FML Was a Funny Blog for College Kids. Now, Users Air Out Adult ProblemsApril 11, 2022
Recently, my closet ate two of my favorite records. The albums slipped behind a shelf, making it humanly impossible for me to reach them. My only thought was, Fuck my life. Was it a dramatic reaction? Yes. But it brought me back to the days of F My Life, or FML, a French-based microblog that I skimmed on my Sidekick in the late aughts.
On days when I desperately needed to feel like I wasn’t the only one who woke up on the wrong side of the bed, FML offered me a sense of community. Suddenly, my shit was tiny in the grand scheme of other people’s troubles. An archetypal post from 2009, by user KAAALIS, read, “Today, I bit my boyfriend’s neck. I felt something squirt into my mouth. Turns out I had just popped a pimple on his neck. Into my mouth. FML.”
Once I stopped sulking about my records, I checked the site for the first time in a decade, curious as to whether people were still posting their low-stakes Ls. To my surprise, and despite the popularity of Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok, people were still active on the site. One user worried that her son’s introversion kept him from having a social life. Users flooded the comment section defending his behavior, with some sharing their own experiences. Another, who was dealing with a landlord who refused to fix their hot water, was encouraged by other users to start a rent strike. I wondered why a bare-bones old website like FML was thriving in an era of maximalist social engagement—and why it seemed to have undergone a serious shift in tone.
What was once a site that college kids used for gross-out humor is now where that same generation, as full-blown adults, go to trauma dump. Interspersed with stories about first dates or poop and pee (there’s a whole section devoted to it), readers now find posts about real, grown-up problems concerning marriage and capitalism. Take this anonymous submission posted in March of this year: “Today, after an argument a month ago, my husband has refused to do any cooking since. After a month without his food, I’ve realized at this point in our marriage that his cooking is literally the only thing about him I like anymore. I think I want a divorce. Over food. What an end to a marriage. FML.”
This is a noteworthy evolution of the site’s original purpose. At 19, Maxime Valette, the creator of the site, started a blog, Vie de Merde—French for “shitty life”—as an outlet to share his daily inconveniences. What began as a forum for Valette’s grievances about small things like washing the dishes turned into a place for his friends and family to share their version of their shitty lives too. That year, Valette, launched a feature on VDM where the public could anonymously submit their relatable, funny misadventures in 320 characters or less. The following year, Valette expanded his business to the American market, adjusting the name to F My Life. It took off.
The site was explosively popular among students and college campuses. FML’s early submissions were funny and, often, gag-worthy, like the pimple popper’s. Once an entry is published, users vote on it: “I agree, your life sucks” or “You deserved it.” Take the neck-zit post from 2009, for example: Over 700,000 users felt sympathy for this pimple-popper, but nearly 500,000 people thought they were asking for it.
Now, when people vent about getting fired or being passed up for a promotion, the community provides them with tips for looking for another job. “I’m surprised at how the community’s spirit has changed,” said Alan Holding, who is currently the site’s only moderator. “The users have grown up with the website. It’s become like a support group.”
There probably couldn’t be a better time for an FML resurgence, according to its founder. “FML was born out of crisis,” Valette said. Following the 2007 recession in the U.S., France’s economy tanked the year after. “In 2008, people were experiencing bad times, so having a website where you can relieve pain or read something that makes you laugh is why it was successful so fast.” That still resonates today, when political turmoil is constant and the world is even more chaotic as it was when the site began in 2008: We’re in the midst of another looming financial crisis, a two-year and counting pandemic, a war in Ukraine, and the constant sense that our individual choices aren’t helping matters at all. According to Valette, the site has experienced a 44 percent growth in users, which is about two million new users, since 2020.
While neither Valette nor Holding can concretely say what has caused this recent spike, Holding thinks it may have to do with Facebook fatigue. “In 2008, Facebook was taking over everything,” he said. “Now I think people are sort of sick of Facebook.” This bears out in data: In February, Vox reported a decline in Meta’s fourth quarter, with the social media site losing half a million daily users. It’s the company’s first drop in users since its inception. FML’s resurgence is also tied to the pandemic, when people spent more time online than ever, especially as a means of social connection. The site even added new categories dedicated to COVID and Zoom.
Trauma dumping isn’t unique to the site—TikTok has over 14 million views of videos featuring the hashtag #traumadumping, dedicated to grievances of all kinds, plus 84 million views on #fuckmylife videos. But the revival of the FML site itself suggests a yearning for our former, less scrutinized internet personas—for when our lives bore less responsibilities, and our younger selves’ problems were more easily translated into ways to make one another laugh.
According to Valette, millennials make up a majority of the U.S. site’s demographic, which checks out: People in their 20s and 30s, who grew up in tandem with social media, came to see sharing their more intimate experiences online as natural over their young adulthoods, though this wasn’t always the case. Despite the current theory that oversharing is dead, FML’s enduring popularity is proof that people don’t want to stop confessing—but, as also evidenced by the successes of other semi-anonymous sites like Reddit, some still prefer to do it semi-privately.
Though many of the site’s most popular topics have matured alongside its users, its purpose still feels familiar. While today’s trauma dumps on FML are not the types of (occasionally, more literal) dumps the site used to glorify, the intended result is similar: You feel way better once they’re out of your system.
Kristin Corry is a senior staff writer for VICE.