I have some wonderful old friends whom I love and whose friendship I treasure. The problem is, I never see them. My old friends have become ghost friends: I know there is something there, but nothing is tangible. Somehow, life has come between us. I would love to see them, but is it possible to salvage lapsed friendships when they have been dormant for a year â€“ or several years? (I hope so, because I have a wedding present that I would like to give a friend before her third anniversary.)
There are all sorts of obstacles to keeping friendships active, according to Gillian Butler, a fellow of the British Psychological Society. She rattles off family commitments, work, geographical distance and major life changes. â€œBut thereâ€™s another impediment, which is that we feel embarrassed, ashamed or upset that weâ€™ve let somebody drop,â€ he says. â€œIt gets in our head that maybe they wouldnâ€™t want to see us.â€
Unfortunately, those feelings often overpower our desire to reach out. But if you would like to rekindle a lost friendship, why not seize the moment? I will try if you try.
Butler suggests beginning with a broad mind. â€œMaybe some of the impediments are about assuming itâ€™s got to be a one-to-one friendship,â€ Butler says. She revived a ghost friendship of her own after her husband and daughter bumped into Butlerâ€™s long-lost friend. â€œImmediately, she was absorbed into the current situation of our children, all the changes that had happened since we last met. That gave us a new lease of life,â€ Butler says. It didnâ€™t matter that the two of them couldnâ€™t always meet alone. Their friendship had been broken by a 15-year gap, but the gap closed. That was 20 years ago, and they have been friends (again) ever since.
If you find yourself typing the words ‘We must meet up’, delete them immediately
If you are too busy to fit in any extra social life around the demands of your job or childcare, Butler thinks it will suffice to â€œkeep a link warm with occasional contactâ€, so that later, when life permits, you can invite your friend out and make the shift from contact to activity.
Just be wary of relying on social media to keep that link warm. Louise Tyler, a member of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, thinks that â€œliking the odd Instagram or Facebook post can give a false sense that youâ€™re connecting with friends â€¦ The ease of it means that people arenâ€™t willing to put in the effort. But itâ€™s no substitute for face-to-face conversation, laughter or even tears.â€
Really good friendships have an emotional longevity that makes them resilient to dormant periods, even very long ones. â€œOld friends have seen each other grow up; they understand your history, your challenges, your family background, your relationship history,â€ says Tyler. On top of that, â€œnostalgia is known to increase feelings of social connectionâ€, so, when you manage to meet up, the chances are you will really enjoy it.
Right. Are you ready to try? Tyler advises picking up the phone or sending a text rather than an email, which she thinks is too easily lost in an inbox. (I am a social coward, so I am sticking with email.) Whichever medium you choose, make sure you donâ€™t start with an apology. â€œItâ€™s hard to make contact without apologising,â€ Butler says. â€œBut â€˜Iâ€™m sorryâ€™ is never very inviting.â€
Tyler also advises avoiding â€œlong and convoluted stories about what happenedâ€. Keep the message short. Be direct. Say you have been thinking about them. After all, this is true. Tell them simply that life got in the way and you would love to see them.
If you receive a reply, your mission is almost complete. But there is one last pitfall. If you find yourself typing the words â€œWe must meet upâ€, delete them immediately and replace them with a specific suggestion. Considering all that has gone before, you need to do more than express an intention or desire. You need to make it happen.
I am seeing my friend soon. It has been nearly three years and I canâ€™t wait.