All his life, Denmark native Patrick Cakirli has struggled with loneliness. He grew up in orphanages without a family, and as a result has spent his life with deep self-doubt and anxiety.
But in late 2016, he was feeling especially hopeless.
In September, Cakirli suffered a bad breakup after he discovered his girlfriend of six years was cheating on him. It was a devastating blow, and even worse, he had no friends he could turn to.
With no support group, Cakirli’s depression grew worse and he became suicidal and admitted himself into a psychiatric hospital. While the treatment helped curb his thoughts of death, he still felt sad and isolated.
So in December, he wrote a desperate cry for help … and since he had no friends to turn to, he turned to strangers instead.
Cakirli wrote a public post in an anonymous forum app called Jodel—a European equivalent to the app Yik Yak.
He wrote the original post in Danish, but posted an English translation in a post on Bored Panda:
“I am desperate to meet new friends. I’m lonely and going through the hardest period of my life. I’ll sit on the stairs in front of the town hall from 2pm to 8pm. I have black pants and a North Face bag on.”
With his low self-esteem and lifelong struggle to connect with people, Cakirli didn’t expect much from the post—he didn’t know if anyone would read it, and of those people who did, how many would actually show up.
But true to his word, he waited on the stairs at 2 p.m.
And, to his amazement, he wasn’t alone:
13 strangers saw his post and showed up to give their support!
The 14 new friends sat together in the dining hall. Cakirli was blown away—it was more than he could’ve ever imagined.
“I was so overwhelmed with joy, that I had to fight back tears,” he wrote.
But not only was he amazed that these strangers would show up to support him, he was surprised to learn that they were all looking for friendship, too.
“Many of them confided in me throughout the evening and told me that they too had felt the heartwrenching pain of loneliness, but were too afraid of reaching out because of the stigma.”
As Cakirli bonded with this group of strangers, he realized the special impact his message had on their lives, providing an opportunity for lonely people to connect with each other.
He wondered how many other people were out there looking for the same chance, and thought about the taboo surrounding loneliness—and he knew he could do more to help.
“I knew something had to be done about the increasing loneliness rates in Denmark,” he wrote.
“So I took it upon myself to make a change.”
In the spirit of his original post, Cakirli created Smilet, a Danish peer-to-peer network where lonely people can connect with each other and make new friends.
“A network where you were applauded for showing your weaknesses and vulnerability,” Cakirli explained in his post. “A network where we as a community would stand together against the taboo that is loneliness.”
Cakirli also started an awareness campaign where he embarked on a 10-day walk between Copenhagen and Aarhus. The premise was that he could only walk when he was joined by a stranger.
Amazingly, 70 people showed up to walk with him, and others offered food and accommodations to help his cause.
Cakirli’s program has been a huge success—so much so, he’s been able to drop out of school and focus on his cause full-time, going around the world, spreading awareness and inspiring new hope in the previously hopelessly lonely. And it all started with an anonymous call for help, and the kindness of strangers.
“I feel like this story could help and inspire a lot of people sitting at home feeling lonely,” Cakirli wrote.
“It has been the best decision of my life.”