On my Venmo feed, a dude named Mikey just paid his friend Samson back for “BLW March,” which could have something to do with Big League Weekend in baseball (something I know nothing about), or be a weird codename for utilities, since he used the electric plug emoji.
Another person, Carolyn, is charging Ashley for a pizza party, and two Emilys with different last names are finalizing a transaction about “Christmas in March” — a theme party, to be sure. I’m comfortable with the fact that those random people have vibrant social lives (and creeping gives me plenty of inspiration for my own), but am a little less so when things are closer to home.
If this has happened to you before, you might know exactly what I'm talking about: Passively learning how much my friends are enjoying their lives without me is one of the subtlest indignities of using an app like Venmo.
On the friends' activity feed on Venmo, I see charges for brunch (the cast iron skillet emoji with the fried egg), karaoke (the microphone), and paint and sip (the paint palette). There are charges for tacos and dumplings, rental cars and train tickets, and tropical drinks and international trips. I didn’t know anything about these fun goings-on — even when they occurred among some of the people I consider closer friends — and it’s embarrassing to admit how much that can sting in the right, or wrong, mood.
Part of that alienation is my own fault. If I created a folder of memes that resonate with me too much to like them in public, the Tedious Hermit one, as I dub it, would be the main image. “I need more friends who understand that I still want to be invited but I’m not going,” it declares. Truer words have never been spoken by an anonymous internet sage.
Like anyone, I have my reasons for declining friends’ invites to hang out, and most of them are even good ones. Sometimes work is too much; sometimes other social events have made the week too busy; sometimes I’ve spent too much money that paycheck; sometimes I don’t feel like putting in the effort it would take to look nice enough to leave my house.
Last fall, “in the spirit of birthday honesty,” I admitted to a very longtime friend that I didn’t want her to feel pressured to invite me to a get-together with a bigger group of friends. On Venmo, I had recently found out they were planning to see each other soon for a Halloween house of horrors and hay ride trip in a few weeks. They hadn't asked me, but I checked the dates (after some dedicated, shame-faced web sleuthing). I probably couldn’t go anyway but I couldn't help but feel left out. It would have been one of the highlights of my year to pay to be terrified with them.
I always hope that my friends will miss my presence enough to try again in the future. Even though I know that a reasonable reaction to my absences is to stop inviting me over time, watching their emoji-coded highlight reels in a financial transaction app was a special kind of misery. So, I tried to clear the air.
“I wondered if maybe sometimes it’s just easier/more fun to hang out without me?” I texted my friend, trying to make light of my whining by calling out the obvious Mindy Kaling reference. “I was on Venmo last week and I noticed that you all are going to a Halloween thing? It’s okay! I just didn’t want to be weird because sometimes relationships simply phase out, and I didn’t want to be like HEY, WHAT’S THAT?! I realize that it’s probably because I’m never around, so why keep asking all the time. But I just wanted to be on the safe side.”
Patient soul that she is, my friend said that it wasn’t easier to ditch me, but she admitted that “it feels like you don’t have very much time for us sometimes,” and apologized if anything they had done made me feel that way.
Naturally, I felt worse. I didn’t want anyone to feel guilty for doing the logical thing, but I did want to be aware of potential on end-of-friendship signs — not "that person who doesn’t get the hint if that was what’s up," I explained. With the air hopefully cleared — both of us knowing, I hope, that our missed connections weren’t a means of friendship ghosting — we solidified plans to see each other soon.
A few weeks later, though, after getting a general feeling of FOMO after seeing expenses for trips other people were taking, I decided that if I couldn’t beat the feeling, I’d join it. Instead of keeping my transaction completely private, I made them viewable to friends. Maybe, at least, we’d have a conversation starter — whenever we finally got around to seeing each other.