The top upvoted post of all time on the subreddit r/pillowtalkaudio is called "Girlfriend Cuddles You While You Sleep." The clip consists of more than nine minutes of user noremedyformemory showering you with the sort of dreamy, delirious, intimate night-time dialogue normally reserved for two lovers in bed.
"I could just lay here and talk to you for hours," she says, somewhere across the internet. "Sometimes I feel like I'm being annoying because I tell you how much you mean to me so often, but also sometimes I don't think I say it enough."
PillowTalkAudio, or PTA for short, is home to about 5,000 subscribers. It's a library of audio files of positive affirmations, a repository for the sweet nothings you might whisper to a loved one as they drift away in your arms. They're a bit like Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR) videos, in that they feature total strangers whispering and cooing about how much they care about you over the internet. But they're much more affectionate and targeted specifically at feeding the souls of those yearning for some emotional intimacy.
Even though the voices on the tapes are sometimes uncomfortable intimate, what PillowTalkAudio does is provide a certain kind of quiet sanctuary for people to embrace their deepest, rawest need for human contact. While the internet is full of such resources for lonely people, r/PillowTalkAudio has garnered thousands of subscribers because it has a reputation as one of the most empathetic communities on the internet.
"I think a lot of us have our lonely moments and do the weird thing of listening to others on the internet," said Joseph*, a law student in Montreal who posts his own Francophone recordings to PTA semi-regularly. "We do it because we get to be ourselves and admit [our loneliness] to ourselves, at least online."
The recordings on PTA come in a variety of flavors, offering an entire catalog of different types of intimacy. Do you want your vampire girlfriend to tell you she loves you? How about a strictly platonic cuddle buddy to help you get your mind off your crazy ex? Or why not recreate the night you fell in love for the first time?
While the themes of the role-playing scenarios may differ, they're all centered on a deep, liberated, unconditional acceptance of the listener, which mimics the experience of being in love.
Sylise* stumbled on PTA a year or two ago on AskReddit, and she checked it out in the hopes of finding triggers of her ASMR. Today, she spends most of her time on Reddit contributing her own homemade piano and guitar covers to places like r/recordings and r/audiocandy as well as on PTA to listen to the audio files.
"I like listening to other people's' recordings more than I like making my own," she said. "If I see something I really like, I'll want to try it."
Sylise comes to PTA not just for relaxation purposes, but also for the affection and acceptance from users in the community. She said that contributing to the subreddit helped her be less nervous or anxious in day-to-day social interactions, referring to it as a form of "immersion therapy."
"The Pillow Talk community is one of the kindest, friendliest I've ever encountered," she says. "I never felt unwelcome."
More than anything else, PTA is about self-care. If you've had a long day, if you're lonely in a new city, or if you're just sad for any number of unspectacular reasons, there's a small cabal of souls on the internet willing to lavish you with verbal praise for a few minutes. The internet can be a pretty isolating place, and it's nice to know that there's some softness and intimacy left in its anonymous corners.
Joseph is a busy law student who doesn't have a lot of time to focus on personal relationships. He says contributing to PTA has helped him deal with any loneliness he's dealing with in his personal life. For him, it's a reminder that human beings on the internet can be capable of love and empathy, even if they're total strangers, and that everyone deals with the same pain. When you keep that in mind, kindness doesn't seem so far away.
"There sure as hell is a lack of romance and intimacy in my life," he said. "I don't really think about it that much though, I keep myself busy with different projects or hanging out with different people. It is nice to have a warm fuzzy message at the end of the day by someone on Reddit though. I've had a few professing their love or at least some sort of infatuation for me. Others just really enjoy the way I sound, which just makes my heart warm."