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Americans Are Lonelier Than Ever. Here Are 20 Ways To Connect

Feb 7, 2020

By: Lisa Boone For 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?

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

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.

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?

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.

4. Knit one, socialize too

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.

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.

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.

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.”

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