Ready to see your friends again? The process may be more complicated than you think.
Many of us haven’t seen even our closest friends for more than a year. We’ve got a lot of catching up to do, and it can be overwhelming to think about where to start.
While we’re excited about these reunions, it helps to manage our expectations: Some friends may have had a harder year than we knew and may need support just as we’re ready to move on from the pandemic. We need to brace ourselves for conversations that may take significant mental energy, at a time when our emotional bandwidth is already running low. And we should be ready to address hurt feelings—“Where were you?”—on either side.
We’ve all been through so much. We’re all so raw. And there is a strong sense of longing.
Reconnecting will be worth the effort. Research shows that people with solid friendships live healthier, longer lives. Friendship decreases blood pressure and stress, reduces the risk of depression and increases longevity, in large part because someone is watching out for us.
1. Pick your A-team
You only have so much time and energy. We have the capacity to maintain 15 core friendships, with just five of them being the most-intimate, shoulder-to-cry-on types of friends.
The pandemic presents an opportunity to reconfigure this inner circle. But “it’s going to take a concerted effort to get together. It suggests you make a list of your friends. Identify who you missed the most—and who you didn’t miss much at all.
The list will help you prioritize: Which friends should you reach out to first and try to see most often? It will also change the way you respond when people reach out to you. Once you’ve made your list, you’re more likely to answer the phone when one of your A-Teamers calls, rather than waiting to call back when you may feel more like talking.
2. Pace yourself
In-person interactions are going to require a level of intensity and concentration we haven’t experienced in a while. We’re out of practice.
The pandemic has taught us a lot—the hard way—about how much connection we need. Extroverts are energized externally—they love being around other people. Introverts become energized internally; they prefer to spend time alone. Ambiverts are a mix of both. It doesn’t matter which you are; most people are eager to reconnect with their friends. But know your limits. And honor them.
Start slow. It suggests you may want to see one friend a week right now—even if you were someone who liked to see friends every night pre-pandemic. Then gradually build up to a pace you’re comfortable with. Introverts may want to stay slow forever.
Consider making plans with a friend to do an activity—visit a museum, take a bike ride—rather than getting together to talk. It may be less emotionally draining.
And make a plan for your second date soon. Reconnection is not a one-and-done undertaking.
3. Expect tough emotions
You may be eager to see your friend, down a few cocktails, share some laughs and let off some steam. Your friend may need to cry into his beer. And you might not know this until you get there.
Before the pandemic, we regularly heard about our friends’ lives, including their problems. But we haven’t seen each other for a long time. And while we’ve all had a hard year, some have had it tougher than others. Your friend may be struggling with something you don’t know anything about yet—the death of a loved one, an illness, a relationship on the rocks—and have a real need to talk.
It can come as a shock to learn that a good friend is struggling more than we’ve realized—we’ve been so focused on our own issues this past year. Before I reconnect with a friend now, I remind myself that he or she may be in a different emotional place than I am. This helps me gather my emotional energy, focus on catching up on a meaningful level, and be ready to be supportive.
4. Address hurt feelings
If you haven’t talked to your friends since before the pandemic, there may be some resentment or confusion, on either side. You may feel that your friend hasn’t been there for you. Or she may feel that way about you.
You need to forgive your friends for not being there—and forgive yourself for the same. We’ve all been through so much—and each person’s individual circumstances really contributed to whether they were in touch or not and to remember the situation was the problem, not the person.
You can address the issue head-on. Tell your friend: “I feel bad. I really miss you. But it was a tough year. I’m glad we’re back in touch now.”
5. Look forward
The point of reconnecting with friends is to add some joy back into your life.
So after you’ve caught up on the past year, look to the future. It is recommend to talk about what you’re looking forward to. Ask questions: Is your friend planning a vacation, eager to visit family or see a concert? What is he or she most excited to do now? And—this is important—what would you like to do again together?
We’ve seen so many negatives this year. It’s time to focus on the positive.