How do you make friends in L.A. during a pandemic?

Illustration shows a masked person peeking out from behind a door
Reentering the world and making new friends may feel daunting, but some simple strategies can reduce your stress.
(Nico Chilla / Los Angeles Times)

Throughout the pandemic, Sandra Cho, 49, said that her circle of friends shrank. Now that things are opening up, the Tarzana resident is using food to reconnect. She’s meeting old friends for brunch and dinner and making new ones by hosting small dinner parties where each guest invites a friend from outside the group. Cho hopes that these plus-ones will help her circle grow.

It’s one strategy among many that Californians are using to make new friends and reconnect with old ones as the state reopens and people return to once-normal activities.

It’s normal to have lost touch with people — and yourself — over the course of so many strange months, said Jayson Mystkowski, founder and director of Cognitive Behavior Health Partners in L.A.

“We have been conditioned over the last 15 months to be afraid, to hide out, to be distant, to be very cautious to not let anyone into your personal space, and to be very hypervigilant and on edge for all those sorts of things that could potentially expose us to risk,” he said.

This conditioning, he said, is similar to how people develop a phobia. Only in this case, it isn’t a fear of spiders or clowns — it’s people.

So how do you overcome these anxieties, get back out there and make new friends?

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Find shared interests

Finding common ground with someone has always been the way to make friends, but if serendipitous meetings aren’t happening for you, engineer some.

Ava Mauriello of Hollywood is an organizer on Meetup, a site where users can create groups and organize gatherings. She’s been a user for a while, but she saw people’s desire for companionship grow during the pandemic.

Having done both virtual and in-person meetups, she said people’s desire to have face-to-face contact, even while following COVID-19 protocols, was overwhelming.

“People are actually committing more and showing up more than they were before,” she said.

Starting slow, as Mystkowski said, can mean attending an event like the ones Mauriello hosts, then seeing where a new relationship goes.

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Clubs or community groups

With a population of more than 10 million in the county of Los Angeles, there’s bound to be at least one person you can connect with. Finding clubs or community groups focused on your interests can make the process a lot easier. Play into those shared interests and see who’s out there.

You could also give back and find people who care about the causes you do. Volunteer LA is one way to match up with an organization.

If you’re looking for something fun and active, try a club sport, such as a dodgeball league.

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Social media

For those not quite ready to jump into the deep end of face-to-face socializing, social media can provide opportunities to interact.

Bumble BFF, the friendship component of the popular dating app Bumble Date, has been connecting friends since 2016.

Priti Joshi, vice president of global strategy for Bumble, said Los Angeles is the most popular U.S. region for Bumble BFF.

Joshi added that in the “first quarter of 2021, time spent on Bumble BFF has increased” for men by 83% and for women by 44%. As of March, every user has found at least one match.

That means that people are looking for connections and are doing so in a “safe and socially distant way,” Joshi said.

Other online places where you can look to connect with fellow Angelenos are Facebook groups and Eventbrite. Just enter the search term “Los Angeles” to find events near you.

But there are things to watch out for on social media, Mystkowski said. Doomscrolling and comparing yourself with others can cause more harm than good, he said. Be conscious of whom you’re following and what content they’re producing. If it isn’t making you feel good, he said, unfollow.

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Don’t push

Mystkowski’s main piece of advice? Take it slow.

Graded exposure, he said, will help make things easier. “Don’t bite off more than you can chew,” he said.

Being aware of what and how you’re feeling and being empathetic and compassionate to how others may be feeling will help.

Set reasonable goals. Just like when you return to the gym after months away (you probably won’t be able to squat as much weight as you once did), your first few parties might be a little exhausting. Mystkowski recommends setting a time goal for outings to lower expectations and keep things attainable.

Things will be different, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

“Reclaim the places and activities and things that you used to do on your own terms,” Mystkowski said.


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