The phrase ‘out of sight, out of mind’ is rather apt after the disruptions of the past year. But as many embark on the road back to normality and start to reconnect with friends in person, there might also be worries that things won’t immediately feel the same as before.
That’s because losing regular face-to-face contact with people you know and like can throw relationships into disarray. There might be concerns that friends have forgotten all about you or doubts about why you were even pals in the first place.
Even if these fears are unfounded (and most will be), it can still be hard to fall back into that easy, comfortable routine you once had. Friendships change shape all the time, so don’t expect things to be exactly the same as when you left. But if you’re struggling to reconnect with your group, there are a few things you can try…
Friendships made in early childhood and at school are key to personal development and help to find a sense of self. So, if you’re forced to spend time apart from people, rebuilding these connections can be tough.
As everyone heads back into the busy throng of school or college life, try to be open and communicative with your friends, even though you might be nervous about seeing them again.
Take a deep breath, smile and leap straight in and ask them how they’ve been these past few months. Even if you’ve kept in touch online, the question is still valid. Try to make eye contact, stay interested in what they have to say, and be empathetic if they’ve had a difficult or different experience to you.
Keep an open mind
Social media has been a lifeline for many during this strange old year. While many friends will have stayed in contact through various social streams, everybody has a different relationship with online platforms, so try not to take it personally if some friends have been in contact more than others. Healthy friendships are defined by kindness, trust and support, not by power or social status.
Group dynamics change and self-confidence can both blossom and diminish during a lengthy time apart, so it’s important to ease back into the fold with a clear and open mind. Lastly, don’t sacrifice your own personal boundaries just to please others – always be true to yourself.
Take it slowly
For those who experience social anxiety, it might feel overwhelming to return to the hustle and bustle of school after time away. But there’s no need to bundle back into noisy friendship circles straight away. Take things slowly and ease yourself back into the friendship groups one step at a time. If it still feels daunting approaching your old circles, consider staying on after school and join clubs or homework groups and connect with them on a more low-key basis.
See it as a shared experience
Finally, try not to worry about lost friendships. People will have lots of different relationships over a lifetime. The ones that last tend to have lots of give and take, with friends who are honest, supportive and care about you. And while it might take longer to revitalise some friendships, this shared experience means they will often be stronger as a result.
What the experts say…
- Focus on the future rather than the past: Try to reconnect around shared interests and focus on the content rather than the social relations. Before you know it, you’ll be talking about your favourite TV series or podcasts rather than focusing on the awkwardness of the absence.
Dr Melanie Adkins, educational psychologist.
- Give it time: People often need the regular reassurance of seeing each other to know that a friendship persists. To reconnect after a prolonged absence, they need time to hang out. But remember, it’s normal to initially feel a little less sure of friendships and that’s natural, just give it time.
Kim McCabe, founder and director of Rites for Girls.
- Remember positive memories: Remind friends of the previous experiences you’ve shared together, where they’ve been supportive, kind or funny. This allows you to reflect on all the positive aspects of your friendships.
Natalie Costa, confidence coach.
Not everyone will have had the same experience during this time apart. If you notice that a friend seems particularly withdrawn or anxious, GriefUK suggests talking about how you are feeling, listen without judgment and gently reinforce the fact that you care about them. You might also encourage them to talk it through with a trusted adult, such as a guardian, teacher or school counsellor or nurse. Find more helpful tips at GriefUK.org.
Words: Tracey Davies
Illustration: Syuzann via Shutterstock.