Reconnecting with old friends is not easy. We’re busy. We barely have time to see friends we’re already in touch with. But old friendships are like gifts that keep on giving.
For example, “Becky” writes on Quora about how she reconnected with an old high school friend. They once were “attached at the hip,” but then they went to different schools and grew apart. When they randomly bumped into each other years later, Becky said she’d call her—and actually followed up. They’ve since kept in touch, and now, Becky’s the godmother of her friend’s three kids.
Why reconnect with old friends?
There is nothing wrong with your current crop of friends, of course. But old friends are different. If they are special to you, enriched your life or made you who you’ve become, then it’s worth the effort.
“It’s fun to connect as grown adults, reminisce and share where you’ve landed in life,” said Melanie Ross Mills, Ph.D., a therapist and host of the podcast “Life Bonds.” As one woman in her 80s explains about why she especially enjoys connecting with her old friends: “We have roots and whatever topic we talk about, there’s a shared context and depth to our conversation.”
A range of studies show quality friendships enhance brain health, boost sleep quality and help patients recuperate faster from illnesses. People with good friends have a 50% higher chance of outliving loners. This influence is comparable to other more-established risk factors, such as smoking and being inactive.
When it comes to quality friendships, more is more. A strong network of quality friends lowers stress. In an American Psychological Association survey on stress, people most often mentioned friends as a means of emotional support. Interestingly, reaching out to give support to friends can feel as good as getting support.
What holds us back from reconnecting?
For all the times we think “remember when” or “I wonder what she’s been up to,” we rarely do anything to satisfy our curiosity. We’re too busy, or we feel funny about reaching out.
That’s understandable, and in fact, in certain circumstances it’s better not to reach out. Reconnecting with old friends isn’t about tapping the person for a job, trying to rekindle a romance or working some other ulterior motive. “A lot of people can pick up on that and feel exploited,” said Beverley Fehr, Ph.D, author of “Friendship Processes” and psychology professor at The University of Winnipeg in Canada.
It’s also helpful to assess past relationships. “Just because you were friends in the past doesn’t mean it’s a fit for your life today, especially if it was toxic and unhealthy. We’d love to think that everyone evolves and grows, but sometimes people are still stuck in the past patterns,” Mills said.
The best friend to reach out to is one where you truly had happy memories together but simply lost touch because life took you in different directions—you moved away or kids took up all your time. If the two of you truly had a great friendship, then your friend will be happy to hear from you, Fehr said. You shouldn’t feel awkward. “There’s value to reconnecting to someone with shared experiences,” she said.
How to find old friends
With social media, a people search tool and just plain Google, you don’t have to be a private investigator to track someone down.
Ask a mutual friend for contact information. A casual, “Hey, how is so-and-so doing? I’d love to get back in touch” is a simple way to ask for an email address.
Look through your old emails/texts. If you have it, use it. If you want to confirm it’s still correct (or if you’ve lost it), a people search scan may show up email addresses associated with your old friend.
Connect with them via social media. Friend, follow or Link-In with them. If you already are in touch that way, then try to direct message them.
The best way to reach out to old friends
Keep it short and sweet. “Just send a message and let your friend know that you appreciate their posts and that you’d love to grab coffee sometime,” Ross said. “This way you don’t feel as vulnerable and there’s less fear of rejection for putting yourself out there.” And your friend won’t feel as pressured to respond a certain way.
If your friend is a high school or college classmate, reunions or local alumni activity also offer a low-pressure way to get back in touch. Send a short email, and forward the invite and a note to the effect of, “I was thinking of going to this—would you like to come, too? I’d love to catch up.”