Reconnecting with Old Friends: Prepare to be Surprised

I look forward to meeting new people, discovering shared interests and establishing meaningful connections in the months ahead. At the same time, I find myself reflecting deeply on the delightful, and somewhat surprising, whirlwind of reconnection that happened in my home during the past holiday season. 

While my husband, Dean, was downstairs scouring old contact information and making phone calls, I was texting friends around the country: Hey, thinking of you and hope all is well. Wanna set up a call? We filled many hours – he downstairs, and me on the main level – catching up with old friends, and then regrouping over dinner to exchange details about people who have a place in our histories and our memories. What we heard ran the gamut from the sublime – you bought another boat? – to the tragic – I am so very sorry to hear – with a hefty dose of the mundane – oh, the dreaded root canal – to balance the extremes. 

These conversations were incredibly energizing! So much laughter, some gossip and a few shared tears. It was during this whirlwind of reconnection that a coworker emailed to let me know that a beloved former boss had passed away from ALS. I “attended” the church service virtually, shed a river of tears and felt as connected as ever to my former work community. Shortly thereafter, I was on a Zoom call with a handful of my fellow mourners, grieving as a community and celebrating the life and legacy of a man we dearly loved. This sad “prompt” led to more calls and more conversations that strengthened the ties that bind us. 

Reconnecting with an old friend is unique because it lacks the continuity of contact, the unfolding story that a “steady” friendship offers. Here’s what I’ve gleaned from my recent immersion in reconnection:  

Beware of the Fixed Construct

Just as you have undoubtedly changed since you last connected, so have they. While the core of who we are generally stays the same, our experiences and our choices continue to shape us throughout our lifetime. I know that my former coworkers were a bit confused by how “emotional” I was on our call; just as I was perplexed by the atypical candor of another coworker. The point is to be aware that you are remembering them as they were, just as they are  remembering you as you were. The key to your reality check is to create some space by paying attention, listening and steering clear of expecting them to be exactly the same person you used to know. 

Get Ready to Be Surprised

It’s the person you least expect who elopes unexpectedly in Vegas, who gets an in-your-face tattoo or who converts to a different religion. Remember, you haven’t walked every step of their journey with them, so chill out and catch up on who they are and where they are in their being right now.

Remind Yourself That We “Remember” Things Differently

As you reminisce about the past, your recollections and especially your interpretations may differ considerably. Explore that, seek to understand, but steer clear of trying to be “right” because it serves no purpose at this point!

Focus On the Good Stuff

Everyone needs to know that the people who care about them are happy for them. Listen for what’s gone well for your friend, share her enthusiasm and be happy for her! I heard lots of good stuff on my calls – a first grandchild, a son’s PhD, a journey to grace. I appreciated the dopamine surge I experienced based on my friends’ good news.

Encourage Them on Their Terms

If the conversation includes shared vulnerabilities, be supportive – just as you would want her to be for you, but watch any tendency to give unsolicited advice. Instead, listen for what she needs and follow her lead. 

If You Need to Apologize, Then Do So

If there’s “baggage” from the past that you feel badly about, there is no time like now to say “I’m sorry for….”

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