When I meet Eli Rallo in person, our interaction can only be described as a scene straight out of a 1990s romantic comedy set in New York.
We meet at Brooklyn Bridge Park in our fall best — her in tan leather, me in hunter green. The leaves are orange, and the park is filled with kids. We walk slowly, moving from a stone walkway to a shaded pathway with dappled sunlight.
We do a lap, looking for the best light for a photo shoot and talk about her plans for the weekend and her thoughts on marriage. (She can't imagine getting engaged anytime soon, she says.)
Romance for Rallo is a subject always on her radar. She’s known for dishing big-sisterly advice to her nearly 800,000 followers and has turned her viral TikToks with “rules” for life and love into a book deal. “I Didn’t Know I Needed This,” which dropped Dec. 12, focuses on her dating advice, but in a way that aims to make readers feel OK with struggles like situationships and feeling sexually inexperienced. Dating apps, too, are the opposite of taboo to Rallo — they’re just part of the process.
Like “Sex and the City” in 1998, Rallo wants to talk openly about dating in modern times, facing a new set of challenges like ghosting and “the talking stage.” Sure, a lot of influencers out there are having this dialogue to some extent, but Rallo — with her organized listicles, her chattiness and fast-paced nature, and poetic way of translating pop-culture moments into real-life scenarios — has seemed to connect with young people in an exceptional way.
“I’m not standing here saying I have all the answers,” she says. “I just feel like I’m willing to ask a lot of questions that people are afraid to ask.”
At 25, she’s been dubbed by her followers “Gen Z’s Carrie Bradshaw,” and over the summer, she received a handwritten note and gift from Sarah Jessica Parker herself.
Having watched her videos since 2021, I felt connected to her too, and I wanted her to like me. So I lead our conversation with pop culture references as we start talking. Spotting a blue friendship bracelet on her wrist that reads, “For Good,” a song from “Wicked,” I throw out a comment, innocuous on its face, but hoping we’d have one of those movie-dialogue moments — fast-talking, no time to explain.
“I still need to read that Vulture article,” I quip, referencing the outlet’s interview with Kristin Chenoweth and Idina Menzel celebrating the 20th anniversary of “Wicked.”
She stops — and starts laughing. “Oh, my God — that Vulture article.”
All that’s missing by the end of our afternoon at the park is a swapping of anecdotal romantic misadventures, like Carrie Fisher’s repeated, “He’s never gonna leave her!” in “When Harry Met Sally.” (Instead of dining at the Central Park Boathouse, we sit on a wooden bench in Dumbo.)
But we had her book to discuss.
The thesis of “I Didn’t Know I Needed This” is simple: Love yourself, then look for love out in the world — if you want to!
The book can be seen as a way to correct some outdated rules of dating lore, she says, like, “Wait for him to call,” or “Let the guy take the lead.”
“Why am I listening to this random advice for a generation of women who, when they were my age, couldn’t even own their own credit card?” Rallo tells me.
Though a disclaimer in the book seems almost antithetical to her central message, at age 25, it perfectly fits her brand of flirty, not-yet-30 and thriving: She’s not an expert.
“What gives me the authority to recommend how to live, or love? Nothing. I’m just willing to do so,” she writes in her book’s preface.
This book is “just me, trying to make you feel a little bit better about something that makes people feel so badly about themselves,” she says.
One could say she’s just a girl, living, dating and romanticizing her life, standing in front of nearly 800,000 followers, wanting to help them do the same.
Turning heartbreak into content
Rallo first gained social media fame on TikTok under the handle “@thejarr,” referencing a beloved childhood tradition of filling up a giant jar with candy, pretzels, chocolate and more. In 2020, she posted a video of the jar-mixing process to TikTok that went viral. She continued posting videos of that family activity, gaining more than 50,000 followers in the process, until August 2020 — when she moved to New York City.
Like that container of snacks, her platform now serves up a mix of content. On her Instagram, she answers fans’ questions through her Instagram story and tries to address all the direct messages she receives. On the podcast “Miss Congeniality,” she’s using her studies in journalism to interview fellow social media stars like Caroline Calloway or Serena Kerrigan. Over on Substack, she’s mused to her subscribers about Taylor Swift songs and girlhood. She even has a BuzzFeed quiz to help her followers identify themselves in her famous “hot girl” theory. (Rallo is an “ironic hot girl,” as am I, per the quiz.)
What unites her cross-platform influence is an offering of glitzy optimistic advice for improving your life, from ways to categorize how you see yourself to restarting your life after heartbreak.
Rallo posts on TikTok at least — and often significantly more than — three times a day. Known for her listicle style posts like, “Rules for December” or “Rules for a mental health day,” she’ll also share her unfiltered thoughts on pop culture moments like Travis Kelce and Taylor Swift’s new relationship or her outfit of the day.
Rallo says she asked her parents if she could do theater when she was 3 years old. By college, she was “obsessed with having an audience.”
“They say on TikTok that you have to make content that you would like to watch, and I would even take it a step farther — you have to make content that you would place into your life,” she says.
She posted her first “rules” videos in the fall of 2021, like “Rules for a Sunday,” which received 1 million views and more than 130,000 likes. Some of her most recent lists include “Rules for cuffing season” and “Rules for the Wednesday night before Thanksgiving.”
To continue coming up with ideas, she leans on her background in improv and being a “life-long learner.”
“When I was experiencing heartbreak, I didn’t just experience it and then let myself get over it. It was like, ‘Let’s read everything that I can find about heartbreak. Let me listen to podcasts about heartbreak. Let me keep talking about heartbreak, make theater about heartbreak, write a short story about heartbreak.’ Then you come to this point where you’re like, ‘I have so many thoughts on this now.’”
Social media became her outlet for those thoughts — her stage, if you will. For “I Didn’t Know I Needed This,” she’s hitting another platform: a national book tour that kicked off Dec. 12.
Online, Rallo seems vocal, opinionated, at times raunchy and the life of the party. I didn’t know what to expect in person.
“My boyfriend’s mom, she has this group of girlfriends,” she tells me. “Some of them follow me online, and they were like, ‘We need to know what this girl is like in person. Like, is she this chatty and animated and dramatic?’”
I had the same question. My first impression meeting Rallo was that she was actually quite reserved, maybe even shy. Silence falls after the obligatory swapping of transit stories. Then I bring up that day’s current event — “1989 (Taylor’s Version)” was set to drop at midnight. (We agreed we were most excited to hear “Slut!”)
Speaking the same language of pop culture references, her laugh gets brighter, slightly louder. When a photographer jumps in with instruction, her laugh falls to a soft smile, and her squint from the bright sun disappears as she looks at the camera.
She tells me about her outfit, down to the minute details that seem meticulously curated. Each piece has a story: Her necklace is a cat claw “on lease” from her mother after Rallo had a health scare. (“For strength,” she says.) Her red Coach bag is one seen on the “The Carrie Diaries,” The CW’s prequel show to “Sex and the City.” (“It’s, like, impossible to get these days because of its icon status.”)
In person, I see a bit of the Internet Eli Rallo — energetic, relatable and opinionated — and the Real Eli Rallo, who’s still performative and open to story telling — that background in journalism and musical theater peeking through — but less exaggerated.
It’s her boyfriend’s mom who explains her two sides best, she says.
“She was like, ‘Eli is the sweetest, honestly, one of the more quiet people. She also has this spunky, quirky side to her that comes out like maybe after a few glasses of wine. She’s not that character (from TikTok), but that’s in her,’” Rallo quotes.
She incorporated “advice-giver” into her online persona after noticing followers asking for it, she says. She posted an “ask me anything” question box to her Instagram story one day, expecting casual inquiries like, “Where’s your shirt from?”
“Instead it was like, ‘What do I do with a broken heart?’ and ‘How do I get myself out of this situation with a friend?’” she says.
To those who say she’s not qualified to answer those questions, she asks: Who do you call for advice? “When you went through that breakup a few months ago, and you were devastated, and you called your best friend and you called your mom, why did you choose those two people?”
“I’ve been very lucky that people can trust me,” she adds. “If people want to find me relatable, or they find parts of my content relatable, then that is a gift and blessing.”
What a girl wants
In true Eli Rallo fashion, after our interview, she takes to TikTok, posting a video reiterating her tip for wearing perfume on one’s hip bones (for “the best sex of your life”), as well as a clip from her podcast episode and another one analyzing a key change from “Wicked.”
Her love for musical theater, Swift, “The Bachelor” and more is omnipresent in her videos.
“I can’t imagine not being basic,” she wrote in one video. “Today is for sitting in my pink matching set, drinking my pumpkin cream cold brew, my spray tan on point, listening to SLUT! by Taylor Swift.”
One benefit of posting about what she loves? She makes herself like those things even more, including the inherently less aesthetic parts of life like cooking, cleaning and laundry.
“To be honest, a lot of my life is like ... well, I love the idea of doing that and then I make myself love doing that,” she says.
Take writing a book. Rallo turned what could have been a lonely drafting experience into a splashy, bubblegum adventure. While writing over the summer of 2022, she posted several vlogs about the process, featuring lit candles, a bright pink iMac, complementary green headphones and the “Sex and the City” theme song in the background. While she’s telling me all about the process, I know that her followers heard about it first.
“I just fake it ‘til I make it — and make it into a production,” Rallo says.
This applies to dating, too. One rule of the old guard she wants to break was the idea of a heterosexual traditional first date: A boy asks a girl out, she says yes, then spends her time trying to get him to like her. After, she waits by the phone for a call or text. “It’s like you’re on trial,” Rallo says.
“That was the structure — see if you ‘win’ and you get a second date or not,” she says. “I was like, ‘What if I had the worst time ever on that date? What if I want to talk to him? What I want to have sex ... or what if I don’t want to date at all?’
“I remember sitting around my senior year of college being like, what the f---? … I’m basing my whole entire day and night on whether or not some random guy who isn’t even all that texts me. Like, that’s ridiculous. If I want to see him, I should just text him.”
“I Didn’t Know I Needed This” has rules for being single, too. Rallo dedicates entire swaths of her dating advice book to her adventures at the University of Michigan, when she and a beloved roommate had a pact to stay single all year. Men were reserved for playing “games” (on which Rallo writes an entire chapter) or hook-ups. But no relationships, and no regrets about taking the lead.
Essentially, she set out to rewrite the rules of beloved films like “He’s Just Not That Into You,” which she calls “the prevailing guide of my college years.”
“I think those rom-coms were a pretty good guide in, like, what not to do,” she says in retrospect.
Aspiring to write like Carrie Bradshaw
While a lot of those movies and shows from the 1980s through the early aughts have messages around dating that Rallo rails against, “Sex and the City,” however, has a special place in her heart.
In the preface to “I Didn’t Know I Needed This,” she writes, “When you’re about to graduate from college, and an ‘adult’ asks about your career aspirations, and you say, ‘to write about love like Carrie Bradshaw,’ it’s not a good look.”
In college, she wrote a narrative nonfiction column for her student newspaper, dedicated to writing about sex, dating and relationships for women. (Sound familiar?)
Now, “TikTok’s Carrie Bradshaw” is a nickname often in the comments of her TikTok page and one she wears proudly, yet with a side of imposter syndrome.
“It almost feels wrong for anyone to call me that. But of course, I will embrace the title with so much love and an attempt to rise to Carrie’s occasion,” Rallo says.
Rallo’s connection to the nickname ended up sparking that first pinch-me moment back in June: a card from Parker with pink and yellow shoes to match her book’s cover. Rallo kept the contents of the note private when posting to her Instagram, but visible at the top is the introduction, “dearest eli.”
“Having her step in and say something was very special,” she says. “I would say that I look up to the idea of Carrie Bradshaw, but I really look up to Sarah Jessica Parker.”
Rallo and Parker later met in November at a launch event for a new collaboration featuring the SJP shoe line. In a caption on Instagram, Rallo called her “the kindest, most selfless, beautiful soul.”
How to be real
“I Didn’t Know I Needed This” fluctuates between Rallo’s specific advice and the stories and experiences that prompted them. With some names changed, she recounts flirting and falling for a “sociopath” improv comedian in college, the sting of being on a different page than a 30-year-old in Gramercy she really liked and her first date with her current boyfriend of almost three years, who her followers might know as “Scorpio boy.”
She’s always been open with her followers, but the nature of social media created the “caricature” of her online character, Rallo says.
She describes writing this book not as showing a “new” version of herself, but rather, “opening me up to a more vulnerable side.”
“I think that the way that I wrote this book is probably the most genuine and ‘me’ of anything I’ve ever made,” she says.
In college, she set a goal for herself, arguably the greatest goal for any 20-something: Stop caring what other people think.
“I just feel that more and more now. I’m feeling more open and more ready to reveal parts of myself and more thoughts and more confident in that,” she says.
In the “fake” world of social media, if she can’t be “100% raw,” she can at least be herself.
Take Gwyneth Paltrow, which Rallo certainly does.
“People value authenticity more than relatability,” she says, citing fellow creator Shannon McNamara. “The reason people kind of f--- with Gwyneth Paltrow is because she’s literally said, ‘I’m not going to pretend to be somebody who makes $15 an hour.’ ... She’s not being anyone but herself. Whether you like who she is or not — that’s not the point.”