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Why Is Friendlessness Trending?

"I have no friends" and #nofriends are popular laments on social media.

Key points

  • A stark sense of isolation appears to be spreading, as evinced by social media posts titled "I Have No Friends" or variations on that theme.
  • The mental and physical ordeals of seeking, finding, and sustaining real-world friendships loom harder and less appealing in an internet age.
  • E-friends are strangers to us in some ways, but in other ways they can be closer and understand us better than anyone we know in real life.

In a note that was found in his car after his crime, St. Louis school shooter Orlando Harris wrote: "I don't have any friends."

These days, that's a curiously trendy thing to say.

Hashtags like #Ihavenofriends and #nofriends are popular. A quick YouTube search yields page after page of recent videos titled "I Have No Friends" or variations on that theme:

  • "I Have No Friends at 24." "Friendless at 28." "31 With No Friends." "I'm B*tchless (I Have No Friends)."
  • "No Friends at 50: Old, Ugly and Friendless." "I have NO FRIENDS and idk why." "I have no friends, I'm a loser, help me."

These creators might not feel popular, but their shared message is.

"I was never awkward or shy," a 25-year-old YouTuber explains. "At work, I'm liked by our customers. But outside of social media, if you asked me, 'Who's your friend? Who do you hang out with, shop with, travel with?'"

She bursts into tears.

"I couldn't name a soul."

"I've got nobody to hang around with, nobody to turn to, nobody to vent to," a 21-year-old laments. "It's hopeless and depressing and I'm sick of it."

"When people reach my age, they don't have friends anymore," muses a 31-year-old in a video that has been viewed nearly 2 million times. "It's a hard realization, but it's the same with everyone my age. It just seems normal nowadays."

"I'm wasting all these days," sobs a 20-something at a desk. "I feel so lonely all the time."

Are we facing a defriendification pandemic?

Is this really happening? Is friendship—as old as humanity itself; Cicero wrote his guidebook Laelius de Amiticia, A Treatise on Friendship, in 44 BCE—really on the decline?

Studies show that friendships keep us healthier, happier, and longer-lived. Is a defriendification epidemic set to make us sad and sick?

Correspondence has never been faster or easier. Why, now, would friendship obsolesce?

The readiest (but not the only) answer is that social media is social life for billions, replacing old campfire conclaves with virtual versions engineered to addict us.

E-friends are often funnier, cooler, and less hassle than real-world friends. They never require us to rescue them at 2 a.m. from sketchy neighborhoods. We can ignore them when they cry.

Hours spent with e-friends are not spent with real-world friends. E-friends tempt our shy, busy, lazy, fearful selves away from the emotional and physical ordeals of seeking and sustaining real-world bonds.

Each generation born with online access feels less forced to endure those ordeals. Why try finding real-world friends when one can play exciting games alone or with strangers rather than risk rejection or ennui?

Are fewer friendships even forming, these days, to begin with?

Are we too busy looking at ourselves?

Another factor is the self-absorption—some say narcissism—which research reveals is rising. Our ancestors cited vanity among the Seven Deadly Sins. But now it's normalized, endemic, absolute in a society whose favorite form of parlance is the boast.

Alone in bedrooms, content creators gaze into screens to film themselves posing and monologuing for an unseen audience. Also alone, this audience stares back—into not real eyes, but refractions.

Solitude packaged as interaction changes how we see and treat each other. How telling that this dynamic manifests on platforms whose name—platforms—evinces their role as stages on which to perform.

Trendiness trends. The more people who say, "I have no friends," the more join in—because more people are friendless, because the friendless feel empowered now, because declaring oneself friendless is, for some, perversely cool.

Years spent in lockdown have not helped.

Nor has the stark divisiveness that shreds relationships and even families with unprecedented force.

"Sometimes I wish I had friends," comments a YouTuber. "Then I realize that it takes too much effort."

But wait: Are e-friends not sorry synthetic substitutes for fleshly ones but rather modern marvels, godsends—proof of social evolution at its best? Pre-internet friendships were often based on basic similarities—"we're both cabdrivers"—or proximity. Online, we can find far-flung sharers of our deepest interests and identifiers, however obscure.

"This channel is my entire life," another YouTuber declares, smiling through tears. "I talk with this community. We talk on Discord, Instagram, and Twitter regularly. I've learned that they're my real friends."

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