By all appearances, social media star Nate Garner has it all: an apartment in Hollywood, an adorable dog, an impossibly fit body and some 2.5 million followers on Instagram.
The only thing missing? People to share it with.
“Social media … has [made] me become a loner [in the real world],” the 21-year-old vlogger tells The Post. He says that his seven years of online fame have never mirrored popularity in his offline life, and tweeted in March that he’s lost “so many friends” along the way.
“My social media [presence made me] an easy target,” he says, reflecting on his high school years in Brea, Calif. “It got so bad, being so lonely, I would just go to my guidance counselor during lunch.”
It’s surprising for someone awash in online followers and likes, but it’s also painfully common, says Beca Alexander, founder of the New York-based influencer casting agency Socialyte.
“One of the things about this space that no one really talks about … is how sometimes sad some of these influencers are,” says Alexander, who’s worked with thousands of social media stars. She says loneliness is common: partly because influencers have exhausting schedules, packed with travel and intense content creation goals; partly because jealous peers pick on them or ignore them; and partly because many seem more comfortable online than in the real world, something that helps them create their Internet persona in the first place.
That was true for Garner. He was far from a hopeless kid growing up — in fact, he was a gifted athlete and excelled at basketball. But as he recalls, his talent didn’t endear him to his classmates. Instead, “I felt like people were looking for a reason to hate me,” he says. And when he created his first Instagram account freshman year — and watched his follower count skyrocket to 130,000 — his worst fears were proven. The more followers he got, the “more hate [I got] at school,” says Garner.
He remembers athletes trying to film fights with him to post online, and students tagging him in social media, commenting “#loser” and “#killyourself.” During his sophomore year, a group of kids wore outfits — fake glasses, a beanie, a white shirt — nearly identical to one he wore in his most popular Instagram post at the time and claimed to be dressed as Nate Garner for Halloween.
“It got to the point where I was suicidal and I didn’t really like myself at all,” says Garner, who was home-schooled for his senior year. “I’d say [to myself], ‘I get why they hate you.’”
“There’s a lot of jealousy to it,” says Alexander of bullying by non-famous peers. She says they find influencers “alienating” and “unrelatable,” because “their lifestyles seem so flawless and easy.”
But for Jennifer Dombrowski, 38, the journey has been neither flawless nor easy. The Erie, Pa., native has poured all of her energy into her travel blog LuxeAdventureTraveler.com, which launched in 2009 and has 2 million readers. Between her busy travel schedule and the envy her jet-setting lifestyle inspires, Dombrowski, who has some 11,000 Twitter followers, has found it difficult to forge true friendships offline.
“We were traveling to beautiful luxurious places, which made it hard for people to feel like they could connect with [me],” says Dombrowski, who lives in Bordeaux, France, with her husband, an Air Force master sergeant.
‘I felt like people were looking for a reason to hate me.’
Once, Dombrowski remembers, she was sitting near two women at a military base coffee shop in Italy and overheard them gossiping loudly about her. “I can’t believe that the German National Tourism Board would let her post on Instagram,” Dombrowski recounts them saying. “Her photos aren’t all that.”
Still, she made efforts to make friends. Hoping to forge a bond with her neighbor, Dombrowski brought her along on a trip, but that was a flop.
“She wasn’t thankful,” says Dombrowski. “If there was free time and we were supposed to meet again for a [group] tour, she would be late.”
Eventually, she stopped trying to play nice at all. “I started to close myself off from even attempting to make friends,” she says. “I had had too many negative experiences.”
Even if she had managed to find someone willing to give friendship a real shot, she might have struggled to genuinely connect, Alexander says.
“It’s so isolating … because [influencers] can’t really complain to anyone about their life,” she points out. Who else would really get their struggles but another influencer?
And that’s a whole other can of worms. “[It’s] relatively isolating within the community itself,” says Alexander, who believes most influencers have a hard time becoming true friends with each other. Sure, they might network with each other at events, but halfway through a conversation, she says, “they realize they’re just talking about themselves and how they’re competing with each other for better content, for better brand opportunities.” It’s work, not bonding.
But all is not lost for the famous kids of the Internet, Garner says. These days, although he’s busier than ever with his content schedule and modeling career, he says he’s no longer in the dark rut he was in four years ago. It was a matter of finding the sweet spot. Online, he may need a huge posse to make an impact — but in real life, one or two reliable companions is enough. These days, he’s glad to have the support of his sometimes-vlog partner, Karissa Duncan, and his golden retriever, Max, who after all loves him unconditionally.
With them by his side, he says, it’s hard for him to feel too sorry for himself — especially when he has the whole Internet rooting for him.
It’s like his following is his third best friend, he says. “I get hundreds of tweets a day, I get hundreds of comments a day, I get thousands of followers a day … In a way, it’s impossible for me to feel lonely.”
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