Dear LAist: How Do I Make Friends In LA?

Friends on the beach (Omar Lopez/Unsplash)

WE'RE ANSWERING THE QUESTIONS ABOUT SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA THAT KEEP YOU UP AT NIGHT. IF YOU HAVE ONE, ASK IT HERE.


Making friends in a city as big as Los Angeles can be daunting. There are an overwhelming number of activities, meet-ups and events, yet forging a real connection with a kindred spirit can seem slippery and elusive.

In many ways, this mirrors the experience of adults everywhere who want new platonic relationships.

"People are at different points in their lives," said Janice McCabe, an associate professor of sociology at Dartmouth College. "You don't know who is open to making friends and who isn't."

But in other ways, L.A. presents unique challenges. Our car culture encourages solitude, breeding some sort of comfort in isolation. Plus, the sheer sprawl can make getting together both time- and cost-prohibitive.

"Sometimes your friends are an hour away," said Amy McManus, an L.A.-based relationship therapist and licensed marriage and family therapist. "It's too far to drive, and even too far to Uber. It becomes not worth it."

To that end, not one but two LAist readers wrote to us this month wondering how to overcome these obstacles. Reader Jordan asked, "How can I make friends in such a large city? I am married and don't feel comfortable hopping on the 'friend' apps as I think they are still overrun with singles looking to mingle."

And reader Erika wrote simply, "How can I make friends in L.A.?"

PROXIMITY

The first thing to know here is that it's not just you. Many of the therapists and psychologists we spoke to described clients bemoaning their difficulties making or sustaining platonic relationships in the post-graduation years.

One of the primary reasons for this collective experience is that proximity — seeing the same people day in and day out — is among the most important factors in establishing new friendships. As adults, we rarely have the same type of regular interactions with people that we did in grade school, college or graduate school.

Even a work environment doesn't mimic the immediate bonds we forge with, say, our freshman year besties.

"This is why college students are more likely to be friends with their roommate or someone on their floor," said McCabe.

FIND SHARED INTERESTS

The good news is, you don't have to re-enroll in school to get the same proximity effect as an adult. In fact, you might already be in close proximity to potential friends as you go about your daily life.

"As you are doing things that you enjoy" — like exercise, getting coffee at a particular place, or even just strolling through your neighborhood — "look for people who also enjoy those things," McCabe said. In other words, open your eyes to the people around you.

If you're not already involved in an activity or hobby you enjoy, find a group that's based on that shared interest, and start showing up. That could be an intramural sports team, a knitting group, a board game group, political activism or volunteering, or even something like an alumni group.

One of our colleagues here at KPCC+LAist, for instance, met friends through a book club she found on Reader's Circle. Another connected with new people after joining the Varsity Gay League, an LGBTQ+ sports organization.

"Most people develop friendships based out of shared activities and interests — hobbies, sports, those kinds of things where you are likely to meet like-minded people," said James Guay, a licensed marriage and family therapist.

But what if you don't have a hobby? Not to worry, McManus said.

"There is this injunction everywhere, 'follow your passion!' and it makes people feel terrible, because most people don't have a passion," she said. "The best way to find a passion is to do something — it doesn't have to be the perfect thing; not even close — then step back and say, 'What did I like about that?' Then follow the trail, essentially."

DO THE THING YOU ALREADY KNOW YOU'RE AVOIDING

You know what we're going to say: you have to ask someone on a friend date.

"It's a little like dating, at times," Guay said. "There's a lot of trial and error, and [it comes with] the fear of rejection, or being overly critical, or wanting it more quickly than it comes."

But McManus issued this admonition: most people are in the same boat, especially when it comes to groups like meet-ups or sports or other shared activities.

"You have to remember that the other person is going through the exact same thing," she said. "By and large, everybody wants to be connected.

One tactic for getting over the fear that accompanies asking someone on a friend date is to anticipate all of the things they could say in response.

"Sometimes it helps to get goofy: 'I can't go because you're too tall,'" McManus said. "I can't say it's not scary, but when you start getting goofy, it just makes you see that this is not the end of the world."

BE PRESENT, BE VULNERABLE... AND THEN DO IT AGAIN

Congratulations, you made it to your first friend date! Now, you have to do it again... and again, and again, and again.

"Sometimes people have expectations that the first time they meet someone, they want it to be their best friend," Guay said. "There are some rare occasions when you have one conversation with someone and you're like, 'Yeah, we're soul mates,' but in general it usually takes lots of consistency, and hours and hours of experiences and conversation and things like that."

And while you're on those dates — show up. Pay attention, listen and try to forge a real connection rather than a surface interaction.

"One of the essential ingredients for friendship is the feeling of belongingness — that someone gets you, that they see you, that they understand," said Rebecca Lesser Allen, an L.A.-based clinical psychologist. "In order for that to happen in an authentic way, we have to bring our authentic self to the table."

Lesser Allen suggests asking questions that are slightly different than what we might normally ask. For instance, instead of asking someone what they do or where they work, ask how they got into their field, or whether they like it.

"They're more kind of open-ended, deeper questions, where you are more likely to get an answer that shows you who this person is," she said.

THIS ALL SOUNDS LIKE A LOT OF WORK

If all of this sounds like a lot of work, that's because it is. Friendships aren't easy to establish, and they aren't easy to keep. But we all need them.

"We are social creatures," Guay said. "When we're infants, we cannot survive without other people. Not just shelter and taking care of our needs — the mere presence and contact with another human [is critical]."

So if you really do want to make friends, know that it will take time, it will take work — but as we all know, anything worth having is worth working for.

This is part one of a two-part series on making friends in L.A. For part two, we want to hear from you! Tell us how you made friends here, what your struggles were and what advice you have.