Going Viral Now: Meeting Online Friends in Real Life


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

He clicked the link and a young man appeared on the screen. “If your name is Marissa,” he said, “please listen.” He said he heard some of his friends say that they had deliberately chosen to throw a birthday party while he was out of town that weekend. “You should know,” he said. “TikTok, help me find Marissa.”

Miss Meizz’s heart ached. After contacting the man who posted the video with more than 14 million views, he confirmed that it was Marissa in question and that he had friends to exclude her from their parties.

His feelings were hurt. But instead of sulking, Ms. Meizz decided to do something about it. He took to TikTok to reveal that the video was about him. The reaction was instant. “People immediately say, ‘Let’s be friends!’ They started texting,” he said. “’Forget about your old friends.’”

Ms. Meizz’s story took hold as the coronavirus pandemic radically changed relationships. Some old friendships faded after the lack of face-to-face interaction, and people connected more online to alleviate loneliness. Those with Ms. Meizz summed up these changes as their online and offline worlds blurred to create something new and joyful.

Meizz, a costume designer, received more than 5,000 messages on TikTok in the days following her disclosure. Strangers have invited him to birthday parties, home parties and weddings. Some outside of New York City asked if they could set up a mailbox so they could be pen pals. Thousands—especially millennials and millennials—seemed hungry for new connections as summer begins and coronavirus restrictions are lifted.

“Okay, how can I use this to help people?” said.

Answer: Ms. Meizz has decided to arrange a meeting.

In June, Ms. Meizz posted a TikTok, telling anyone looking for new friends to meet up in Central Park on Saturday. The video went viral. On the day of the meeting, 200 people came. They laughed, played games, chatted and bonded for over eight hours.

The event was so successful that Ms. Meizz started No More Lonely Friends, an online community looking to make real-life friends, or nationwide IRL, meetups.

Ms. Meizz has since held meetups in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston, Washington, Philadelphia and elsewhere. Events are free and open to all. Although the crowd was young, hundreds of attendees of all ages emerged as news of the events spread through TikTok’s “For You” page powered by the app’s recommendation algorithm.

“Everybody has this feeling of loneliness at some point, or man, I don’t have any friends,” said 24-year-old pastry baker Max Grauer, who attended a meeting in Los Angeles. “There is a freedom to be locked in your home for months, going out, seeing new people and experiencing new faces.”

No More Lonely Friends meetings are the latest example of online interactions that have turned into real-life events during the pandemic. In May, after an invitation A 17-year-old’s birthday party went viral on TikTokThousands of young people came to Huntington Beach, California, YouTubers, TikTokers and live streamers went to share about it for those who couldn’t attend. Eventually, a riot broke out and the police broke in, arrested 150 people and declared an emergency curfew.

Ms. Meizz’s effort is much less chaotic. He said he tried to greet all the participants and help them connect. He jumps from group to group to ensure no one is left alone. To break the ice and help pay for the event, Ms. Meizz has recently started selling merchandise, including T-shirts that read, “If you’re reading this, we should be friends.”

“The great thing is that everyone is there to make friends, so it seems like everyone is already friends but in reality everyone came alone,” he said.

Many participants connect quickly. A large group from the Los Angeles meeting reunited for a beach trip the following weekend and started a group chat on Instagram to plan future trips.

Some people have attended more than one meetup. Makenna Misuraco, a mental health counselor in Philadelphia, 26, attended the No More Lonely Friends event in her city and recently went to an event in New York City. She said that Ms. Meizz’s rejection by her friends resonated with her and that Ms. Meizz later took the experience and turned it into something positive, both online and offline.

“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, who want to make friends and desire good human interaction. When you get there, you know everyone is meant to meet friends.”

Jiovanni Daniels, 25, a singer in New York, said she went to all three dates in the city after finding out on TikTok.

“You never know who you’ll run into,” he said. “All kinds of demographics popped up there. I’ve met people in their 50s and early teens.” The main participants were teens in their late 20s and said, “They leave at 11 and stay until 8 PM or 9 PM.”

Ms. Meizz said she is scheduling more meetings in US cities and hopes to expand internationally once the pandemic subsides. While No More Lonely Friends wasn’t a business, the events caught the attention of brands. This month, Arizona Iced Tea representatives met with free drinks and products.

Ms Meizz said she was following the latest coronavirus surge fueled by the more contagious Delta variant. To be safe, she only organizes events outside.

“I check cities, I go to vaccination rates and make sure things are still open and I’m not doing anything illegal,” he said. “I always take care of everyone’s safety and everyone feels comfortable.”

As meetings have grown, some logistics have become more complex. A Sunday meetup in Central Park this month attracted more than 600 people for eight hours.

“I looked and I don’t need permission unless I have a folding table or a giant speaker,” said Ms. Meizz. “We’re just a bunch of people getting together. But we talk to people about permissions and stuff just to be sure.”

The community also expands online. People search for the No More Lonely Friends hashtags and Instagram comments to reconnect with people they’ve met or discuss attending the next event together.

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

At one point, at once Caught for TikTokMeizz picked up her phone and looked at the cheering crowd behind her as she raised her hands. Ms. Meizz, who has not yet met her old friends who excluded her from her birthday party, said she has more than enough new friends now.

“It kind of turned into a big, giant family,” he said.


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