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Americans are lonelier than ever. Here are 20 ways to connect

Make new friends while trading plants at Planta’s monthly “plant swap.”
Make new friends while trading plants at Planta’s monthly “plant swap.”
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

It is a sad fact of American life that we are lonely, and we don’t know what to do about it. We can spend hours commuting; many of us care for our children and aging parents; we numb ourselves with technology — smartphones, Netflix, video games. We don’t see our friends in person but on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter.

When the Atlantic published the story “Why You Never See Your Friends Anymore” in November, it went viral. That’s because we are in the midst of a loneliness “epidemic,” with recent research suggesting that nearly half of adult Americans identify as lonely.

Extend yourself, say psychologists like John T. Cacioppo, who was a noted expert on loneliness before his death. “Play with the idea of trying to get small doses of the positive sensations that come from positive social interactions,” he advised in his book “Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection.”

But how?

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Sunday dinner at the Silver Lake home of Resa and Diego Caivano.
Sunday dinner at the Silver Lake home of Resa and Diego Caivano.
(Mark Boster / For The Times)

We published a profile of doctors Resa and Diego Caivano and the couple’s weekly potluck in October, and readers continue to write to us about the Caivanos’ weekly Sunday dinners for more than 30 friends and family. Readers loved how the couple opened their home on a regular basis, but many were left wondering: How can I get an invitation? Resa’s response served as inspiration for this story: “Our main hope is that others will think about ways to connect with their communities and start their own ‘Sunday Dinner.’”

In that spirit, we offer suggestions on how to connect with others. Have a great idea of your own? Share it with us, and we may include it in a follow-up story.

1. Swap crops and plants

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Millennials aren’t the only ones with an addiction to houseplants. Host a “plant swap” at home or attend one at Folia Collective in Eagle Rock or Planta in Highland Park. There you’ll encounter all sorts of plant lovers who arrive with precious cuttings wrapped in wet paper towels and plastic bags. Potted, bare-root and exotic plants are available too, but the emphasis is on socializing. “Our first plant swap was a handful of people,” says Planta store manager Katie Tilford, who emcees the event. “Now we have to take RSVPs and cap admission at 35. It’s a lot of familiar faces and everybody knows each other. I have made a lot of friends through these events.” Folia Collective’s next plant swap is March 7; Planta hosts plant swaps monthly. If edible trades interest you more, head to the West Adams Crop Swap when it returns to the West Adams Farmers Market on March 1. There you can share your extra lemons, Swiss chard and other homegrown produce with other gardeners while making new friends in the process. westadamscropswap.com, plantanursery.com, foliacollective.com

2. Host a potluck or dinner party

South Pasadena lifestyle expert Leslie Saeta of the blog and Instagram account My 100 Year Old Home belongs to not one but two dinner party clubs, one of which has met for more than 30 years. Her tips: Keep it simple. Pick a theme — Italian, Mexican, fried chicken, barbecue — and focus on your guests and not the food. This doesn’t need to be expensive. “If it feels like too much, host dinner with another family,” Saeta says. Another idea: Provide guests with “Chopped”-style mystery boxes and ask them to prepare an appetizer for the group. “It’s so much fun,” she says. “But don’t get too caught up in the food. It’s all about connecting and being together.” Other ideas: Host Taco Tuesday night with your neighbors, a surfing supper, a vision board party or an event for people you find interesting and cool and smart. Who doesn’t want to be invited to a party by someone who considers you cool and smart?

Fried chicken dinner party
Host a dinner party.
(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

3. Bond with bibliophiles

Creating your own book club means you get to set the tone and theme for your meet-ups. Do you want to be serious and have structured discussions or drink wine and talk about politics? Romance novels or bestsellers? It’s all up to you. If you’re looking for tips on how to get started, Book Riot offers detailed suggestions online and Oprah Winfrey lists all of the 83 books in her popular book club. If you can’t manage a regular commitment, check out the Los Angeles Times Book Club, which kicked off the new year Jan. 27 with Ocean Vuong’s novel “On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous” at the Montalban Theatre. Up next: former Los Angeles poet laureate Luis J. Rodriguez will discuss “From Our Land to Our Land” on Feb. 15. latimes.com, bookriot.com, oprahmag.com

Yarn Crawl
Danielle Cohen, top left, instructs Quinn Glickman, bottom left, and her twin sister Kaia, as they knit “pussyhats” at the Little Knittery.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

4. Knit one, socialize too

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Meet new people and bond with other fiber lovers at the L.A. County Yarn Crawl on March 26-29, a self-driven yarn hop with stops at 18 knitting stores including the Little Knittery (Los Feliz) — home of the pink pussyhat Alamitos Bay Yarn Co. (Long Beach), Gather DTLA (downtown L.A.), La Knitterie Parisienne (Studio City), Wollhaus (Pasadena), Wildfiber Studio (Santa Monica), the Knitting Tree, L.A. (Inglewood) and the traveling Yarnover Truck. With most stores offering free weekly knitting groups, the Yarn Crawl is the perfect opportunity to find a compatible community of knitters. layarncrawl.org

5. Join a recreation league

Sometimes the best way to win at adulthood is to regress to childhood. When Times audience engagement editor Jessica Roy signed up for West Hollywood Dodgeball several years ago, she had not played dodgeball since middle school. “I went into it assuming no one actually wanted to play dodgeball,” Roy says. “I thought we would laugh and jokingly toss the balls around for an hour after work, and then retreat to the bar for the real fun. I was wrong. People took it extremely seriously. I am not and have never been particularly athletic, but I am competitive, and I quickly realized I was enjoying myself a lot more than I thought I would. I played my first season in 2014; on Tuesday nights, you can still find me dodging, ducking, dipping, diving and otherwise publicly making a fool of myself.” Her favorite thing about the sport? “When I’m doing it, I can’t be thinking about anything else. It’s like I give my brain a full hour off every week. And win or lose, everyone’s friends again at the bar afterward.” There are leagues across L.A. and Orange County. wehododgeball.com, worlddodgeballsociety.com/leagues, ocdodgeball.com

A student recital at the Los Angeles Taiko Institute in Torrance.
A student recital at the Los Angeles Taiko Institute in Torrance.
(Kim Nakashima)

6. Taiko drummers

Maybe you like drum circles but want to kick it up a notch. Think about taiko drumming, a centuries-old tradition from Japan that originated “partly as a way to inspire troops, synchronize marches and terrorize enemies,” according to an L.A. Times story. It’s part workout, part performance and all heart-pounding. Southern California offers plenty of opportunities to team up with others and learn naname, or slant-style drumming, or nagado, upright style. Don’t be surprised if you wind up onstage in a recital. TaikoProject Academy in downtown L.A. and the Los Angeles Taiko Institute in Torrance are good places for beginners to start. taikoprojectacademy.com, taiko.la

7. Hit the trails

Get outside more, meet more people. If those items are on your to-do list, it’s time to take a hike. L.A. is surrounded by abundant trails to explore in centrally located Griffith Park, the Santa Monica Mountains in the west, and the Angeles National Forest to the north. The point is not to hike alone, for safety reasons but also for social ones. You may find hiking groups where you worship, where you go to school, where you work, and on Meetup and Facebook. A good option: The Angeles Chapter of the Sierra Club, which leads daytime and nighttime hikes every day throughout Southern California, from easy beach walks to harder conditioning hikes to tough peak bagging. “Becoming active with the club has been such a rewarding experience and has enabled me to take my love for nature further,” says Will McWhinney, a leader who’s passionate about connecting people with the outdoors. “I feel like I’m making a difference, and I have made so many friends along the way.” angeles.sierraclub.org/outdoors/activities

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8. Happy hour hike

If you like your fresh air to be accompanied by an adult beverage, check out the Happy Hour Hiking Club. Organized by Times columnist Chris Erskine, the social club invites participants to monthly hour-long hikes along scenic SoCal trails, followed by a beverage in a local saloon. In the past, the group has hiked in the Pacific Palisades, Griffith Park, downtown and throughout the San Gabriel Valley. Now in its third year, the group limits most hikes to 75 people and includes hikers of all ages. Hiking experience not necessary, but participants should be in decent health and capable of a three-mile hike over moderate terrain. The events are free and venues vary. Email the columnist for info and inclusion in future hikes: chris.erskine@latimes.com

9. Everybody dance now

You don’t need a partner to show up and dance in Los Angeles, whether it is salsa, swing or a “slightly guided dance party” for women only. At the weekly “Dance Dance Party Party” on Sundays at DanceGarden L.A., there are no instructors and three rules: no boys, no lights and no judgment. The L.A. City Municipal Dance Squad’s co-ed “Slightly Guided Dance Party Romantic Partners Edition” on Feb. 14 has sold out, but keep your eyes out for future workshops and community events on its Instagram page. ddppla.com, swingdance.la, lacitymunicipaldancesquad, danceus.org

Audubon Center director Marcos Trinidad leads a group of birders along the Scrub Jay Trail at Debs Park.
Audubon Center Director Marcos Trinidad leads a group of birders along the Scrub Jay Trail at Debs Park.
(Garrison Frost)

10. Bond with birders

Get to know your neighbors with wings — what they look like, what songs they trill — and share your discoveries with others. Chances are you’ll make a new friend or two on free community bird walks held twice a month at the Audubon Center at Debs Park in Montecito Heights. Group walks are social (all ages welcome) and offer a good introduction to identifying local birds, from red-tailed hawks and hummingbirds to the “great horned owls that have been singing to each other,” spokeswoman Estefania Palacio says. Walks at Debs Park are held 8 to 9:30 a.m. the second and third Saturdays of the month; binoculars provided if you need a pair. Want to go farther afield? Audubon offers bird walks all around Southern California and the state. debspark.audubon.org, ca.audubon.org

L.A. Harbor Dragonboat Club
The L.A. Harbor Dragonboat Club in San Pedro offers newcomers a free lesson.
(L.A. Harbor Dragonboat Club)

11. Paddle with a team

Step away from the gym and find your new full-body workout — and maybe your new best friends — in a dragonboat. All are invited to try their hand at this water sport with ties to ancient China that features dragon heads prominently on the profile of the boat. “Anyone can come out and try it a couple of times before having to join our club,” says Paul Puskar, captain of the L.A. Harbor Dragon Boat Club in San Pedro. “We provide all equipment and instruction, and encourage new paddlers.” That’s your invitation to hop into a racing boat just 4 feet wide and 42 feet long, plenty of room for the 18 paddlers who bond while stroking in sync. There’s also a drummer and steerer on board. Adults can give it a try for free 8:30 to 10:15 a.m. Sundays year-round at the Cabrillo Beach Youth Waterfront Sports Center. Kid-training sessions start in April. Then compete (or just marvel at the teams who square off) in the 2020 Long Beach Dragon Boat Festival on July 25-26. laharbordragonboat.com, lbdragonboat.com

12. Volunteer

Look at the web of people already in your life. Your church or synagogue; your kids’ school; your neighborhood association. The truth is that there are never enough volunteers. Raise your hand and you will be taken. Serve food to the homeless at the Hollywood Food Coalition; volunteer at an animal shelter; or work in the vegetable garden at Grow Good in Bell, an urban farm that provides organic produce to the Salvation Army shelter across the street. The city of Los Angeles lists volunteer opportunities on VolunteerLA, and the nonprofit Big Sunday offers weekly, monthly and yearly volunteer options that include making soup in a jar for low-income families and assembling hygiene kits for the homeless. During May, Big Sunday hosts MOBS! (Month of Big Sundays), during which it partners with local nonprofits and schools to host events every day. bigsunday.org, volunteer.lamayor.org

Moving the fireplace outdoors
Host a movie night in your backyard.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

13. Host a backyard movie night

You don’t need a luxury screening room to host movie night at home. Move your furniture to create a screening room inside your living room, or if the weather is nice — a safe bet in Southern California — take it outdoors. Project the movie on the side of your house or garage if it’s painted a light shade or hang a white bed sheet. Throw some pillows and blankets in the yard and invite guests to bring beach chairs and blankets. Host dinner, a potluck or simply offer popcorn and candy. It’s a relaxed way to connect with others, and you can include your pets in the festivities.

14. Trivia and game nights

Tell your friends to leave their devices at the door and come over for game night. Fun game suggestions for a group include Celebrity, Telestrations, telephone Pictionary, Cards Against Humanity and How Do You See the World?, an “ice breaker card game to encourage open discussion.” But you don’t need a store-bought game — there’s always charades. And if you want to meet new people outside of the house, join a team and play at one of the many trivia nights or pub quizzes held throughout Los Angeles, including Angel City Brewery’s “Tacos and Trivia” on Tuesdays, Bigfoot Lodge on Wednesdays and Golden Road Brewing on Mondays. kingtrivia.com/where-to-play

Friendships are formed at a whole wheat sourdough bread baking class at King’s Roost in Silver Lake.
Friendships are formed at a whole wheat sourdough bread baking class at King’s Roost in Silver Lake.
(Andrew Southam )

15. Bond with bakers

“Bread baking — especially sourdough — embodies community in so many ways,” says Roe Sie, who hosts cooking classes at King’s Roost in Silver Lake. “I think classes are a good way to connect with people,” adds Sie who has scheduled classes on whole-wheat sourdough bread, biscuits, scones, fried doughnuts, homemade pasta and whole-grain pizza for the entire family this month. “Participants talk to each other and help each other out. It’s why I went in the direction of classes. People respond so positively to it. They talk, they interact and they get real-time feedback.” Sie has an open-door policy on sourdough starter: If yours goes bad, feel free to return during class and grab some of his stash. kingsroost.com

16. Consult Meetup

Search the community-building website Meetup and you’ll find an endless assortment of groups for just about anything — from paranormal activity to Dungeons & Dragons — not to mention every one of the 20 ideas here. The social-networking site was created as a response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in an effort to connect people in real life and has has grown to more than 40 million members with 19 million site visits in the last six months. From the weekly surfing group Girls Who Don’t Surf Good to free yoga at Echo Park Lake, to “I wanted to do that … Just not alone,” Meetup offers something for everyone. meetup.com

Grand Central Market
The Grand Central Market in downtown Los Angeles during the market’s 100th anniversary celebration in 2017. 
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

17. Commune with architecture lovers

Explore historic Los Angeles with other architecture lovers at one of several guided walking tours sponsored by the Los Angeles Conservancy preservation group. In-depth tours — most weekly, some monthly — include Angelino Heights, the Broadway commercial district, Union Station, the Millennium Biltmore Hotel and the Art Deco buildings in downtown Los Angeles. The most popular tour, an overview of historic downtown, includes stops at Angels Flight, Grand Central Market and the Bradbury Building. You can explore on your own with friends courtesy of the self-guided tour itineraries published on the Conservancy website. Guided group tours, with a 12-person minimum, are also an option. laconservancy.org/tours

18. Play with clay

The electric pottery wheels at Still Life Ceramics at Row DTLA are popular, cofounder Ana Henton says, but it’s the hand-building classes and workshops that give people the best opportunity to interact, learn and share. Ceramic artists and designers such as Giselle Hicks, Heather Rosenman, Mary Cale A. Wilson, Taylor Kibby and Ivy Weinglass have all taught workshops at Still Life; artist Wayne Perry is up next, hosting a class on hand-building with slabs of clay on Feb. 29 and March 1. “Pottery on the wheel is often a very singular, focused experience,” says Henton. “While hand-building can be a very communal and creative way to experience the craft.” In March, a second studio will open in Santa Monica. stilllifeceramics.com

19. Support other writers

Because writing can be an isolating process, the Hatchery Press in Larchmont Village has created an environment where writers can work while supporting one another. The membership-based co-working space is made up of two houses and a courtyard in between, a common area in each house, plus quiet rooms. “People are really respectful of your space,” says actor James Sie, author of “Still Life Las Vegas.” “At the same time, the group here are all writers, so already you have a lot in common with them, and they all seem like pretty interesting people. So you start to pick up conversations in the kitchen and introduce yourself while getting a cup of coffee, and soon you feel a real sense of community.” The Hatchery also fosters community bonding by hosting “Grill ‘n Chill” lunches in the courtyard once a month; Waffle Wednesdays; a meditation class once a week; and writer group meetings to share work. Free trial day. thehatcherypress.com

20. Get involved in the 2020 election

With the 2020 presidential election nine months away, now is a good time to get politically involved. Find a group that cares about the same things you do. The nonpartisan and nonprofit advocacy group Rock the Vote offers a free tool kit on how to throw a debate watch party as well as tips on how to host a voter registration drive in your community or school. Registered voters who don’t want to take sides can apply to be a community poll worker or bilingual poll worker. It’s a great way to be a part of the community of people who help make elections happen.

Assistant Travel editor Mary Forgione contributed to this report.

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