When you haven’t talked to a friend in a long time, whether that’s months, years or decades, reaching out again can feel uncomfortable — scary, even.
In Adam Smiley Poswolsky’s forthcoming book “Friendship in the Age of Loneliness,” one person he interviewed referred to this communication stalemate as the “out-of-touch guilt spiral” — or when two people never end up reconnecting because they feel weird about how much time has passed and are too afraid to make the first move.
So why does texting someone you were once close to feel so unnerving? For some, it has to do with a fear of rejection, said friendship coach Danielle Bayard Jackson.
“There’s certainly an emotional risk involved because you’re making it known that you desire reconnection, and it’s possible that they do not reciprocate that desire,” she told HuffPost. “Rejection can make us feel embarrassed, angry and can greatly impact our overall self-esteem: ′Am I not interesting enough? Lovable enough? Worthy enough?’”
“Friendships can ebb and flow and it’s OK to have lulls in communication every now and then — especially during the pandemic.”
Or, perhaps, you’re reluctant because you worry the dynamic between you two has shifted over time: What if things are awkward now? What if the conversation doesn’t flow easily? And, if it’s been a really long time since you were last in touch, you might wonder how much the other person has changed.
“The truth of the matter is ― depending on how much time has passed and why the friendship dissolved ― it won’t be like it used to, and we have to make space for that,” Bayard Jackson said. “You almost have to expect that to some extent, regardless of how strong your chemistry once was, you’ll be meeting someone new. Your humor, interests, values, and world views likely shifted during your time apart, and so it may not feel as natural as it was before.”
It may be comforting to know there are many people in the same boat who’d like to reconnect with someone but may need a nudge to do so — maybe even your old friend. This is especially true lately, given the toll the pandemic has taken on our friendships.
“Other than the very close immediate circle in someone’s life — a romantic partner, children and the few very close or best friends that are in someone’s life on a regular basis — there are those friends you care about that you just don’t seem to call, text or get together with the way you used to,” said sociologist and friendship coach Jan Yager, author of ”Friendgevity: Making and Keeping the Friends Who Enhance and Even Extend Your Life.”
If you’re looking to reconnect with one of these friends, read on. We asked experts for tips on how to rekindle a friendship, no matter how much time has passed.
Don’t beat yourself up over the lapse in communication.
Rather than dwelling on how long it’s been since you last reached out, keep your focus on the fact that you are reconnecting now.
“Friendships can ebb and flow and it’s OK to have lulls in communication every now and then — especially during the pandemic,” Poswolsky said. “In my opinion, everyone gets a pass for not staying in touch during COVID-19 — especially mothers and parents! Everyone has their hands full right now, don’t feel shame around it.”
Go into it with clear intentions and realistic expectations.
Ask yourself what’s pushing you to reach out to this person again in the first place.
“Do you miss the old days? Are you being driven by nostalgia? For many of us, we’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on old attachments during the pandemic, and a yearning for the past is common,” Bayard Jackson said.
In other cases, you may be looking to get closure on an unresolved issue from your shared past.
“Did something hurtful happen that caused you to disconnect from them?” said psychotherapist Deborah Duley, a women’s empowerment coach and owner of the counseling practice Empowered Connections. “If so, I would explore more closely if what happened is something you can work through and if so, is an apology needed or are you willing to let bygones be bygones?”
Think, too, about what you’re hoping to gain by having this person in your life again.
“Having realistic expectations when rekindling a friendship is always important,” Duley added. “What is the desired outcome? Are you prepared for the friendship to be different?”
Determine which mode of communication is best.
This depends on the person and the nature of your friendship: It could be a text, a phone call, a letter or some other method entirely.
“It might be sending an article or recipe or even a meme,” Poswolsky said. “For others, you might wait until you can have a face-to-face — or mask-to-mask — conversation in-person.”
Then decide what you’re going to say.
How you approach the conversation may differ depending on how you left things the last time you talked. If it was just a gradual drifting apart, then start out with something light to break the ice.
“Like a funny picture or a meme or a fun memory that made you think of your friend,” Poswolsky suggested. “This will open things up, before diving in to the more challenging conversation of why you’ve had trouble staying in touch.”
You can also use a birthday, holiday or other special day as an “excuse” for reaching out, if that feels more natural, Duley said. And you can’t go wrong with something simple like: “I’ve been thinking about you lately. How have you been holding up? I miss you!”
If things ended on not-so-great terms, however, then you’ll probably want to acknowledge that in your message.
“You want to leave as little room for subtext as possible, especially if your message is coming out of the blue,” Bayard Jackson said. “Try leading with vulnerability, opening the message by naming the very reason you’ve been reluctant to make contact: ‘I’ve been wanting to reach out to you for a while, but I wasn’t sure how you’d receive it. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how much fun we had last summer, and wanted to know if you’d be open to catching up some time soon. Would you be open to that?’”
Try not to freak out if they don’t respond right away.
If you don’t hear back immediately, resist the temptation to jump to the worst-case scenario: that this friend isn’t interested in hearing from you. They could be busy with work, kids, family stuff or health issues. Or maybe they just need a little time to formulate their response.
“Until proven otherwise, assume your old friend wants to hear from you,” Yager said.
But it’s OK to prepare for the possibility that things may not work out how you’d like.
Your friend might write back with emojis and exclamation points saying she’s glad you reached out and has been meaning to do the same. But it’s also possible she may tell you she’s not ready to rekindle the friendship — or she may not respond at all. It’s OK — good, even — to be hopeful, as long as you’re prepared for other potential outcomes.
“I suggest spending some time visualizing all the possibilities, and working through how you’d feel,” Bayard Jackson said. “If you’d be completely devastated by rejection — or a lack of response altogether — I’d wait until you’re in a space where you can be more focused on being proud of yourself for reaching out and taking the chance, regardless of the outcome.”
Regardless of what happens, give yourself some credit.
Whether this friend is open to reconnecting or not, you deserve a pat on the back for putting yourself out there; it’s not an easy thing to do.
“Hopefully he or she will [want to reconnect] but if he or she does not, understand and reach out to other old friends, strengthen the connections you already have currently with your circle of friends, or even work on starting new friendships,” Yager said. “Fortunately, you can start and cultivate friendships at any age and stage in your life.”