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Rekindling Old Friendships: Mission Impossible?

We all have warm memories of the good friends we had in high school or college. These were the folks who seemed to have the innate ability to always cheer us up, offer the best advice, and always have your back. These amazing people witnessed first-hand your development through both the highs and the lows of high school and college.

Most of us look back at these days and ponder the memories with old friends. We see them from time to time, we gesture and we wave. Yet a part of us may think: do I still know this person? Chances are, if you went to a different university or maybe lived abroad for more than a few years, the person you once knew has changed. But so have you.

How often do we change? As we age, responsibilities increase. We usually pursue a career or field where we meet new people. We are influenced ever so slightly by their thoughts and behaviors, so much so that the continued exposure can have an effect on us as well. It initiates a change. For the most part, changes occur because of environmental requirements.

For instance, a novice teacher may join a teacher’s union and meet colleagues interested in his/her field of work, a rookie cop might begin to hang out at a bar where fellow police officers frequent. Change may not always occur because of a career or a job. Trauma from events or relationships can also cause a change in individuals. It is important for us to realize that while people do have the tendency to change about every seven to ten years as research suggests, the person you knew in high school or college still exists beneath all those layers of change. 

Or at least their personality does.

Personality is referred to as the characteristic set traits of behaviour, thinking and cognition in individuals. While our perception of the world changes as frequently as every five years or so, studies have found that our personality is usually set from the age of seven and remains constant throughout the remainder of our lifespan. Therefore, the quirky friend you had in 12th grade more than likely retained his/her personality.

We know personality stays the same in the midst of change, but how do I reconnect? Spending long periods of time out of touch with old friends will undoubtedly make you realize how quickly people seem to change in the way they respond to the world around them. Remember,  we called this perception. Despite a person’s change in perception, all hope is not lost. An easy way to reconnect, as simple as it sounds, is to just try. 

Alright, so we’ll try, but where or how do we start?

1. Pick up the phone

Communication is truly a two-way street. However, if you truly miss a friend why not pick up the phone or send a text? Of course, people are busy and yes,  we all have lives but chances are, if the individual wants to interact, he/she will respond.

2. Don’t assume, ask.

It’s easy to make assumptions but that is usually not the smart route to take. We have already discussed how people change. Yes, their personality may be the same but what excited them in 12th grade may not be as thrilling in their mid 20’s. Catch up with your friend and ask them what they like to do for fun. Some friends’ habits never changed but it is likely that your friend has discovered new interests which they may be willing to share.

3. Set a time and respect it.

There’s probably nothing worse than someone who lets your hopes up just to bring them down. Be honest with free time in your schedule, don’t be afraid to admit if you barely have any. If you can meet, respect the agreed upon time and if you can’t, communicate that to your friend. No one likes to be stood up.

4. Surviving the awkward stage and occasional silence

You’ve met up with your friend and you’re having an amazing conversation. Suddenly, it goes quiet. You can hear the coffee machine at the bar dripping, you can hear the squeaking of pickles taken out of their jars. You may even start to wonder if you may have said something offensive. In instances like these, and please understand they will likely occur regularly, it’s important for us to remain calm. Enjoy the silence, observe your friend and your surroundings and if you are so inclined, bring up a new topic. Personally, the most awkward thing to do is to state: “wow, awkward silence.” While this may be comedic relief to some, it could be met with major cringe from others.

5. Rebuild the trust 

After you’ve met up with your friend, it’s important to rebuild the trust. Remember you both know the past versions of each other. Try to keep communication open and honest as your new views and perspectives are shared.

While trust does take some time to form, research suggests that the best ways to form it is by interpersonal interactions. Spending time with your friend once or twice a month, checking up on them as they attain their goals and even a simple word of advice if they seem troubled can help rekindle that trust and strengthen your friendship.

Rekindling a friendship may sometimes seem like an intimidating thing to initiate. The age-old adage rightly states that things often happen for a reason. If your past friendship was toxic or abusive, it may not be wise to seek a rekindled connection.

For your own peace of mind, avoid doing so. However, if you truly do miss an old friend, if you are genuinely interested in how they’ve been doing, then take the step and contact them. Even if your effort is not reciprocated, and sometimes it may not be, at least you know that you stayed true to yourself.

Video Highlights

Ref. Dweck, C. S. (2017). From needs to goals and representations: Foundations for a unified theory of motivation, personality, and development. Psychological Review, 124(6), 689–719