In the halcyon days of the mid-2010s, party planning was easy. All you had to do was log into Facebook dot com; upload a cleverly Photoshopped header onto your event page (my head + Lindsay Lohan’s body in her too-sexy house party outfit in Mean Girls = slam dunk!); and let ‘er rip. Out your invite would go, instantly, to anyone you pleased. In the latter days of the FB event, you could even see who viewed it and who might need a little nudging to check their notifs.
Now, though, Facebook is a fucking ghost town. If I wanted to gather together with everyone I went to high school with who is married now, my COVID-skeptical uncle, and a YouTuber whose videos I liked in 2008, then sure—I’d use Facebook. But as an adult with a network of friends and acquaintances who’ve long since abandoned that newsfeed, Facebook is just not an option anymore. Enter the Instagram Close Friends party invitation.
Since socializing became a safe option post-quarantine, I’ve received an uncanny number of invitations via that tantalizing lime green circle (brag!) that would previously have arrived by email, or maybe text, or maybe even Facebook. But on closer examination, Close Friends works as a party invite tool for a number of reasons: It’s the simplest way to reach out to someone you ambiently like but don’t know well enough to have exchanged actual contact information; it has a carefree party-flyer-posted-in-the-neighborhood vibe, but with a thoughtfully curated audience. There’s also a plethora of tools out there that exist solely to make social media-friendly graphics, including the ones baked in Instagram stories already. Hacking together images with PDF viewers and Google image search can't really compare.
And by design, it’s easy to tailor your Close Friends list. The selection process lends an invitation an air of exclusivity to an invite while remaining relatively casual—if it was a really closed-off party, the flyer for it wouldn’t be on a social media network with one billion active users, and if it was really important that everyone RSVP, the invitation would be an email invite with read receipts turned on. After all, that’s what the Close Friends feature is all about: exclusivity and intimacy in a cool, detached, semi-jokey way. The de facto standard for an IG Close Friend is someone you’d want to invite to a moderately-sized party.
“It conveys a certain openness, even though it's obviously not to everyone,” said Venice Ohleyer, a 22-year-old comedian who lives in New York City and attends Columbia University, used her Close Friends story to send out the invite for her first post-COVID party in late May. “How I think of it is that if someone sees this, they know that they can probably ask me to bring other people or tell us a friend about it.”
Ohleyer told VICE that while she thinks part of her event’s success had to do with timing, one line of the mock infographic she posted to her Close Friends story made the invite really pop. “It had an action item, where I was like, ‘You have to send me your vaccine card before you come,’ which was totally just a safety thing,” Ohleyer told VICE. That safety precaution did double-duty as an RSVP. “If you can think of some fun thing that requires people to respond and acknowledge the invitation, that ends up being good,” she said.
Still, the invite mode has distinctive drawbacks, too, especially compared with the Facebook event of Yore. Taylor Lorenz, a 37-year-old technology reporter for the New York Times who moved from New York City to Los Angeles mid-pandemic, used her Close Friends story to gather together a tapestry of college friends, former coworkers, and friendly acquaintances together for a party on a recent trip back to NYC—but said she found the experience “chaotic and annoying,” even though the end result party was a success.
“I literally spent two hours whittling my Close Friends story down to 60 people,” Lorenz told VICE. From there, she posted her flyer, but found that the algorithm made it tough to get her Close Friends story in front of enough people. On top of that, even though a few people DMed her in response to the invite, she wasn’t sure who viewed the story with intention to actually attend. “I literally was walking to the party by myself, and I was like, how many people are going to come to this? Because it also was raining and I just had no idea! I also felt bad, because the bar was like ‘How many people?’ and I was like, ‘Look, I invited 60 people, I don't think all of them are going to come, but I don't know how many people are going to be here.’” Lorenz said most of her invitees did end up making it—a mutual friend reported that it was “so packed I couldn’t move in there”—but that the entire process has made her dread planning a housewarming party for her new place in LA. “I had the best time, I got to see all my friends, it was really fun,” she said. “But the thought of doing all of this again is so annoying.”
For now, though, tinkering with your Close Friends list just feels like the best option for casual party planning. It’s enticing, but not aggressive. It’s selective, but the bar is low for entering the pool of potential selectees. At this point, email invites feel too formal, like for an engagement party; texting is for pre-games; and Facebook is for finding out which one of your high school teachers just retired. Until someone builds a better alternative, Close Friends might be the closest thing to a good party invite system we’re all gonna get.
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