Vicki Jenkins knows how it feels to be lonely in a crowd – London's crowd of over seven million people, to be precise.
Moving to the capital from the north as an aspiring actress, Vicki found herself marooned without the family, friends and colleagues she'd counted on at home.
“Everyone at drama school wanted to move to London when we graduated, you know, bright lights, big city, and one by one they dropped out. I moved down with a guy I was seeing who I knew I didn't want a long-term relationship with, and we were going to be sharing a house. I thought, I don't want to keep it going just so I know someone there.”
Vicki, who's had bit parts in Coronation Street, Hollyoaks and Brookside, broke up with her boyfriend and got herself temp work, but the office didn't supply any likeminded souls. Time and time again, as the weekend dawned, she found she had plenty of things she wanted to do, but no-one to do it with.
“I remember one night I really wanted a beer, so I thought sod it, and went to the pub and got a pint, then pretended to be texting on my phone. It was embarrassing, but it beat sitting in my single bedroom on my own.”
Confident, youthful, pretty and professional, Vicki, 33, is the image of someone you'd expect to be propping up a fashionable cocktail bar, surrounded by a Sex and the City style gaggle of female co-conspirators and admiring men. The stereotype of the oddball or the wallflower clearly does not apply. But as Vicki points out, this kind of isolation can affect anyone. And when it does, there's a stigma to admitting you're short of company.
“Loneliness is one of the last social taboos. To admit you don't have enough friends is tantamount to saying there's something wrong with you,” she says. “I thought, this isn't me, I have loads of friends back home, I should be able to solve this! I now realise it's easy to find yourself a bit thin on friends at different times in your life. For example, if a relationship ends and all your existing pals are still loved-up, or they have kids and don’t want to go out anymore.”
Vicki also thinks that the traditional advice to ditch the self-pity and 'get out and meet people' can be difficult to put into practice, especially in London.
“It's all very well to say 'find a hobby' but most people are very short on time as it is. In the capital, with work, commuting, going to the gym and all the other things that swallow up your evenings, just meeting someone from south London when you're in the north can be a logistical nightmare. It's great if you have a natural interest in something, but otherwise, it's not very appealing to spend the precious hours you have left signing on for pottery-making or Italian classes purely in the hope you'll bond with someone there.”
Of course, there are a plethora of events and websites that are designed to make introductions for Bridget Jones style singletons. The problem is, they're all geared around dating and romance.
“Although I was open to meeting someone, it wasn't my main aim,” Vicki recalls. “I'd done some internet dating and hated it. More than anything, I wanted someone to go to see a gig with, or a group to try out a new bar with. I didn't want to go out with someone for the sake of it. As 30 approached, though, I did think, I'm never going to meet the person I want to marry and have children with if I'm stuck indoors.”
It's now ten years since she moved from Wigan. Vicki is a PA to a property advisor, has a boyfriend – who she met through work - and a flat in the Docklands. But she still sees how challenging meeting new people can be in the pace of 21st century city life. Her own experiences and those of others inspired her to set up www.fridaynightsucks.com.
Unlike other online social networks like Facebook and Twitter, the emphasis isn't on socialising onscreen but meeting up with members in the real world. Site users create a profile for themselves and are able to search for new friends with similar interests and invite them out, getting the ball rolling by exchanging emails. As well as bringing together people who have just moved to London, the site also gives established residents the chance to expand their social circle and make new mates. Its '11th Hour Help' option allows people to find a companion for an event that very night or the following. (Obviously, common sense regarding safety applies, and users are advised to meet in a public place, take their mobile and let someone else know where they are. The site has a strict harassment policy.)
To emphasise the fact it's not a dating site, profile pictures are optional and users can request friends of the same sex only.
“Obviously if people do find love through 'Friday Night' that's great,” Vicki says, “It's not forbidden but it's not the point of it at all. Ironically it might end up working well precisely because it takes the pressure of the issue of attraction away. Also, if you are single and you're out and about enjoying yourself, you're more likely to meet someone than if you stay in or only meet coupled-up friends.”
Vicki is delighted at the thought that it might help others who find themselves in the same position she once did. “Let's face it, we're British, we are inhibited about going up to strangers and starting a conversation. I'd love to think 'Friday Night' could act as an intermediary, an online friend who's like the perfect host, saying 'have you met so-and-so?' at a party. Then more of us can start talking to each other and not feeling so left out.”
Visitwww.FridayNightSucks.comfor further details.
For more info, images, or an interview with Vicki, please contact:
The London PR Agency