How To Get Back In Touch With An Old Friend Or Acquaintance
A lot of people feel it's awkward and a little nerve racking to try to get back in touch with a friend they haven't spoken to in a while. What often happens is someone will want to drop an old buddy a line, but then they'll think, "It will be so weird contacting them out of nowhere. How will they react to it? Will they wonder why I'm writing them now? What if we don't have anything to say to each other?" So they'll put it off. But then a few months later when they're mulling over the idea again they'll think, "Well now it's been even longer since we last spoke. It will seem extra inappropriate and random to contact them." It's an easy thing to procrastinate on, and it only feels harder to do the more time has passed.
There's no special trick to getting back in touch
If you want to get back in touch with someone you just have to put yourself out there and contact them somehow. It may make you a bit nervous, but there's no way around that. The other person could be open to restarting the friendship, and you'll pick up right where you left off. Or they might be too busy with their partner/family/job/current friends, or have moved on to another place in their lives. Whether they'd be keen to start hanging out again or not, it's not like there's any magic way to word your initial contact that's going to drastically alter how they feel about the matter. Just be prepared for either possibility going in.
Contacting an old friend is one of those situations that's only going to be awkward if you believe it's awkward
There's nothing inherently abnormal about dropping an old friend a line. If you do it, don't feel you're being desperate or intrusive. People are often delighted to hear from an old buddy out of the blue. After all, you did once get along with them well enough to become friends. That doesn't happen with just anyone. Who knows? Maybe they were considering getting back in touch with you, but felt awkward about it as themselves.
Examples of ways to get back in touch with an old friend
Like I said, there's no real trick to getting back in touch with someone. Here are some ways you could do it:
- Send them an email or social network message saying it's been a while and asking them what they're up to these days. Give them a quick, not overly general, update on what's been keeping you busy. If you feel too uncomfortable with straight up saying, "Long time, no talk, what's new?", you could always start off with the excuse of, "I saw something the other day that made me think of you..."
- Send them a text saying the same as the above, but in a more concise form.
- If you're both on a social network with a chat system, like Facebook, see if you can catch them when they're logged in and send them a chat message.
- Give them a call and chat in person, if you don't get too anxious about talking on the phone.
- Go somewhere where know you'll run into them in person.
Of course, I'm assuming you want to get back in touch so you can start hanging out with them again. That means you have to invite them out. Again, you just have to ask, by saying something like, "Do you want to grab a drink and catch up?" You may want to ask during the initial contact, or if you're communicating electronically, maybe wait until you've exchanged a message or two.
As always, if they say they can't make it, but don't reject you outright, you can try again one or two more times during the next few weeks. Maybe you really did catch them at a hectic time and they'll be more free to get together down the road. You can also try varying the event you invite them to. For example, a guy who's become busy with a new family may not be able to meet you for drinks on Saturday night, but may be free to have lunch during the workweek.
Factors that will influence how likely an old friend is to want to hang out again
Like I said, if you get back in touch with an old friend you need to be prepared for it to go either way, but there are some factors that will affect how open they'll be to restarting the relationship. You likely won't know where you stand on many of these ahead of time, but they'll still play a part.
Whether they have free time and room for more friendships
People get busy, especially once they hit their mid-twenties and careers, serious relationships, and families arrive on the scene. You may drop an old friend a line and they'll think, "Ah, it's great that Li wants to hang out again, but my plate is already full. I don't have time to fit catch-up coffee dates into the equation. And as much as I liked it when you saw each other frequently, I've already done fine without them for this long..." This factor explains why sometimes friendships will start again after one person goes through a break up or divorce. They finally have time to see their old mates.
Friends are more likely to fall out of touch if they're not able to hang out at least semi-regularly. Texts, emails and phones calls are nice and all, but what we really value is that in-person interaction. If you re-contact an old friend you hope to start seeing again, they'll be less open to the idea if it's not logistically feasible for you to spend much time together. Whether it's because your schedules don't match up or you live far from each other, they may unconsciously decide, "Well even if I wanted to hang out, it's not like we could, so I'm not going to invest the effort in starting this relationship up again for nothing."
The reason you fell out of touch in the first place
If your friendship was always strong but you stopped hanging out because one of you simply moved for grad school or life got in the way, it's more likely that you'll be able to go back to how things were. The results are going to be more hit or miss if the friendship wasn't on the most solid ground before it went into dormancy. If you contact your old friend they may think, "Do I really want to hang out with her again, after we stopped talking because I started dating Kumail? Do I really want to risk inviting that nonsense back into my life?"
What they see as your motivations for wanting to get back in touch
I think a relationship is more likely to start back up if the other person perceives you as simply wanting to be closer friends again. They'll be more wary if they think you've got an ulterior motive, and it's more about you than them. For example, maybe you just got divorced and your old friend thinks you just want someone, anyone, to support you through this hard time, and that you'll drop them as soon as you start to feel better. Another example is if you originally fell out of touch because you developed a drug problem and alienated everyone you knew. They may think your gesture to hang out again is more about you wanting to resolve your own guilt over how you acted, and not because you've developed a genuine need to be in their company again.
Getting back in touch with someone you never knew that well to begin with
It's one thing to rekindle a relationship with an old college buddy. Another scenario is when you briefly met a potential friend, you didn't follow up on the lead at the time, you're still interested to see if anything will come of it, but a fair amount of time has passed. This definitely taps into that fear of things being awkward because the person will wonder why you're suddenly contacting them out of the blue.
If you try to re-contact them really accept going in that it may not pan out. On the other hand, it's not like you knew them that well to begin with, so there's not as much downside if they're not interested. When you get in touch you don't need to put as much emphasis on telling each other what you've each been up to. Just start with something like, "Hey, it's Steve. We met at Joel's party back in August..." Since you don't know them that well, when you first ask them to hang out it may go over better if you invite them to a lower pressure group outing, e.g., "My two roommates and I are going to the pub tonight. You and your friends should drop by if you can." However, if they can't make it that first time, you still successfully re-established contact. From now on when you talk to them that 'out of the blue' factor is gone. It may feel more natural to invite them out to do something one-on-one soon afterward.