How To Reach Out To Old Friends Over The Holidays
Men are supposed to find friendship easy. The “bromance” is a recurring pop-cultural motif, cropping up in movies from Bad Boys to The Hangover, whose male protagonists find meaning through a combination of banter, women, alcohol and explosions – and live happily ever after.
Meanwhile, over in the real world, a quick glance at the statistics for male friendship paint a somewhat different picture. A 2015 study by the Movember Foundation found that some 2.5 million men in the UK do not have a single friend whom they could turn to for help or advice in a crisis. This worsens as we get older. The same study shows that men’s chances of friendlessness almost treble between their early twenties and late middle age.
The impact on our health can be significant. According to studies conducted by Michigan State University, close friendships forged over a long period of time are hugely beneficial to our emotional and physical wellbeing. Furthermore, according to the Journal Of Social And Personal Relationships, it takes up to 200 hours of shared activities and experiences before you can call a regular friend a “best friend”, which makes it all the sadder when friends lose touch.
Today’s technology means that theoretically it’s now more convenient than ever to rekindle an old friendship. However, human nature means the process is as fraught and difficult as it’s ever been. “So many people come to therapy because of break-ups with friends,” says Dr Charlotte Fox Weber, head of psychotherapy at The School of Life.
She believes that while difficult, reconciliation with a lost friend or relative can be one of the most gratifying experiences a person can ever have. All it takes is the courage to reach out. Here’s how to do it.
Swallow Your Pride
“It takes courage to admit that you care,” says Dr Weber. “Saying you want to get back in touch means that you’re making yourself vulnerable.”
It can be especially difficult if you fell out over behaviour that neither of you is particularly proud of. “Time can mitigate embarrassment from the past,” says Dr Weber. “If you felt dropped long ago, or if you behaved in some unseemly way, one of the few great things about time passing is that you can represent yourself from where you are now, to some degree. Know that you are not the same mortified teenager or obnoxious person you might have been then. Forgive yourself for past misadventures and consider forgiving the other person, too, if you’ve been holding a grudge.”
Make Sure You Really Want To Reconnect
It may be worth asking whether it’s even worth reconnecting with that person in the first place. People naturally outgrow friendships. The company you kept as a heavy-drinking, hard-partying student will be (hopefully) different from the accomplished and responsible adult you are now. “It’s a heartache that can be complex partly because it goes against our belief that friendship is meant to last for ever,” says Dr Weber. “Be aware of nostalgia and how you may see the past through rose-tinted glasses and don’t forget why you drifted apart in the first place. Question your motivation. Is it you wanting to reconnect with this person or you wanting to reconnect with some lost part of yourself?”
Take It One Step At A Time
Once you’ve made the initial contact, it can be tempting to get back to your old routines right away. However, experts believe that it’s best to take your time and not be too intimate again too quickly – especially with a best friend. Ms Michelle Roques-O’Neil, a healer and a life coach, recommends writing down any issues you have about a relationship in order to take the emotional charge out of a situation: “Get a piece of paper and just write,” she says. “It’s a great way to discharge volatility safely, rather than speaking with the person and really stirring up your emotions and keeping things raw.
“Remember it takes two. Whether or not you think you are right, try to reflect on what triggered your response. Were you reacting from insecurity, ego or fear? Once you can understand the charge behind your reaction, it’s easier to take ownership and find a resolution.”
Respect the fact that you and your friend are now likely to be different people. “Be curious about their new life,” says Dr Weber. “Don’t assume they’re still the same person. Be observant and interested. Especially if things got sour. Allow for reparation and growth on both sides. Also, ask yourself: how does this person fit into my life now? It’s a delicate art. But how do you slot them in?”
“Starting afresh means letting go of the past and creating peace,” says Ms Roques-O’Neil. “If a lot of time has passed, remember they may have changed for good or bad. You may find that you are both on different paths right now. Don’t despair – it’s crucial that you know in your heart you’ve done what you needed to. Always leave the door of friendship open, if it’s meant to be it will present itself again at some later point, but maybe not right now. The positive thing about repairing a friendship is that you are now aware of each other’s boundaries and this will deepen your friendship.”
Despite your best efforts, you may well find that, for whatever reason, be it unresolved emotional issues or simply not having the time, the person does not want to rekindle the relationship. “First, give your ego a break, remembering that your ego is how you want people to see you, it’s a kind of protection that masks your vulnerability,” says Ms Roques-O’Neil. “Often, when you’re trying to reconcile, its ego on both sides that creates blocks. It’s therefore paramount to get beyond this and speak from an open heart rather than a place of hurt.
“It is also key to remember that your friend will be hurt, too, and may need to vent so be prepared for this. Most of all, try not to be critical, judgmental or make complaints. By keeping your heart open you create a harmonious space in which to acknowledge their individuality and perspective.”
Illustration by Mr Tommy Parker