Source: Web exclusive: October 2011
We all have friendships from our past that we still wonder about and miss. There are the girlfriends from college we lost touch with, the good friendship that died because of (what we now realize was) a silly disagreement, or the friends that moved away. Thanks to Facebook and other forms of social media, it has become easy to find old friends that we’d previously lost track of, and this opens up the possibility of rekindling a relationship with that person. We asked psychologist Irene Levine, PhD, author of Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup with Your Best Friend, about how best to reach out to an old friend, and what might happen when you do.
BH: Are there any rules for when you should just leave someone alone or when it is perfectly acceptable to get in touch after the friendship has lain dormant?
IL: Except for the most egregious circumstances (robbing her money, stealing her husband, injuring her child, etc.), it is always acceptable to try to resurrect a dormant friendship. Often, with the passage of time, one friend or both realizes that they miss a friendship that drifted apart simply because of neglect or inconvenience. Also circumstances change, so people may suddenly feel more connected. For example, someone who was single and stopped spending time with someone newly married finds that the two have more in common now that they are both coupled. Or a childless friend becomes a mother and gravitates towards her friend who has three kids.
BH: What is the best way to get in touch? It is pretty easy to find people these days on Facebook, but should we pick up the phone or do something that requires a little more effort, such as send a card?
IL: It depends on the circumstances and the length of time. If it is someone you haven’t spoken to in a very long time just because your lives have veered in different directions, you may want to check out whether they want to be friendly by emailing or sending a Facebook message before you confront them with a phone call.
Similarly, if there was some acrimony involved in the breakup, just because you gave a lot of thought to trying to resurrect the friendship doesn’t mean that your friend is in the same mental space. Calling may catch her off guard. In this case, you might send a note or card. This gives her sufficient time to think and react.
BH: What do we do if they aren’t responsive? Do we just let go?
IL: If someone isn’t responsive, you can try again but you don’t want to harass them. Sometimes, it is helpful to let some time intercede before your next attempt. In the end, there is nothing you can do if someone doesn’t want to resurrect a friendship.
BH: Is there any danger in throwing ourselves back into an old friendship? Is there anything that we need to do to protect ourselves?
IL: Often, when people haven’t seen each other for a long time, they realize that aside from their shared history, there isn’t much currency in the relationship. They don’t seem to relate and aren’t able to share their current lives with each other.
Another danger is the disappointment that you may experience if you expect your friend to be different or you expect her to be the same. The time you have spent apart changes people in unpredictable ways.
One way to guard against these dangers is to make your meeting relatively brief. Instead of visiting her home or going away for a weekend, meet up to have a meal together.
Our writer’s story: A friendship renewed
Ellie and I had met on the first day of university when I lived in England and were best of friends until we fell out over a boyfriend, and didn’t speak for eight years. I was getting divorced and kept thinking about how much I missed her. This was before Facebook, and I had no idea where she was so I found her parents’ phone number in the telephone directory and left a message on their answering machine. Ellie called a few days later. She missed my friendship too, and a month later came out to visit me in Vancouver. That was four years ago, and now we are close friends again (despite the ocean between us) who vacation together and spend hours chatting on Skype. Reaching out was a little scary (What if she rejected me!), but so worthwhile. ‘ Lola Augustine Brown