She told TikTok she was lonely in L.A. What happened next changed her life

Los Angeles, CA - April 16: Friends Mary Delgado and Emmely Avila, left and right, pose for a portrait together where they first met at Echo Park Lake on Tuesday, April 16, 2024 in Los Angeles, CA. Emmely is the founder and organizer of the Los Angeles Friends Club, a group designed to help people connect and she met her best friend Mary through the club. (Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)
Friends Mary Delgado, left, and Emmely Avila at Echo Park Lake, where they first met. Avila is the founder and organizer of the Los Angeles Friends Club, a group designed to help people connect. She met Delgado, her best friend, through the club. (Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

In the sprawling metropolis of Los Angeles, home to nearly 4 million people, making friends is no easy feat. Especially if you're an adult. Research shows that people over 21 are more likely to face extra hurdles in forming friendships. The building blocks — time, proximity and scheduled opportunities to socialize — are harder to come by when juggling all the responsibilities that come with building a life.

But on a Saturday afternoon in late March, more than 200 adults are packed into the back patio of a Culver City yoga studio in an attempt to beat the odds.

Inside the studio, an open bar serves drinks. Outside, the air is filled with the smoky aroma of sizzling carne asada. A DJ is playing a remix of TLC's "No Scrubs." Some people chat in threes and fours, balancing paper plates of tacos and cocktails. Others gather around a giant Jenga tower, which is balanced precipitously on a picnic table.

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It's everyone’s first time meeting, but they’ve learned each other's names with the help of the name tags stuck to their shirts. Someone pulls a critical block loose and people snatch their drinks out of the way as the Jenga tower tumbles. A few wander off, but most stay to pick up the pieces and rebuild. A new game starts.

This is just one of many icebreakers at the one-year “friendiversary” of Los Angeles Friends, a growing cohort of native Angelenos and recent transplants searching for deeper connections in L.A.

Two women standing in a park.
Avila, left, and Delgado first bonded over a love of the same romantasy novel, "A Court of Thorns and Roses." (Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

A yearning for connection

Emmely Avila, 27, created the group last year in an effort to make friends. She had recently returned to the city with the hope of curing the loneliness she’d felt living in Atlanta, where the only people she knew were her boyfriend and his pals. But she found the feeling harder to shake than she expected.

“I came home thinking things would pick up where they left off, but that wasn’t the case,” Avila said.

In the six years since she had left for college, many of her childhood friends had moved away. She'd grown distant from those who remained and working remotely made it difficult to meet people. Once again, Avila found herself in need of community.

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At first, Avila tried the friend-making app Bumble for Friends. But her conversations never made it off her phone. One day in early February 2023, she took to TikTok to express her frustration.

"I'm kind of lonely because my friends don't live in Los Angeles and so I figured why not turn to TikTok and see if there are other people who feel like me," Avila said in her TikTok video. "If you also live in Los Angeles and if you're a little lonely and you want to meet friends or just meet people in general, let me know. I'll put something together."

To Avila's surprise, 157 people commented. Their answer was a resounding yes.

Bringing the feed to life

It was the push she needed. That month, Avila started Los Angeles Friends and soon after announced the group's first meetup in Elysian Park on TikTok. The video for that announcement got even more attention, receiving over 4,000 likes and 400 comments.

Two women hugging and smiling.
Delgado, left, and Avila describe their friendship, found through Avila's friendship club, as a slow burn. (Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

But Avila still worried no one would come — rain was forecast for the day of the first event. Nevertheless, 45 people showed up. As they mingled, it became clear that many attendees were out of their comfort zone.

“It was very awkward at first," said Avila. "But I think we were able to overcome that because everyone felt awkward. So we just started asking each other trivia questions to get people to open up."

She said that, even after the event had technically ended, people didn't want to leave. So about 30 of them went to Golden Road Brewery to hang out for a few more hours.

After that, the group took off. The monthly park meetups grew to 90 attendees, then 150. Avila started a Discord server, and people began using it to chat online and organize their own outings. While the official LAF events continue to take place monthly, people fill the time in between with dinners, trips to a local botanical garden and beach bonfires.

From acquaintances to besties

A year in, many in the group have found real, lasting connections, some even best friends — including Avila herself. She met Mary Delgado, 31, at an LAF event in Echo Park, which kicked off what they both describe as a "slow-burn" friendship.

In early summer 2023, a couple of months after Delgado joined LAF, the two began chatting on Instagram. Discussion of the bestselling romantasy "A Court of Thorns and Roses" quickly turned into talk about their summers, jobs and Avila’s vision for LAF. At the next group event, a ’90s-themed soiree, Delgado and Avila spent two hours catching up at the bar.

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That August, when she joined Avila on her birthday to celebrate, Delgado said she realized Avila had become one of her closest friends.

“Every time her and I talked, it felt like someone I’ve known my entire life,” Delgado said, her voice shaking. “Sorry, I get a little emotional because I really love Emmely. She’s very special to me.”

Their friendship was cemented in early fall when Avila’s father died unexpectedly. Delgado kept her company. They ate together, walked Avila’s pug and golden retriever and grieved.

“She validated a lot of my feelings because she had also felt them before with the loss of her parent,” Avila said. “We cried with each other while she was telling me about her parent and I was speaking about mine.”

In the months since, they have only grown closer.

“I feel like she’s my family,” Avila said. “And I just feel lucky and grateful that my TikTok video popped up on her For You page, and that she was interested and that she took a shot on the community. I feel like I hit the lottery friendship-wise.”

A woman stands between two men under a tree branch in a park
Oscar Alba, left, Sabrina Sandoval and Frankie Osorio met through Los Angeles Friends last spring, connected on Discord soon after and bonded over shared interests and their sense of humor. Here they are at Griffith Park after an LAF gathering. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Shared interests, shared lives

Avila isn't the only one who built a community from LAF.

Frankie Osorio, 24, Oscar Alba, 31, and Sabrina Sandoval, 29, joined LAF in search of new friends. Last spring, after meeting each other individually at various LAF events, the three connected on Discord. Osorio said they bonded over their shared music taste and cynical, sarcastic humor.

By summer, their friendship had left the chat. The trio attended EDM concerts together and spent nights bar-hopping across the city.

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At events, people would stop Osorio and Alba to ask if they're brothers. It happened often enough that the friends decided to play along. Now all three of them tell people they're siblings.

“At this point we’ve even tried coming up with a last name,” Sandoval said. “They’re my brothers. It really feels like they’re my brothers. “

Over the past few months, the trio has attended raves together, supported one another through breakups and celebrated New Year’s on a ski trip in Utah. Last weekend, Alba surprised Osorio and Sandoval with floor tickets to see Excision, a Canadian DJ and EDM producer, in concert. Next up on their calendar is a Tiësto and Illenium show for Sandoval’s birthday in July.

A woman sits between two men at the end of a picnic table, grinning.
Osorio, left, Sandoval and Alba have spent a lot of time together over the past few months, including attending EDM raves, helping one another through hard times and skiing in Utah. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Music also connected self-proclaimed best friends Lili Jacob, 27, Eliana Mata, 34, and Erika Bernal, 33. Their love for musician Peso Pluma sealed their bond. And when they got to talking, they realized they had a lot more in common than that. Each of them was going through a life transition and had joined LAF looking to put themselves out there and form new friendships.

Like Osorio, Alba and Sandoval, the three women met separately on Discord and at various events before Bernal formed a group chat to unite their individual friendships. Now, Jacob and Bernal are roommates and Mata lives just five minutes away.

“People will say, ‘If you invite one, the other two will come.’ That is how tight-knit we are,” Jacob said. “I’ve heard people say, ‘They’re a package deal.’ I mean, you’re not wrong.”

Since becoming close friends, the three do everything together — Halloween costumes, college traditions, eating fistfuls of grapes on New Year's for good luck. They've made some of their core memories in the mosh pits of emo concerts across the city. Sprained ankles haven’t deterred them yet.

“I cannot imagine going through big things in life without having them,” Jacob said. “I am so grateful to have them as my closest friends.”

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Sometimes, Jacob, Mata and Bernal remember that they met through meetups inspired by a single TikTok and laugh.

“I was just thinking of a comment Lili made after we moved in. We’d settled in a bit and then one day she was like, ‘Do you ever just trip out how we just met online and then moved in together?’" Bernal said.

Three people walking in a park.
"At this point we've even tried coming up with a last name," Sabrina Sandoval said. "They're my brothers. It really feels like they're my brothers." (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Power in vulnerability

Asked what in particular helped them connect through LAF, all eight echoed one another’s advice: Put yourself out there, even when it’s uncomfortable. Start with the smaller meetups. Join a Jenga game to break the ice. Be active on the LAF Discord.

“People are afraid of the unknown, but sometimes that unknown is the best choice for you," Sandoval said. "You don’t know what’s going to be at the end of that, but you just have to [not] be scared and put yourself out there. There’s going to be people you might not mix with and then there’s going to be people that you do mix with, but that’s just the beauty of it.”

The future looks bright for LAF. The group has held at a steady attendance of about 150 people, and Avila notices new faces each month. As it continues to grow, Avila has plans to expand the official events. While the monthly park meetups will remain a staple, she will introduce ticketed events to give people other ways to connect. Some in the works include a group yoga class and a night at a local bar.

Reflecting on the past year, Avila said she can't imagine where she'd be without the LAF community.

"I know I’ve made my best friend and I know that people here have made their best friends," Avila said. "It’s honestly like the best thing that I can witness this thing that I started randomly on a Wednesday works and people have found me."

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.