Think about the most perfect couple you know. For the sake of this article, let’s call them Mike and Julia. (Common white millennials, y’know?) Maybe they’re the two people from your freshman year floor who hit it off immediately and have somehow only grown stronger together. On Instagram, they post gorgeous, aspirational photos of their summer weekends in East Hampton and winter ski trips to Vail. Their engagement—on Nantucket, duh—was something out of a Martha Stewart fever dream, and their Boston apartment is perfectly decorated via Restoration Hardware. Their dog, naturally, is a yellow lab named Charlie. They seem like the ideal match. Two people seemingly built for one another—destined for a nondenominational wedding followed by a country club reception featuring a crab cake bar and a signature cocktail (made with gin, never vodka).
Then, you check your Venmo account. You were only there to request $40 from your best friend for drinks last night. But the second you open the app, you’re met with a confounding discovery: Julia has charged Mike for a beer. Aren’t they engaged? you think. Intrigued, you click over into Julia’s account. Ninety percent of the posts are seemingly insignificant charges between her and her partner of nine years. There’s rent, sure, but there are also charges for toilet paper and pizza and batteries. Has the perfect couple fallen from grace? Is there something sinister lurking beneath the veneer of breezy selfies and Breton tees? Maybe, but maybe not.
As a reminder (or for anybody still using *shudder* cash), Venmo launched in 2009, as way for regular people to seamlessly transfer funds up to $5,000 between each other. When you first log in, you securely connect to your bank account, from which you can easily move money any time you want to pay somebody. The app was acquired by PayPal in 2013 for $800 million, and reportedly has 65 million users to date.
It’s convenient, sure, but the most interesting byproduct of the app’s rise is the social one. When you open it, you’re met with a timeline similar to what you’d see on Facebook or Twitter. For each entry, you see “Person A paid Person B,” followed by a description of what the payment was for. Some transactions are self-explanatory, while others, often communicated via emoji, require a little more sleuthing to figure out. During a quick scroll of my own Venmo feed, I saw a bunch of rent payments, some split Ubers, a vet visit for someone’s dog and a payment for Megan Thee Stallion tickets—pretty standard stuff.