“I am not meant for casual. I was born for soul crushing devotion.”
“Source? I felt it in my own heart.”
“I said ‘explain physics to me like you’re in love with me’ and after a while of quiet he went ‘everything sings’. So I get it now.”
If you’ve scrolled anywhere on social media over the last couple of months, chances are you’ve come across these achingly longing posts. On TikTok these quotes are usually accompanied by a cinematic song, one that would probably be played in the part of the movie where the lead gets their heart broken or grieves for a misspent childhood. Whereas on Instagram and X, deeply melancholic quotes are paired with gentle, wistful images. All of which is designed to stop you in your scroll and actually make you feel something, rather than mindlessly consuming throwaway content.
In July writer Michelle Santiago Cortés coined the term “yearnposting” to describe the rise of these specific, emotion-inducing posts. “Their words combine the warmth of a wholesome meme with the hope of a motivational post and the raw emotion of a trauma meme,” she wrote for creative agency’s The Digital Fairy’s editorial platform Digiverse, adding: “It’s the kind of content you look through in bed, before falling asleep, while soothing your “inner child”. It’s the kind of post you only send to people you’ve been vulnerable enough to share your dreams with.”
“Yearnposting is an outlet for Gen Z to express shared experiences and frustrations,” explains Marta Indeka, senior foresight analyst at strategic foresight consultancy The Future Laboratory, adding that: “Internet trends evolve at lightning speed and overlap a lot. If yearnposting feels a bit déja vu even though you’ve just learned about it, it is because several tangents have paved the way for this type of content.”
Indeka points to Gen Z’s fascination with the “sad girl” figure, their taste for subtle humour with subtext, and the way they instinctively romanticise the mundane in everyday life as contributing to this recent phenomenon. Although it’s still relatively new, with the hashtag #yearnposting so far garnering just 500,000 views, all sorts of creators have been building huge followings for their earnest yearnposting.
Take Kyela Evenhouse, who started her meme account @nimity.online as a way to be creative amidst intense creative burnout. “I have been a chronic internet user. I remember some of the first genuinely prolific memes, so to combine images pleasing with words seemed like a simple solution to a complex issue,” she continues: “What began as a low-stakes hobby started out of a need to create and a dash of spite towards certain aspects of the internet became this weird opportunity to explore this tender heart I’ve often considered a curse.”
With over 50,000 followers, her posts include the quotes, “I like to imagine strangers falling in love with me” over a watercolour painting, as well as “My father’s failings are not my own”, over a cat contemplatively looking at a bra. Despite not previously considering herself a “yearning poster”, she believes that the rise of this type of content is because, “Some of us don’t want the thing itself. We want to enjoy and be swallowed by longing. It’s a break from despair, and a connection to hope. If I wish to do this (or for this), there is a chance that it exists, and if it exists, then I have an opportunity to have it. It’s strange to be categorised into something I don’t consider myself to be. Like yes, I yearn - but more than that, I am fascinated by my life.”
Similarly Juliet, who runs @chicfeast.art, explains that her writing typically comprises either affirmations or fragments of her own journal entries and poems. “Before I posted on social media I read my pieces at open mics. Social media is just another way to share my work with the world,” she says, “I am attracted to art that resonates with a part of me, or art that comforts me or inspires me in some way, or maybe just looks pleasing and doesn’t stress me out, so I have to assume anyone who likes my work feels something like that.”
To Juliet it’s not a phenomenon so much as an art form that has always existed, now in a new format that is unique and that is very accessible. “Anyone can type a thought over a photo and share it, and that’s liberating to do so the same way it is to write a thought on paper and one day publish it,” she continues. “My most popular works are my affirmations that once lived only in my notebook and helped me through very difficult times. To me they aren’t about yearning, they’re about hope,” she continues.
Over the last few years young people have endured many shared difficult times, from a pandemic that stole those precious transitional years where teens get to explore their growing independence, to a widening climate crisis that evokes great anxiety over their uncertain futures, the digital landscape is ripe for yearnposting — and more importantly — for users to press ‘like’ on one.
“We have to acknowledge that we are navigating a normacrisis that seems to never end, and young people are amongst the most vulnerable when it comes to mental health issues. In that context, communal moaning â¯online just takes the edge off,” agrees Indeka. “While some prefer to find comfort though cynical memes, threads and TikToks, yearnposting is a more nonchalant expression of the same concerns.”
Whether it’s a fad or a shift towards a new type of social media, at least it’s a welcome break from the numbing onslaught of frivolous junk posted on the internet. But with more and more things for young people to yearn for, chances are it’s not going away anytime soon.