Many of us are now feeling the pull to connect with someone from our past. After all, you can be around people all day — children, spouses, roommates — and still feel lonely. You might be missing your most intimate relationships, your fun acquaintances, and the communities you belong to that bring out certain sides of your personality.
We’re especially vulnerable right now. Because when we feel lonely, studies show we also tend to be more impulsive. It’s harder to think clearly when loneliness is draining our psychological resources. Therefore, we might be more open to revisiting relationships that aren’t good for us.
You might also be feeling bolder because of the pandemic. Studies show that being aware of our own mortality — a psychological concept called mortality salience — makes us want to pull our friendships close. In this new light, rejection isn’t as scary. It’s like, why not reach out? What’s there to lose?
Another reason for looking to rekindle old relationships is that you might be seeking comfort. Research shows that friendship fundamentally alters the way we perceive stress. “When you’re feeling really stressed out and you talk to your friend and all of a sudden like it just doesn’t seem as stressful or as big or as looming,” said Dr. Marisa Franco, a psychologist and relationship expert.
With this cocktail of loneliness, impulsivity, and an enhanced need for support, it’s understandable to want to resume a lapsed friendship.
Before you reach out, experts agree you should think about what your intentions are. Do you want to just say a quick hello, engage in a deep-dive catch-up session or re-enter each other’s lives more fully? Identify why you’ve lost touch in the first place. Did your friendship officially — or unofficially — end? Was there betrayal or disloyalty involved? Why you stopped talking to each other will influence how you approach the person and how that acquaintance responds to you.
It’s also wise to do some research before you establish contact. Consult your former friend’s social media to see how they’ve been personally affected by the pandemic. Maybe they’ve lost work or have family members impacted by the virus. Get as clear a picture as possible before you reach out.
When it’s best to maintain distance
Not every friendship is a good one. If your friendship was codependent, one-sided or unhealthy in any way, proceed with extreme caution. “Those friendships where people don’t actually want the best for us, they actually stress us out,” Dr. Franco said. “And research finds that they actually stress us out more than not having friends.”
Think of the positive relationships that made you feel valued. There was loyalty, trust, and vulnerability too. If those sorts of friendships are coming to mind, Dr. Franco thinks you should definitely reach out.
You heard a former friend has been impacted by the virus and you want to check-in
Research shows that people tend to be forgiving when they see others approaching them with good intentions, Dr. Franco said. So don’t worry about saying the perfect thing to this person; it’s better than not saying anything at all.
If you want to help your former friend, be specific in how you can lend a hand. “It’s very taxing for people, especially when they’re going through something to have the wherewithal and the psychological resources to ask for support,” Dr. Franco said. Say something like, ‘Hey, I would love to send you some groceries. Would that be OK?’”
A thoughtfully worded sympathy card could go a long way to warming a friendship. “The great thing about a card is that it lets them process the sentiment in private on their own terms,” said Rachel Wilkerson Miller, the deputy editor of VICE Life and author of “The Art of Showing Up: How to Be There for Yourself and Your People.”
You really just miss your friend
Even simple things like writing a positive comment on social media, “can make people feel closer to each other and like their friendship feels more bonded,” Dr. Franco said. When you share a thoughtful message, that person will be more open to taking you up on your offer of support.
Ms. Wilkerson Miller suggests giving an authentic compliment to open a conversation. Saying something like, “I saw the pictures you posted of your new house. It looks beautiful.” She also recommends referencing something you’ve always liked about this person when you were close.
It can be tempting to ask to hop on a call or arrange a virtual happy hour, but that can be overwhelming. Send out a few low-pressure feelers (a short email or direct message on social media) and see where it goes from there.
If you’re hoping to repair a rift, show you’re in it for the long haul. “There’s a higher bar set if there was acrimony or things didn’t end well,” said Dr. Oscar Ybarra, a psychology professor at the University of Michigan. Not only do you have to do the work to repair the hurt feelings, but “that kind of situation usually requires even more commitment and investment afterward so that you can genuinely show that you’re interested in the relationship.”
You need cheering up from an old pal
Tread carefully. “At this point, I just assume that everyone is operating at 50 percent capacity,” said Monica Jurado Kelly, a clinical social worker, and therapist. “Not only are we doing so much more at home, but we’re limited in where we can go and what resources we have available to us.” Adding demands or pressure on an old friend may not be necessarily helpful.
Think about what you have to offer them. It shouldn’t be on this friend to entertain you or cheer you up, particularly if you haven’t talked in a while. “If you come out of the blue needing something and you totally ignore the fact that they have a spouse who works in a hospital or has a parent who got sick, or they got sick, it’s going to come across as really icky,” Ms. Wilkerson Miller said. If the timing isn’t right, your attempt might be met with silence.
When you do reconnect with those old friends, Dr. Franco recommends reminiscing about the past. You can talk about all of the happy memories that you’ve had together, she said. That can bring your relationship closer and also help you both feel more prepared to manage the stress that we’re all under right now.
You need closure
Think about why you want closure and specifically about what went wrong. If you’ve had a rough ending, closure may not be possible. Reaching out might not get you what you want, and could even make you feel worse. Dr. Franco says you should ask yourself if you have the psychological wherewithal to deal with that at this moment. “If the answer is no, then I wouldn’t reach out for closure at this time when you’re feeling so vulnerable,” she said.
Sometimes closure is something we have to give ourselves. It isn’t the responsibility of the person you hurt to make you feel better about what happened, Ms. Jurado Kelly said. “You have to be OK with someone saying, ‘No, that’s not something I want to do.’ Or them not responding at all.”
Experts agreed that if you want to apologize or own up to bad behavior on your part, email or direct messages over social media is a good place to re-establish contact. This way, your former friend can read your message in private and decide how they want to respond.