If a friendship drifts apart, how can you reconnect? Tips from psychologist Irene S. Levine, ‘The Friendship Doctor’

  • The Friendship Blog author shares what to do if you want to reconnect with someone that you haven’t seen or spoken to in a while
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Doris Wai |

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If you’re worried about what to say to a friend you’ve lost touch with, you can bond over shared memories and create new ones. Illustration: Shutterstock

Whether you have not seen a friend in a while or lost touch during the Covid-19 pandemic, reconnecting after an extended period of absence can be awkward.

Psychologist Irene S. Levine, who is also an advice columnist known as “The Friendship Doctor”, shared her advice for rekindling friendships. It all starts with whether both people are still motivated to keep in touch.

“Friendships are essentially voluntary relationships, and they need to be satisfying to both individuals in order to work. While some friendships end because of misunderstandings or dramatic betrayals, the large majority of friendship break-ups occur because people simply drift apart,” said the author of The Friendship Blog website and Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup with Your Best Friend.

She explained a few reasons teen friendships drift apart. This is a stage in life when you are defining your sense of self. Some people might be more focused on academics, hobbies or even romance. It is also common to lose touch with secondary school friends after graduation.

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The longer it has been since a friendship ended, the tougher it will be to return to how things were.

“The passage of time can throw a crimp in any relationship. In such cases, an individual may wonder if they did or said something wrong to ruin the friendship, and whether the lack of contact was intentional,” she said.

This can create a vicious cycle in which someone feels unsure about whether to reach out, while also prolonging the time since they last spoke to their friend.

Levine suggested starting with small steps such as sending a message to check in. Social media is great for keeping up with old friends, as you can easily comment on posts or reply to stories. This can naturally lead to a conversation and give you a sense of how they are doing.

Social media sites such as Instagram can be a good way to determine whether someone might be open to reconnecting. Illustration: Shutterstock

“If they are starting a new part-time job to pay off their tuition fees or are involved in a new romance, they may have less time for friends right now and may seem unwilling to hang out,” she said. “Don’t take it personally. It may have nothing to do with you but more likely that they are too busy with other things happening in their life.”

If the other person is responding to your efforts and seems interested in chatting more, try to find out how comfortable they are with meeting up, and make plans to catch up in person or over a call. Chances are that they are glad you made the first move and might have been meaning to reach out too.

It can be tricky to catch up when you have not spoken to someone for a long time. Your friend’s life may have changed dramatically, especially amid the pandemic, and you might worry about delving into sensitive topics.

Levine pointed out: “The pandemic’s impact on friendships ... is dependent on factors such as the nature of one’s pre-pandemic friendships, their personality and communication styles, their social and emotional needs, and even their post-pandemic life situation.”

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Give the other person space to share only what they are comfortable with. If you are nervous about what to discuss, you can bond over shared memories and create new ones.

In cases where you had a falling out with this person, resolve the conflict before making attempts to reconnect. Rather than reaching out and pretending the argument did not happen, state your intentions behind contacting them. Let them know that you miss them and want to make an apology before asking if they are keen to hang out again.

However, Levine warned that there might also be friendships that had lived their course, and it would be a good idea to let some time pass before reconnecting.

“It is important to realise the friendship was not a failure and see this as an opportunity to move on from something both of you have outgrown,” she said.

Click here to download a printable worksheet with questions and exercises about this story. Answers are on the second page of the document.

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