Column: I dedicated 2022 to making new friends. Here’s what I learned
On the morning of Dec. 7, my friend Jenny texted me and our friend Laura: “Last full moon of the year! Astrologically speaking it’s supposed to be fierce. I couldn’t tell you why but dream big!”
I’d met Jenny only two months before, but it felt like we’d known each other for decades. She rekindled a childhood sense of play and adventure. “Hell yes,” I replied. “I’d be down to do some witch-y stuff by the ocean tonight.” Laura shared a GIF of a séance. I sent coordinates for a dirt road that I knew led to a secluded cove. With no real plan, we all agreed to meet there.
Jean Guerrero is the author, most recently, of “Hatemonger: Stephen Miller, Donald Trump and the White Nationalist Agenda.”
It felt like an appropriate journey to end 2022, the first year of my adult life that I’d spent intentionally single, focused on cultivating new and deeper friendships. I’d hoped to break toxic relationship patterns by abstaining from romantic entanglements, inspired partly by the essayist Melissa Febos, who wrote of a year of celibacy: “until that point — it was the best year of my life.”
It was one of my best too. The year wasn’t without hardship, but I found myself richer in joy and connection than ever. It felt like a physical change: a space opening in my chest, deepening my capacity to give and receive love.
Sadly, close friendship is on the decline nationally. In 2021, the Survey Center on American Life found the percentage of Americans who report lacking a single close friend quadrupled from 1990, to 12% from 3%. Longer work hours and geographic mobility are to blame. In chasing personal growth and individual freedoms, many of us lost friendships.
I grew up in San Diego and spent years in Mexico. Many people I love from past chapters of my life live far away. We stay in touch through social media and messaging, but it’s not always consistent or deep. By the beginning of 2022, I was nostalgic for the kinds of friendships that were common before screens — embodied, in the real world. In Mexico, “carnal” means blood relation but is also slang for a close friend, like “in the flesh.”
I wanted those friendships: the 1980s and 1990s kind with their sleepovers, conspiratorial games and grand quests, as captured in Netflix’s “Stranger Things” when Max’s friends save her from a monster by playing her favorite song.
“They can’t help you, Max,” the monster says of her friends. “There’s a reason you hide from them.” The scene has 22 million views on YouTube. It turned Kate Bush’s 1985 “Running Up That Hill” into a top hit of 2022. Clearly this scene spoke to a shared reality of our moment. I wasn’t the only one who sensed that we’ve all let ourselves be consumed by something toxic. I wasn’t the only one hoping we might save one another.
We were all raised on stories about Prince Charmings and knights in shining armor, but in this world, it’s our friends who come to our rescue.
Sometimes life gets in the way and distance intervenes, and those special people can start to feel like strangers. The digital realm intended to bridge those gulfs can become the Upside Down, trapping us outside of reality.
I didn’t want to rely on screens for friendships. So in January 2022, when I moved back to the L.A. area for work, I decided to use social media to get off of social media — forging in-person connections. After I wrote a column about longboard dancing last New Year’s Eve, the professional longboarder Brandon DesJarlais messaged me on Instagram, inviting me to a weekly skate gathering in Santa Monica: Dock Session L.A.
I fell in love with the community, which has meetups across the world. Through it, I discovered Beyond the Board, Skate Hunnies, Vibe Ride L.A and other groups that build skate community. They do so with a purpose. “The world right now is very polarizing,” Brandon told me. “The strongest way I’ve seen people break through that and start to see people as people is by sharing positive, real-life experiences. It’s easy to sit behind your computer and go, ‘f–– you people.’ But when you hang out and work through your fears together, it’s really hard to look that person in the eye and say that.”
Inspired, I created an all-wheels skate group in the South Bay with a friend from Dock Session. People found out about South Bay Skaters through modern means like Instagram and Heylo and through old-school word of mouth. We meet weekly to skate.
When I moved here, I also briefly tried Bumble BFF, the friend “dating” app. I was skeptical, but the first person I met through it was the séance-GIF-texting Laura, whom I saw as a kindred spirit: warm, ambitious, playful. We later met Jenny at a party, and the three of us became thick as thieves.
I hadn’t paid attention to the moon’s cycles for ages, since a 2017 trip to research my curandera bisabuela in Mexico. But that night was different. Jenny’s excitement was contagious. At the cove under the full moon, we meditated on our dreams for 2023. Gentle waves swished nearby. “I’m going in for a dunk,” Jenny said. I worried aloud about the cold, the rocky shore, the water’s unknown depth. But she was already stripping to her undergarments.
I watched anxiously as she ventured out and lay on large rocks at the water’s edge. She looked like a mermaid, soft waves rippling over her in the pearly moonlight. Her courage electrified me. “I’m going, too,” I said. Laura announced that she couldn’t be the only one who didn’t. We took turns.
After the water washed over me, I thought the tide was going to tug me into the deep; it was stronger than I expected. But I clung to the rocks like a crustacean and felt the ocean taking everything I no longer needed.
I felt more alive than ever, and grateful to my friends for the gift.
The last few years have been rough for most of us. Let’s make 2023 the year of having real-world adventures with new and old friends and committing to taking care of one another. Why should kids have all the fun?
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