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Should Long-Lost Friendships Remain Lost?

I think I may have found the answer.

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illustration_of_two_girls_biking_in_opposite_directions_by_María Hergueta_1440x540.jpg
María Hergueta
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A few weeks ago, I was mindlessly scrolling through social media posts when I stumbled on a name I hadn’t thought of in a long time.

"L" was my very best friend during middle school. We were at that in-between age where we felt too old for blocks and Barbies but not quite interested in serious dating or drinking parties. Instead, we spent most weekends riding our bikes around town, stopping for ice cream and occasionally playing kickball in the street with other kids in our neighborhood. At night we would do PG activities like going to the movies or to the roller rink. Even though we lived only three blocks apart, we were zoned for different area high schools. I remember being very upset when I found out.

But within a few weeks, I started making new friends and hanging out on the weekends. I assume she did the same. Our once-tight friendship ended without fanfare — no big fights or small slights — at least from what I can remember, it was just a fade-out.

I hadn’t thought about that period of my life in a long time. But seeing her name on the screen brought it all back. Curious, I clicked on her name to see what she had been up to, but her social media presence didn’t tell much.

A part of me wanted to send her a direct message immediately. I wondered how she was doing and what had happened to her since our paths had diverged over 40 years ago. But, as I started typing my note out, I had second thoughts. Would L think it was weird to hear from me? Would she even remember me? I was conflicted. Should I let this past friendship remain in the past?

Why the past resonates

“We share a life narrative with people from our past,” explains psychiatrist Gail Saltz, M.D., associate professor of psychiatry at the New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell School of Medicine and host of the How Can I Help? podcast from iHeartRadio. “It’s something you can’t create with a new person because they weren’t there to experience it with you.”

With time, we may look at past relationships and give them a glamorized hue. We may remember it better than it was, holding on to what was good and minimizing the bad. “There is a certain pleasure in reminiscing, especially when we reconnect with someone who knew us when we were young,” says Saltz. “It's like a sensory scrapbook where we get to recapture a part of our identity that we may have forgotten.”

Reaching out and playing with fire

Whether reaching out to someone from the past is a good idea depends on the circumstance and the expectations. Saltz believes reaching out to say hello or reminisce is usually benign. But be aware that you might be disappointed if you are looking for more than that. “If you are lonely and looking to reignite an old best friendship, that may not happen,” she says. “Sharing a past may not be enough to connect you in the current day.”

Saltz strongly cautions against reaching out to an old romantic partner if you are married or in a committed, monogamous relationship. “You are playing with fire when you initiate this kind of contact, especially when you are struggling with your current partner,” says Saltz.

Be direct about reconnecting

Start with a simple note if you are thinking about reaching out to an old (platonic) friend. State that you were thinking about them and would like to catch up if they are interested. Then give a way to connect with you. Saltz says, “Be direct in your invitation. If they say, ‘Sure, let’s catch up!’ ask for a phone number. A phone call is a more authentic way to reconnect than through text or email.” Sometimes the reason you want to reach out is to apologize. Maybe you know the relationship ended poorly and feel guilty about it. If that is the case, say it. “Odds are if you have wronged someone, they know you have wronged them,” Saltz says. And if it happened years ago and you are still thinking about it, it may help both parties to get past the hurt. It is never too late for a sincere apology — and by sincere, it should be an apology with no excuses. Say something like, “I realize I was wrong. I hurt you and I am so sorry I did that.” After the apology, let the other person take the lead. “They may want to reengage, or they may want to leave it there. It’s up to them,” says Saltz.

Combining the past and present

While it isn’t a good idea to get stuck in the past, there is a place for it in the present. “Our younger selves are almost always looking forward to what is next,” explains Saltz. “But when we are older, more of our life is behind us, so there is more to look back on. Our lives also slow as our careers quiet, and our kids are grown. We have more time to enjoy reflecting on our past relationships.”

Ultimately, I decided to send that message to L. Nothing too much. I just told her how fun I remember that time when we would ride our bikes around the neighborhood, and I hoped she was doing well. A day later, I received a note saying it was so good to hear from me, echoing my sentiments about our time together. I am unsure where this goes from here, but it made me smile to hear from her and know that our happy memories of our shared past aligned.

Have you ever reconnected with a long-lost friend? Let us know in the comments below.

Follow Article Topics: Relationships