Awkward, United

yalefml
Photo by Anisha Suterwala.

I don’t want to do work. I just want a MOJITO. FML.

The statement was true at the time. I did not want to do work, and I wanted a mojito. I also happened to be reading Yale FML in my efforts to procrastinate while

completing course readings. You might compare my one and only Yale FML post,

late one night in March, to those found on the original fmylife.com site — funny (or so I like to think), and irrelevant. But Yale FML, its collegiate counterpart, has morphed into something far more complex than a forum for sharing awkwardly entertaining moments.

My girlfriend, a high school senior, has decided to apply to Harvard instead. FML.

In early 2009, a group of Harvard undergrads began the first college FML site, presumably to bemoan the tragic lives that Harvard students lead. The site expanded to Yale on November 28, 2009, when Roy Lee ’13, a friend of one of the creators of Harvard FML, agreed to moderate a Yale version.

At its conception, Yale FML was intended to mimic fmylife.com: user-created content in the form of pithy one-liners about the woes of life at Yale. “While I am stuck in the stacks working on a paper, there’s a couple hooking up three shelves over. FML.” “I hit the snooze button for

six hours this morning. FML.” And, of course, the ever- ubiquitous: “Orgo. FML.”

My girlfriend said she had a “crazy idea” and suggested we go to the Sterling stacks. It turns out her crazy idea was to sneak into the geography room … and look at rare maps. FML.

I discovered Yale FML last winter, midway through freshman year, when an acquaintance showed me the site during a dull lecture. Beyond laughing at the top- rated FML, “The girl I was just Facebook stalking and have never met just walked behind my computer and saw my screen. FML,” I didn’t give it much thought. Nevertheless, a short time later I found myself on the site, procrastinating away. I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit that I’ve read it obsessively since.

Yale FML now receives 1o to 20 posts a day, all of which Lee approves before posting. His standards are not particularly stringent: FMLs must be somewhat interesting, not repetitive, and about things to which Yale students can relate. Lee says that the highest concentration of posts this semester was during reading and finals weeks, and on Sunday nights, when people are most frequently looking for distractions. Page views pick up when school starts and peak around exam time.

When I began to read the site, most posts fell into the bizarrely amusing category. “I tried to ford the Elm/York intersection but my oxen died. FML.” “I have unattractive kneecaps. FML.” “Girl who came to class late is chewing granola INCREDIBLY LOUDLY. FYL.” Posts were clever, but probably unacceptable if said aloud — they worked better in an Internet forum.

Intermixed with these gems (and downright-TMI FMLs about people’s sex lives), there are posts about genuine life problems. Grades, the future, insecurities, inadequacies, relationships, hookups — all manner of Yale problems pepper the site. As the year progressed, I noticed that the site became less focused on creating funny, lighthearted FMLs mocking trivial annoyances and instead turned to personal problems. “I think the project of Yale FML has changed since it first started,” says Lee. “When it started, it strongly emphasized humor and cleverness. Over time, a lot of the FMLs started moving away from funny remarks to just brutally honest personal comments.”

That sudden disconcerting feeling that you’re not doing anything worthwhile. FML.

The anonymity on which YaleFML is predicated spurs personal disclosures. “It’s interesting to see how everyone has similar problems,” says Patrick Verdier ’14, a casual reader of Yale FML. “We all feel like we’re not as smart as we’re supposed to be; we all feel like, ‘why did I get into Yale;’ we all feel like, ‘oh, I’m going to fail this midterm;’ we all feel like, ‘oh, this person could never like me.’”

Adela Jaffe ’13, who wrote a paper on Yale FML for her Performance Studies class, thinks that the shift to posting about personal problems occurred because of the site’s sense of community. “Yale is a place where people are often uncomfortable talking about their shortcomings or what’s making them unhappy in person,” she says. “People are really happy to talk about what’s stressing them out, but when you get into things like insecurities, I think people don’t even confide in some of their very close friends.” On the occasions when someone posts a legitimate FML, like ones about mental illnesses or deep- seated insecurities, commenters often rush to comfort, advise, or cheer up the poster, unlike on fmylife.com. The original site is focused on garnering up-votes, and comments are usually jokes rather than messages of support. Yale FML’s comments create a self-perpetuating system. The kind responses lead to more disclosures.

“Are you me?”

In terms of mental health, sometimes Yalies are like floating ducks: serene on the surface, but furiously kicking underneath. Yale FML seems to fill a void where people can see that maybe they aren’t the only ones struggling to stay afloat — they can identify with others, sometimes to an extreme degree. Many responses to FMLs, especially ones about romance, fall along the lines of “are you me?” or “this is me.” Jaffe thinks most Yale FML posts are created to solicit specific responses.

The posts could then be considered a performance. Posters want to be interpreted in a certain way and know observers of the site will react in a certain way. One post from December reads: “The guy I’ve been crushing on lately finally held my hand! … in order to slap his guy friend’s ass. MLIYale.” A commenter notes that the guy will now know about the crush. The original poster responded: “Why do you think I posted this?”

On Yale FML, it seems, people want simultaneously to be anonymous and found out. “It relates back to a desire for connection,” Jaffe says. “Even though the site is predicated on anonymity, people post things where you wonder if they hope that someone guesses it was them.”

Despite her theories on the performative aspects of Yale FML, Jaffe maintains that at the core, people who use the site are looking for something necessary. “It definitely relates to the mental health problems that we talk about at Yale all the time, but this site is clearly something happening within our community that we should make an effort to understand,” she says. But maybe it’s a problem that students use Yale FML as a substitute for real counseling and conversation.

Reading Yale FML. FML.

There are Yale students like Jaffe and Verdier who read Yale FML obsessively but never post. There are those who post but don’t want to be identified, presumably because of the stigma that surrounds using a site like Yale FML to deal with problems that are otherwise too uncomfortable to bring up. And there are those who won’t even admit to reading the site, let alone posting.

I’m not sure what this says about Yalies, or Ivy Leaguers more broadly (Harvard and Princeton have their own FML sites that they frequent just as often as Yale FML). It would be easy to chalk the site’s popularity up to symptoms of our generation’s Internet culture. It would also be easy to call it a website full of whiners who don’t want to deal with their problems. Both justifications, though, oversimplify what seems like a more complicated issue.

The site is a chameleon. As one commenter called Dreamer put it, “That’s the beauty of this website — you can always convince yourself the posts are about you. Ah, if only ….” Yale FML becomes whatever the user wants it to be, whether procrastination or schadenfreude or therapy or lovelorn dreaming. This is the only conclusion I can come to.

This, and that I spend way too much time on Yale FML. FML.

Comments