New York City is often portrayed as a city of tight-knit female friendships — see Sex and the City, Girls, and Broad City — but the reality of moving to a big city is lonely, especially in an era of remote work, increased screen time, and declining third spaces. 

In recent years, we’ve “learned loneliness,” “stopped hanging out,” and no longer have “fringe friends,” making moving to a new city particularly challenging.  

When Sarah Mcgonigle moved to the city last summer she barely knew anyone and worked a fully remote job, so she didn’t have the safety net of coworkers to help her acclimate. Mcgonigle, like so many others seeking connection, couldn’t rely on traditional third spaces — like a community center, park, the mall, or place of worship — in her neighborhood to foster community. 

As investment in third spaces dwindled, people have turned to the web as a quasi-third space that many argue exacerbates feelings of isolation. This reliance on the web for social interaction contributes to “learned loneliness,” or the idea that we’ve adjusted to living with an unfulfilled need for socialization.

A month after her move, the 23-year-old came across a TikTok promoting an event hosted by The Cinema Sorority, a social club for female cinephiles. While she never intended to be someone who meets people online, the event appealed to her. 

“I wanted to make more friends. I remember the post was about a Wes Anderson picnic, and I’m a really big Wes Anderson fan, so it seemed up my alley,” Mcgonigle told Mashable. 

After the picnic, Mcgonigle made plans with women at the event for the next day. “I was nervous at first, but then I realized we were all in the same boat: we all have the same interest, are all looking for the same type of connection and the same type of friendship,” said Mcgonigle. 

TikTok isn’t just a digital third space, but a vehicle to create real-world third spaces

Social groups like The Cinema Sorority help transform TikTok from a digital space to a discovery tool for developing in-person third spaces. And since the groups revolve around meet-ups IRL, they are saved from the way solely online communities often crash and burn due to a lack of physical proximity that can lead to a lack of accountability and feelings of closeness.

When Nikol Moses moved to Brisbane from Melbourne after lockdown in Australia ended, the pre-existing paths to meeting people on the web weren’t working for her. The 23-year-old attended university online, and for the first eight or nine months she floundered with no friends. 

“I tried Bumble BFF, Meet Up, and Feysbuk groups, but the meet-ups I went to were a bit cringe. I just couldn’t find anyone that was like me or that I liked,” Moses told Mashable. 

She took matters into her own hands. “Eventually I posted a TikTok promoting myself,” said Moses. “It got so so so many comments from girls who were in the same situation as me.” She estimates that around 300 people commented or DMed her to hang out. The overwhelming response proved she wasn’t the only person desperate to make friends. 

“I started thinking in-person events would be a good idea,” said Moses. She planned her first speed-friending event at a bar in Brisbane and advertised it in a FaceTime-style TikTok. It sold out. She branded her event series as Friends on Purpose and operates a variety of events including weekly trivia and walks free of charge. The more involved events are ticketed to offset the price it costs to put on. (Generally, third spaces should have a low cost of entry.)

In big cities, FYPs have something for everyone

The reach of TikTok not only generates new third spaces but creates welcoming alternatives to pre-existing groups.

Isabel DiGiovanni, a 26-year-old video editor for HBO in New York City, started Slow Girl Run Club while training for the New York City Marathon. She looked for a “chiller” run club to join, but most weren’t pace-inclusive. She aimed to start a run club where the pace (11:30/mile) was upfront. “I started it with seven of my friends, then I posted a TikTok about it and the numbers were crazy,” DiGiovanni told Mashable. “We had 40 to 50 people show up every week after that.”

Like Slow Girl Run Club, Ellie McCoy and Isabella Harrison’s Village Fairy Book Club began as a book club with three or four of their friends. Last summer, they posted a video of their first meeting where they discussed The Midnight Library and crafted, growing the group into a vibrant event series. 

Young people want to be a part of the activities they see on their screens and these creators aren’t interested in being exclusive. 

The duo expanded to hosting meetings at different spaces around New York City, and most of the women who attend their events have only lived in the city for a month or two. “Reading is the method that we get people talking to connect and make friends in the city,” McCoy told Mashable. They charge a modest fee, averaging $15, to cover rental and food costs and experimented with different formats including author Q&As and most recently a goal-setting workshop to kick off the new year. 

Not your influencer’s social clubs

The new class of TikTok-born clubs is heralded by non-influencers, which gives the groups more of a community feel. You don’t have to have a huge following to build a thriving IRL community. Friends on Purpose and Slow Girl Run Club both hover around 5,000 followers, low numbers for a creator, but enough to be a launch pad for meet-ups.

The women who started these groups credit their success to posting open, relatable videos about their next event, rather than relying on being popular creators that cultivate a fanbase. In a TikTok from last year, Harrison says, “I’ve been seeing so many TikToks about how hard it is to adjust to living in the city and how hard it is to make new friends, and after a year of living here I think I’ve finally cracked the code.” McCoy goes on to invite viewers to join their book club. 

Part of the reason Mcgonigle took the leap with The Cinema Sorority was because its founder Kaite Hubler advertised the event in a casual TikTok showing her face. “I knew she was a real person who lives in New York and posts about New York,” said Mcgonigle.

Other run clubs in NYC depend on a popular creator attracting membership, but that’s not the case with Slow Girl Run Club. “I am not an influencer myself and I marketed the club as like the main thing,” explains DiGiovanni. “My Instagram is private. I have no interest in being the face of the club. I want the club to be its own community.” Her focus on community sets all attendees on even footing.

There’s an overwhelming desire for in-person meet ups

Other founders didn’t go searching for a community but met a need. Emma Oyomba posted a series of videos about friendship to TikTok and received an immense response. “I heard a lot of people’s stories about how lonely they are or how people had trouble trying to find good friends,” Oyomba told Mashable. She held her first happy hour a year ago and over 130 women purchased $20 tickets — drinks not included — to attend. Oyomba özgü since hosted everything from Beyonce trivia to yoga classes under the name Six Degrees

The desire to forge in-person connection is so strong that even those who didn’t set out to host friend-finding events pivoted. Lauren Wolfen and Mady Mai aimed to create a social version of Google Maps with their app Camber. After they built up a social presence for the app they hosted their first community event in Los Angeles: a walk club. Seventy people showed up. 

“We noticed how much people were itching to go out and meet one another and actually have those IRL experiences and connections,” Mai told Mashable. “We didn’t foresee [it] as we were building Camber. Los Angeles is such a big city and it is so difficult to find friends here. [Events] ended up being one of the largest parts of our business today.”

Camber still holds walk clubs, but expanded to host game nights, trivia, and yoga classes all with the intention of helping people meet each other and discover new places in Los Angeles. All their community events are free with the exception of capped events where they have guests hisse a small fee to ensure they show up.

While TikTok prioritizes infinite growth, these groups ground themselves in location-based IRL meet-ups. Take Slow Girl Run Club as an example — week after week, DiGiovanni or another member will show up to lead a run, ensuring lonely women always have somewhere to go and someone to run with.

She hopes groups like her own are changing the tide of loneliness: “It seems easier than ever to make friends in New York because of different communities on social media. You know what things are going on and you can just show up and talk to new people and leave whenever.”

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