How to Rekindle a Friendship

The fine art of reaching out and reconnecting.

Posted in , Jun 23, 2022

Asia Pietrzyk's illustration of two friends waving at each other from afar

There is a saying that people come into your life for a reason, a season—or a lifetime. But what if you’re longing for a friend from your past to be a part of your present life? Friendships dissipate for a number of reasons.

Sometimes there’s a big falling out and the relationship ends with a bang. More often, people drift apart due to time and circumstances. “Friendships ebb and flow,” says Adam Smiley Poswolsky, author of Friendship in the Age of Loneliness.

“Maybe you are roommates, but then one of you moves across the country and you don’t talk as often.” Or maybe the pandemic has shrunk your social circle.

Whether your friendship was put on pause by Covid or you want to reconnect with an old buddy you haven’t spoken to in decades, you should get crystal-clear on why you want to re-establish the bond before reaching out.

“Is it coming from a positive place?” psychologist and friendship expert Marisa Franco asks. “Or are you feeling lonely and caught up in nostalgia for a happier time? Really evaluate if this friend will add something to your current life.”

Once you’ve decided to move forward, stay positive. “It helps to think of it as a dormant relationship instead of one that’s over,” Franco says. “Assume that the other person wants to hear from you. You can open up the connection again.”

It’s natural to be nervous about the possibility of rejection. Forge ahead anyway. As Franco says, “We all have a tendency to underestimate how enjoyable our social interactions will be”—and how much other people like us.

Are you hesitant to reach out because you’re mired in doubt and guilt for letting the relationship lapse? “People think it’s awkward because they haven’t spoken in so long,” Poswolsky says. “Just let it go. Be the first to reach out and say, ‘Hi, I miss you. Can we talk?’ Try breaking the ice with a funny picture or a happy memory.”

A phone call can be overwhelming, notes psychologist Kyler Shumway, the author of The Friendship Formula. “Start small by sending a text or email or even a letter,” he suggests. “It’s a way to send a simple, non-threatening message. The other person can sit with the message while they decide how to respond—or even if they want to respond at all.”

How about a friendship that’s dissolved due to a conflict? “It’s easy to think about what the other person has done wrong,” Shumway says. “But are you willing to reach out and own any hurt you may have caused and ask forgiveness? It goes a long way if you can say, ‘I prioritize us over the disagreement.’”

Your message should depend on the level of friendship you’re seeking, Franco says. “Do you want to be in an intimate friendship with them? Then you need to be able to talk through the conflict.” Which means sooner rather than later, you’ll have to move beyond text or email and talk on the phone or in person.

If your friend doesn’t respond to your initial overture, Shumway suggests following up—once. Still no response? “They are not ready, and you have to respect their need for space,” he says.

And what if you never hear back? “Rejection can sting,” Shumway says. “Let yourself feel hurt. Then give yourself some grace and compassion. You can rest easy knowing you planted a seed by trying. They can think on it, pray on it. Then maybe they will feel in a place where they will come to you.”

Poswolsky says acceptance is key, no matter what the outcome is. “You can’t control how somebody responds. It doesn’t mean they hate you. It just means they don’t want to reconnect right now. That’s it. Maybe you’ll hear from them in three months or three years.”

If your bid to reconnect is successful—“It’s common that people who reach out are surprised and delighted to hear: ‘Oh my goodness, I’ve been thinking about reaching out to you!’” Shumway says—then it’s time to shift into maintenance mode. Poswolsky is a big proponent of regularly scheduled meetups.

“I like having rituals that you return to,” he says. “I have a boys hike with my closest college friends each year where we go off the grid for a few days. I have a monthly game night with some other friends.”

“It’s important to prioritize working on friendships. They’re crucial to our well-being. The stronger our connections to others, the happier and healthier we are. “You have to have intention; you need to take initiative,” Franco says. “Science tells us that people who see friendships as a matter of luck are lonelier. Sometimes we get too busy and take our friendships for granted.”

She has found that pulling back from social media has given her time to become a more thoughtful friend. “Social interaction is a muscle. The more you use it, the stronger it becomes.” So go flex that muscle!

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