Take a quick scroll through the deluge of “day in the life” videos on TikTok, and you’ll probably see her: the loneliest girl in New York City. Even with the prolonged isolation of the early pandemic years now over, young people are still struggling to make connections. In a recent study, 79 percent of adults between the ages of 18 and 24 reported feelings of loneliness, compared to 41 percent of those 66 and over. Young adults who spent formative years indoors are finding it harder to make and keep friends and are experiencing heightened rates of depression and anxiety. All that isolation has given rise to a micro-genre of New Yorkers who are documenting their lives — and their loneliness — on TikTok. We spoke with one of them, a 19-year-old college sophomore, about her life in the city and the difficulty of forging friendships after years of waiting out the pandemic at home.
I moved to New York a year and a half ago for school. I’m a musician and songwriter and I study music. I feel like I’ve had so much more opportunity than I would have had in L.A., where I’m from. But it’s weird going to school here. You’re not going to frats or parties or just being a college student. People are already trying to get their jobs. You’ll be sitting in class and your classmate is like, “Oh, yeah, I have an internship at Dior.” School’s very much on the side; people won’t show up to class for a long time because they’re off doing a modeling shoot. We have people with large social-media followings. You’ll be sitting in class and swap Instagrams with the person next to you and they have over 100,000 followers for who knows what reason.
In school, not many people have jobs, and I was one of the only ones last year who had one. I was a Starbucks barista in California and transferred to a New York location when I moved. It’s a totally different energy here. People are angry or in a rush; no one is trying to stay around and chill. People are like, “Get me my coffee, I need to be in the office in seven minutes, why isn’t it ready?” My first semester, I also did an internship at a recording studio. Sometimes I’d work at my internship overnight and then go to work in the morning. Or sometimes I’d go to the club until 4 a.m. and then open at 5:30 a.m. I like to be busy to a point where I have no room in my schedule for anything. There’s so much for me to do here, and sitting alone in my room, it feels like every minute is costing me a dollar. Every minute I live here costs something.
Life this semester has not been as back-to-back. I got a job as a hostess, which isn’t as demanding; I go in a few times a week. On a work or school day, I usually wake up around nine and go to whatever classes I have. I’ll go to the gym, run some errands — I sell a lot of clothes on Depop, so I’m always at the post office — and work in the evenings. I come home around 10 p.m., make dinner, and end my night. On a weekend, I’ll go out with my friends. We’ll go to a party, or get takeout and hang out in the apartment. I spend part of my days exploring the city too. If I have time, I go to thrift stores or pop-ups or things I see on TikTok or Instagram. I go to Brooklyn and the Upper East Side. I can’t buy a designer handbag, but it helps to get out of my bubble.
Loneliness is something I don’t notice ’til a Friday night with no plans. I’ve really only found a small handful of people. I’d rather have quality over quantity, but if one of them is busy, I’m not doing anything at night. The times I feel the most alone are when I’ll see mutual friends post about a party they went to and I wasn’t invited. There’s cliques and circles and it’s really hard after the first year of college to make your way into those groups. Everyone develops these friendships the first year, when we’re in the dorms and people are a little more focused on school. Now it’s full career, people have apartments, and you have to really know people to become friends with them. I haven’t met anyone this year I’ve connected with. I go to concerts alone because if I waited around for somebody, I would never do anything.
People seem to make friends really quickly, but making friends is hard for me. I grew up in Minnesota, had best friends there — though it took me a long time to make them — and when I finally had friends, I moved to California. Going into the pandemic as a sophomore in high school, I had a pretty large friend group, but then COVID started and we didn’t say a word to each other. It was abrupt. We didn’t text. Suddenly we weren’t friends. I realized we didn’t have much to say to each other.
When I moved to New York for school, I immediately threw myself into my group of assigned roommates. I thought, Wow, I get along so great with them, we’re going to have a friend group. But I realized they were also just convenience friends and didn’t actually want to hang out with me. After I moved out, they stopped reaching out. They didn’t want to hang out. They never invited me to their plans. I was just asking to tag along. I was like, Okay, I’m just not going to make this effort anymore because clearly they don’t want to be friends with me.
Now I mainly just hang out with my roommate. The nights she has plans and I’m alone, it’s a lot of sitting and spiraling, watching movies and trying to distract myself. I’ll do nice things for myself. I cook most nights, but I’ll buy myself Dig or Chipotle and FaceTime with my sister or friends from home. I journal a lot. Working on my music is really relaxing for me. I’m a chronic movie rewatcher — one of those old Disney movies like Princess Diaries or High School Musical — and for shows, Gilmore Girls is my go-to. I like seeing people live a simple life and being so happy.
There was a time on my TikTok when I posted myself doing a nightly cry. It was cathartic. It wasn’t about, Oh, I miss my mom or I wish my friends were here. It was more a feeling of, I’m not doing enough. Or, Why aren’t things happening for me? Why isn’t it what I imagined it to be? Why am I not getting the college experience? It was partly about loneliness. But also the feeling that you haven’t met your best friend and everyone has. That was also a time when I was using TikTok not to get attention but to put my entire authentic experience online. I was always seeing these “day in the life” videos where people were living these crazy lives, going to their nine-to-five, running errands, then going out with their friends, then going to a concert, then they go out and buy a Gucci bag. When is the time you were sad on the couch and wallowing for 30 minutes? That was legit a part of my day, so I thought I’d put it in. Earlier this year, I made a video like: I have no friends. Here’s what I’m doing today! That definitely grabbed people’s attention.
Some of those videos of mine that blew up were filled with comments like, I have no friends too, we need to hang out, and I was just like, This is crazy. How do this many people have no friends? I did go through an era where I was actually meeting people who DMed me asking to hang out, and sometimes I’d go for coffee. I only met one person I really connected with, someone from my hometown, but she moved back to California. New York isn’t for everyone.
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