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Can you rebuild a friendship after years of disconnection?



Calah Alexander - published on 11/06/18

Rekindling a relationship that's been lost through the years is hard, but worth it.

Through junior high and high school, I had three best friends. We were practically attached at the hip — we went to different schools but the same church, and we did everything we could together. We learned instruments together, started a (horrible) band together, spent weekends together, went to movies together. We were so inseparable that the other kids in our youth group began calling us the “Fearsome Foursome,” a name we embraced with a little too much enthusiasm.

But when we went off to different colleges, we drifted apart. We would catch up on holidays our first few years away, but even that began to trickle off eventually. We kept tabs on each other through social media as the years slipped by, though, so it never felt like I really lost my friends. We were just all busy, living our own lives.

Last year we happened to all be in town when one of our foursome was having a baby shower for her first baby. We took advantage of the planned gathering and met up for the first time in over a decade, and to my surprise it was … kind of weird. I guess I expected to pick back up where we left off, which, as the New York Times points out, is impossible:

Former friends occupy a peculiar space in one’s social circle. Ex-bosom buddies might know some of the most intimate details of your life — the name of your first pet, which dress you wore to prom, who broke your heart freshman year of college — but may have no clue about the hopes, dreams and fears you hold today.

So when those friendships fade, particularly the ones built over years or decades, a rare bond is lost. Indeed, moving from acquaintance to casual friend typically takes around 50 hours of shared activities and everyday talk, and it can take more than 200 hours before someone becomes a best friend, according to a report in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. However, people who are looking to recapture a close friendship after some time apart don’t quite fit into this framework. It can be disorienting to feel you’re back at square one with a person you already have a shared history with.

Disorienting is exactly how I would describe that experience. It was sad, too, because I realized just how much I had missed my friends, and just how much of their lives I had missed out on. They had all been through adventure and upheaval just like I had — marriages made and broken, children born, parents lost, careers begun, changed, ended — and I had missed it all. The girls I had spent my adolescence with, the ones I knew like the back of my hand, had become adult women who were practically strangers to me, and I to them.

It was only a few months later that we moved back to Texas permanently, and the possibility of rekindling these friendships became real. But as hard and awkward as it is to make new friends as an adult, there’s one thing that’s even harder and more awkward: reviving friendships that have been lost over time.

Y’all, it’s hard. Almost like dating-hard. You don’t know exactly where you stand with these people who once knew your innermost thoughts, and even though you have that shared background to build from, the time that has lapsed between then and now stretches out between you and your friend like a giant question mark. It’s intimidating to try and bridge that gap, because you have to go slowly. You can’t just pour the last 12 years out on your former best friend — it’s too overwhelming!

The New York Times article has some good tips on how to do this, like resuming contact with a purpose. I reached out to one of my friends who went through a situation similar to something I was faced with not too long ago, which gave us a more organic place to start rebuilding our friendship. But even if you find that the friendship is easy to revive and feels as natural as it did years ago, you have to manage your expectations.

Our lives as adults are just different. We have more demands on our time and less freedom, as well as less of the emotional need to be in constant contact with our friends. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t need those friends, or that long-dormant friendships aren’t worth the effort it takes to revive them. Truthfully, we need our friends as much in adulthood as we did in childhood, and a once-treasured friendship is always worth the time and effort necessary to restore it. Just be aware that it will take time and effort, and that it will likely never be the same type of friendship you once shared … but that doesn’t mean it won’t be better.

Sesame Street

Read more:
What Bert and Ernie are still teaching us about friendship

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