New York City asked if she could set up a PO Box so they could become pen pals. Thousands – Gen Zers and Millennials in particular – seemed hungry for new connections as summer and the coronavirus restrictions start to lift.

“I was like, okay, how can I use this to help people?” She said.

The answer: Ms. Meizz has decided to meet.

In June, Ms. Meizz posted a TikTok in which everyone is looking for new friends to meet in Central Park on a Saturday. The video went viral. On the day of the meeting, 200 people came. For over eight hours they laughed, played games, chatted, and connected.

The event was such a success that Ms. Meizz started No More Lonely Friends, an online community of people looking to make friends in real life, or IRL meetups across the country.

Since then, Ms. Meizz has held meetings in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston, Washington, Philadelphia, and elsewhere. The events are free and open to everyone. Though the crowd is young, hundreds of attendees of all ages showed up when news of the events spread through TikTok’s “For You” page, powered by the app’s recommendation algorithm.

“At some point everyone had this feeling of loneliness or, man, I have no friends,” said Max Grauer, 24, a Los Angeles pastry chef who recently attended a meeting. “When you’re locked in your house for months, there’s a release from going out, seeing new people, and seeing new faces.”

The No More Lonely Friends meetings are the latest example of how online interactions become real events during 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, California. YouTubers, TikTokers, and live streamers made posts about it for those who couldn’t attend. Eventually a riot broke out and the police moved in, arrested 150 people and put an emergency exit lock on them.

Ms. Meizz’s work is far less chaotic. She said she was trying to greet all attendees and make connections between them. She jumps from group to group to make sure no one is left alone. To break the ice and cover event costs, Ms. Meizz recently started selling merchandise, including T-shirts that said, “If you’re reading this, we should be friends.”

“The cool thing is that everyone makes friends here, so everyone looks like they’re already friends, but in reality they all showed up alone,” she said.

Many participants connect quickly. A large group from the Los Angeles congregation reconnected for a beach getaway next weekend and started a group chat on Instagram to plan future outings.

Some people have attended several meetings. Makenna Misuraco, 26, a Philadelphia mental health counselor, attended a No More Lonely Friends event in her city and recently traveled to one in New York City. She said her friends’ exclusion of Ms. Meizz resonated with her, as did Ms. Meizz then taking the experience and turning it into something positive on and off the internet.

“Social media can be a very bad place for people,” said Ms. Misuraco. No More Lonely Friends “brings together people who are all in the same boat, make friends and long for good human interaction. When you go there you know that everyone intends to meet friends. “

Jiovanni Daniels, 25, a singer in New York, said he was in town for all three meetings after finding out about them on TikTok.

“You never know who to meet,” he said. “Every demographic group showed up there. I met people in their 50s and early teens. ”The main participants were in their late teens through their late twenties, he said, and they“ go at 11am and stay until 8 or 9pm ”.

Ms. Meizz is planning more gatherings in U.S. cities and said she hopes to expand internationally once the pandemic subsides. While No More Lonely Friends isn’t a business, the events have sparked interest from brands. This month representatives from Arizona Iced Tea came to a meeting for free drinks and merchandise.

Ms. Meizz said she was keeping an eye on the recent surge in coronavirus, which is being powered by the more contagious Delta variant. To be on the safe side, it only holds events outdoors.

“I check the cities, go to the vaccination boards and make sure things are still open and that I am not doing anything illegal,” she said. “I always make sure everyone is safe and everyone feels good.”

As the gatherings have grown, some logistics have become more complicated. A Sunday gathering in Central Park that month drew more than 600 people over eight hours.

“I checked and as long as I don’t have a fold-out table or a huge loudspeaker, I don’t need a permit,” said Ms. Meizz. “We’re just a group of people meeting. But we talk to people about permits and stuff to make sure. “

The community extends online as well. People browse No More Lonely Friends hashtags and Instagram comments to get back in touch with people they’ve met or to discuss attending the next event together.

At the last meeting in Central Park, Ms. Meizz was calm and optimistic. When people formed groups, some mingled together and greeted potential new friends. A man took out his acoustic guitar and played under a tree. Others played card games or volleyball. Some ate snacks on picnic blankets.

At one point, at a moment captured for TikTok, Ms. Meizz grabbed her phone and waved at the cheering crowd behind her as they raised their hands. Ms. Meizz, who hasn’t spoken to the ex-friends she excluded from the birthday party, said she now has more than enough new friends.

“It just turned into a big, huge family,” she said.

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