We Met on TikTok

Lonely New Yorkers find new friends and sustained community through viral post.

| 30 Aug 2021 | 09:48

As New Yorkers look for ways to readjust to seeing friends and family, many have had to find creative ways to engage with their social life. When Sam Aberbach’s roommates left for a month in June, she did what most people her age do to combat boredom while alone: she made a TikTok about it. What she didn’t know was that doing so would change the course of her summer.

In the video, Aberbach, 21, touched on her difficulties living in New York City during the COVID-19 outbreak, noting the pressure to stay busy, the effort make friends, and navigate nightlife during a pandemic. Feeling isolated and a bit lonely, she posted the video as a way to vent, not expecting many people to see it. Overnight, her TikTok was watched thousands of times, and has since garnered almost 84,000 views.

Hundreds of comments from other young adults poured in echoing Aberbach’s experiences, discussing social stressors and unique challenges that have been presented by the coronavirus. Almost all of them expressed frustration and social anxiety caused by the pandemic, with one TikTok user replying, “All my friends moved away at the start of the pandemic and we lost contact. It [feels] impossible to make new ones right now.”

Trying to respond to the video’s hundreds of comments and messages, Aberbach posted another TikTok, this time proposing a picnic for other New Yorkers who were dealing with loneliness to make friends. While initially overwhelmed by the response to her post, she said she was excited by the opportunity to bring others together.

“I knew that there were a lot of people looking for connections, but I wasn’t sure if the meetup would have as much traction [as the original video]. I didn’t really know what to expect,” Aberbach said.

Meeting IRL
But when she arrived at her first picnic at Washington Square Park, she was met by over 60 people, all there to shed some of the isolation of the past year.

Picnic blankets were spread all over the grass next to the park’s arch, with people forming groups based on their astrological signs to get to know one another. Many stayed until the sun went down, talking and sharing social media handles, before splitting off for their evening plans, new friends in tow.

After that initial meetup, the group, now lovingly referred to as WSP Moms, a reference to their typical meeting spot at Washington Square Park, expanded rapidly with a focus on women, people of color, and those who identify as LGBT. Another picnic was held over Pride weekend, and over 100 young adults commuted from all parts of the city, with some even traveling from out of state for the second picnic.

Celine Milien, who runs WSP Moms’ Instagram page, said, “‘Being a part of such a diverse community has been so fulfilling, and allows me to make connections with people that I never thought would happen.”

Even when the meetups Aberbach organizes end, the connections made through the group don’t. A group chat was created to keep people in touch, now with almost 500 people active on it, where members make friends and send out open invitations to events daily for others to join.

There they discuss everything from mental health resources to love life advice, creating a supportive network for anyone feeling lonely. When a girl messages the chat that she couldn’t attend a night out because all her friends were at work, another chimes in offering to go with her, saying, “We are your friends now!”

“It’s really crazy to think that this started not even two months ago, and how quickly it grew into a tight-knit community,” said Isabella Beydoun, who went to the first two picnics. “I’ve met so many awesome people and close friends through WSP Moms.”

Support System
For many, being a part of the group has been a lifeline, helping them reconnect with the world around them despite the difficulties of the past year, with one member describing getting involved with the group as “life-changing” for her.

With more events and an active forum, WSP Moms morphed from a way to simply make plans to a safe and supportive network of individuals helping provide one another with the resources to thrive in what has been a dark point in time.

“It’s unbelievable to me that it’s gotten to a place where everyone has a chance to do the things that they want to do with people that they can feel safe around,” said Aberbach. “I’ve never had a better support system in my life.”

Aberbach and Milien say that even as summer draws to a close and many members head back to college, WSP Moms has only continued to gain a following and organize new events. The group is currently working on contributing to mutual aid programs, hoping to use their wide reach and socially conscious members to fundraise for different causes.

“There are so many incredible people involved, and still so much to come — the opportunity within this group shouldn’t be underestimated.”

“It’s unbelievable to me that it’s gotten to a place where everyone has a chance to do the things that they want to do with people that they can feel safe around. I’ve never had a better support system in my life,” Sam Aberbach.