The hashtags #maatjegezocht and #eenzamejongeren went viral after Nadï van de Watering from Nijmegen tweeted them out on July 31. In that tweet, she said she was feeling lonely and looking for a social network.
Approximately three hundred retweets and messages later, one thing was clear: Nadï isn’t the only young person looking for friends. Other people started tweeting out similar messages, including Groningen student Maurits.
Nadï has made good headway with her network, but she wants to take the hashtags and turn them into a project. On Wednesday, September 4, she’s launching the National Hotline for Lonely Young People.
When Maurits Neelis sent out a tweet looking for a buddy, the student didn’t think it would really work. But they figured there was no harm in trying. Maurits, who is non-binary and prefers the pronouns they/them, is in dire need of some new friends. ‘Aside from one person, I basically have no friends in Groningen.’ And that one person is often too busy with her studies to socialise. ‘I was home alone a lot, not doing much of anything. I mean, I did some things. But always by myself.’ Maurits doesn’t really socialise with fellow students outside of some small talk. ‘I don’t really do a lot of extracurricular activities outside of philosophy. I don’t mean that I don’t have any hobbies’, Maurits laughs, ‘but philosophy is definitely my passion.’ Outside of philosophy, they say, ‘I read and write a lot.’
Maurits considered joining a student association but chickened out. ‘And I used to have to travel half an hour into town, so that was also holding me back.’But when the #MaatjeGezocht hashtag started trending on Twitter, Maurits figured decided to give it a shot. ‘It can be difficult to talk about how lonely you are. I don’t just go up to classmates to ask if they want to be my friends.’
Maurits published a tweet with the hashtag. ‘I figured I wouldn’t really get a response. It’s easy to get caught up in these online projects. But it being online also means it feels less real and it’s easier to give up. So I was a little sceptical. But what’s really nice is that there are real people behind it, and they’re just as lonely as I am and they want to make friends.’
Maurits’ tweet got the ball rolling. ‘Several people sent me private messages. We just started talking about things; our interests, where we went on vacation.’ But connection wasn’t always easy, or instant. ‘It was a little difficult to keep a conversation going. We didn’t really know where to start and we weren’t talking face to face.’
Some people didn’t respond at all – a lot of people created a special Twitter account just to use the hashtag, but then they forgot to check it. ‘And sometimes, you just click with people. You’ll talk about things and find out you don’t have much in common’, says Maurits. ‘I talked to three people, and I met one of them for a drink. We clicked immediately. We met up again a few days later and couldn’t stop talking. So I think I made a new friend.’
The hashtag appears to be a success. Nevertheless, Maurits would advise students to join a club – preferably one where you do things together. ‘I ended up joining the Groninger Studenten Toneel. Not just because I wanted to act, but because it’s a social club as well. I’m not great at being in places like pubs. The music is too loud and my hearing isn’t great. But in a theatre club you’re really doing things together. There’s no pressure to really have a conversation.’