We can all relate: Despite our best efforts to keep in touch with our friends, life happens, and one day we realize it’s been months or even years since we last talked to some of our closest companions. To make matters worse, we’re often afraid to try to reconnect because we think an out-of-the-blue phone call or text will seem meddlesome or strange. But a recent study shows that unexpected messages or calls may be more appreciated than we think.
Through a series of experiments based on recalled experiences and controlled scenarios involving more than 5,900 participants, researchers writing for the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that those on the receiving end of these unanticipated messages are often far more grateful than the sender may expect. Furthermore, the study suggests that the more of a surprise the communication is, the greater the appreciation the recipient feels.
Leesha Ellis-Cox, M.D., a board-certified child, adolescent and adult psychiatrist, thinks the pandemic could be one reason why many old friends are eager to reconnect.
Dr. Ellis-Cox says you should trust your gut. How do you feel when you’re scrolling or flipping through old pictures and you come across a photograph of your gal pals?
“I believe with the social isolation and loneliness that emerged in the wake of COVID-19-induced quarantines, many realized just how important friendships truly are to their overall health and well-being, which prompted some to reach out to old friends,” she says. “Rekindling these friendships can be tough but [is] likely to be appreciated by those on the receiving end.”
Dr. Ellis-Cox explains that a lack of social connectedness — the sense of belonging and relational intimacy that exists within close-knit families, friends, groups and communities — can be bad for both our mental and our physical health. “Prolonged loneliness can lead to higher amounts of cortisol, the stress hormone,” she says. “And when cortisol levels remain elevated, this can lead to elevated blood pressure, heart disease, weight gain, diabetes, forgetfulness, anxiety and depression.”
So how do you decide which old friends you should contact, and what’s the best way to reach out to them? Dr. Ellis-Cox says you should trust your gut. How do you feel when you’re scrolling or flipping through old pictures and you come across a photograph of your gal pals? “Let’s be honest; every old face doesn’t conjure up the same degree of fondness,” Dr. Ellis-Cox say. “That would be your first clue.”
“I reached out via LinkedIn and then we ended up speaking on the phone. We ended up talking for over an hour!”
You also need to consider why the friendship fizzled out. “Did a move or job change create physical distance, or was there a conflict that ended the relationship?” Dr. Ellis-Cox asks. “If there was an argument, a sincere apology and acknowledgement of how things ended painfully between the two of you might be necessary before either party can move forward.”
Do not team up with a mutual friend to try to arrange a “surprise run-in,” especially if the friendship faded due to a disagreement. “This could be super awkward and even upsetting if the old friend spurns your attempts to reconnect,’ Dr. Ellis-Cox says.
If you’re uncomfortable calling your old friend, try sending a text instead. If you don’t have her current number, try reaching out through social media. That tactic worked for Stacey Ferguson of North Laurel, Maryland, who recently reconnected with a friend she hadn’t spoken to in 20 years. “I reached out via LinkedIn and then we ended up speaking on the phone,” she explains. “We ended up talking for over an hour!”
Ferguson’s advice: Don’t overthink it.
“I started by saying hi and that I hoped they were doing well and that they were happy,” she says. Your text or DM can be as simple as this: “I know it’s been a while, but I just wanted to see how you’re doing. I’d love to catch up.” Though Ferguson was a bit nervous about contacting her old friend, she’s glad she followed her intuition that told her it was time to make the effort. “Making the time to reflect and reconnect has been a weight lifted,” she says.
But remember that not all relationships need to be rekindled.
“Relationships with healthy boundaries tend to be the safest ones, and those are the ones — if we are looking to rekindle relationships — that I would encourage,” says Michelle Torbor, a licensed professional counselor based in Birmingham, Alabama.
Healthy relationships are also the easiest ones to get back on track. “What I find is when those people are safe and healthy and you can trust them … those conversations are easy to have,” Torbor says. “It just kind of picks up where you left off.”
Once you’ve opened the door to rekindling a relationship, give your friend time to walk through it. Be patient. Remember that people are busy and it may take a while to get a response. If there is no response after a few weeks, it may be best to move on, Dr. Ellis-Cox says.
“Reaching out to an old friend is no easy feat,” she adds. “That takes moxie, so there is no need to beat yourself up over what once was or that which has been lost. Focus on nurturing the relationships you have or widening your circle and making new friends.”