If you had to take a mental inventory of your friends, you’d probably include your current social circle, a few current and former colleagues, and a smattering of college, high school, and/or childhood chums. There’s a decent chance that some — possibly even most — of these people you consider friends are not regular fixtures in your life. Perhaps it’s been years, or even decades since you’ve seen them last.
Of course, that’s completely normal. People grow apart all the time — whether in emotional or geographic distance, or both — and unlike romantic relationships, we usually don’t end a friendship for those reasons. More often than not, we let things fizzle, punctuated by the occasional check-in text, Instagram heart, or Facebook birthday message. And speaking of social media, having this communication tool at our disposal has made it much easier to reconnect with someone than ever before.
While reconnecting with an old friend and deciding to meet up in person is great in theory, in practice, it could be a source of stress. Will it seem like no time had passed and you’ll jump right back into laughing at inside jokes? Will you enjoy your time together but realize that you’ve grown into different people? Most of all, will it be awkward? There’s only one way to find out, and some experts have provided us with tips for making sure your long-overdue meeting goes as smoothly as possible.
Go in with realistic expectations
The idea of reconnecting with someone you’ve lost touch with can be very exciting, but it’s important that you don’t assume you’ll go back to being the best of friends in a matter of five minutes.
If you go in with extremely high expectations, for example, believing that nothing has changed and that you’ll resume the same friendship you had previously, it may lead to disappointment if the reunion doesn’t go perfectly, Adam L. Fried, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at Midwestern University, tells Thrive Global.
Embrace the awkwardness
Stressing about whether meeting an old friend after a lot of time has passed will be awkward isn’t worth the time and energy. Sure, it might feel weird seeing this person at first, but it’ll pass. If it does happen, Kelly Moore, Psy. D., a clinical psychologist practicing in New Jersey suggests giving yourselves a moment, and even acknowledging the elephant in the room by saying something like “where do we even start?”.
The key is to embrace the fact that catching up with people we haven’t seen in a long time is always initially awkward, she tells Thrive. “Embrace the awkwardness, acknowledge it, and try not to overthink it,” she adds. And when in doubt, don’t be afraid to rely on your memories together to keep the conversation going. “Those ‘remember when…’ conversations are usually fun and can build a bridge to talking about what is happening in your lives now,” Moore explains.
Another way of reducing stress is to control what you can about your meeting with some thoughtful planning, Fried says. On a practical and logistical level, this could mean setting a time limit on your reunion, or deciding to meet over lunch or coffee — where there is a natural ending, Moore adds. Fried also suggests avoiding scheduling your meeting during stressful times, such as when you have an impending deadline or significant family obligations. Lastly, he also recommends choosing an interactive activity, like walking around an outdoor shopping area or going to a museum. “Activities can fill potentially awkward silences while also leaving open the possibility of opportunities to catch up,” he explains.
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