In a perfect world, going home for the holidays would mean catching up with old friends. You’d sit in a coffee shop, sip hot chocolate, and laugh and laugh as you swap tales about life beyond your hometown. But what happens if it’s been literal years since you last spoke to a friend and you aren’t sure how to reconnect?
While it isn’t ideal, it helps to know that it’s actually super common to lose track of friends as you get older, especially if you move away, says Jennifer Litner, Ph.D., LMFT, CST, a licensed marriage and family therapist. “As people change, sometimes their availability and capacity to stay in contact changes,” she tells Bustle. “Sometimes it’s reflective of broader contexts, like managing stressors or mental health.”
In other words, a lack of connection or an awkward silence doesn’t mean your old pal no longer wants to be friends, Litner says. Instead, it’s a sign that life has likely gotten in the way. Add in career changes, relationships, and other outside factors, and it’s really no wonder five years can speed by without so much as a text. People get busy, they go through stuff, and just like that you both lose track.
It can feel strange and even a little bit scary to reach out to an old friend, Litner notes, since you might not know what to say or what to expect. Thankfully, the holidays really are the perfect time to rekindle old connections. If you feel inspired to say hi, here are 11 ways to make catching up with friends easier, even if you haven’t seen them in years.
1. Start With A DM.
If you’re worried that your old friend has lost your number — or you want to keep things extra casual — start by sliding into their DMs. “By reaching out on social media, your friend will know exactly who you are as they read your message,” says Heather Wilson LCSW, LCADC, CCTP, a therapist and executive director at Epiphany Wellness.
An additional perk is that you can take all the time you need to compose the perfect message before hitting send, Wilson adds. While a simple “hey, it’s been forever!” totally works, you might want to expand and write a few sentences explaining why they came to mind and that you’d love to see them around the holidays.
2. Assume The Best.
“Sometimes initiating contact with old friends can be super vulnerable,” says Vanessa Williams, LCSW, a licensed clinical social worker. Again, you might doubt their desire to reconnect, but remember there’s really no harm in being the brave bestie who laughs in the face of awkwardness and reaches out anyway.
To fight the fear, Williams recommends operating under the assumption that your friend wants to chat just as much as you do and that they’ll be thrilled to get a text. It’ll put a positive spin on things and relieve some of your nerves before you chat or meet up.
3. Ask When They’ll Be In Town.
During the holidays, many people head back home to see family. They’re also usually in a party mood this time of year — which makes it so much more natural to randomly reach out. If you’d like to hang with your friend in real life, Williams suggests being straightforward about it. You can say something like, “Hey, Nicole. I’ll be back in town for Thanksgiving and would love to catch up! Will you be around?”
4. Make Plans That Keep It Moving.
Much like a boring date, nothing’s worse than finding yourself stationary at a restaurant table with nothing to say. “Going for drinks [or dinner] can be a good go-to for most people,” says therapist Tina Alvarado, LMFT. “However, when you have a drink with someone the main event really is the conversation.”
If idle chitchat fills you with dread, she suggests adding an extra activity to the meet-up, like bowling, walking, or live music. “An activity that you do together not only takes the pressure off the conversation, it also gives you more to talk about by commenting on the activity itself,” she tells Bustle. Throw a few gutter balls together and you’ll likely start to feel comfy.
5. Chat About Old Times.
As you reconnect, try to keep in mind that this person is your friend, aka someone who shares a lot of the same memories. “This can act as a jumping-off place to get the conversation going,” says licensed therapist Emily Sharp, LCAT, ATR-BC, BC-TMH, RYT-200. You likely have a million stories from high school, college, or your first job, so when in doubt, take a trip down memory lane.
6. Catch Up On Current Topics.
Once you’re done laughing about high school band class or your eccentric old boss, direct the convo toward current events. “It’s important to remember that you’re not just reconnecting with an old friend; [you also might be meeting] for the first time as adults,” says Akos Antwi, APRN, PMHNP, a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner and co-owner of Revive Therapeutic Services.
If it’s been years since you last saw met up, it’ll feel good to devote some time to learning more about your careers, where you live, and how you like it to keep the chat going.
7. Be Curious.
Pro tip: Pepper in lots of open-ended questions. “This is important not only to keep the conversation going but because it prevents you from making assumptions about people's lives,” Alvarado says.
Asking things like “What do you do on weekends these days?” or “What’s your favorite thing about your new job?” gives your friend the floor to fill you in on all the fun new details about their life, so you can update your brain files.
8. Brace Yourself For Change.
The memory of the person you knew five years ago might not match the person sitting across from you in the coffee shop, and that’s OK. “Recognize that people change,” says licensed therapist Kelly Neupert, LPC, and that it isn’t necessarily a bad thing. You might be able to rekindle your friendship by connecting over brand new areas of your lives, like your career, travel stories, or plans for the future.
If not, that’s OK, too. “As people change, so might their humor and interests,” Wilson notes, so there’s a chance you’ll realize that “the good old days” are behind you and you no longer have anything in common. “If so, just appreciate that those times happened,” she says. It might take some time to grieve the friendship, but you can still applaud yourself for giving it another go.
9. Be As Honest As Possible.
If it feels uncomfortable to catch up with old friends because you aren’t thrilled with your life’s current trajectory, then consider being honest about it from the jump. “You don't have to have it all together just because you haven’t seen them in a while,” Neupert says, so try to relinquish the pressure or expectations you’re placing on yourself — and just enjoy the evening.
While it might be tempting, there’s no need to show up with a list of accomplishments to rattle off as you pop a bottle of wine or decorate gingerbread houses. According to Neupert, you’ll have a much better time if you drop the mask and aim to be your most authentic self, even if your BFF is the CEO of her own company. If you catch yourself comparing timelines, focus on having fun instead.
10. Laugh It Off.
If all else fails, you can always break the ice by calling out how nervous, awkward, or guilty you feel about not sending a single text in the past eight years. According to Alvarado, your friends are likely experiencing some level of self-consciousness, too. By saying it out loud and laughing it off, everyone will be able to breathe a collective sigh of relief, make a few jokes, and act like their true selves.
11. Make Plans For The Future.
If your chat or hangout is going well, see how it feels to make a few post-holiday plans. Sharp recommends discussing when and where you could meet up again or how you’d like to stay in touch once you head back to your respective towns. That way you’ll be less likely to lose touch and you’ll leave on a high note with fun plans to look forward to once the holidays are over.
Jennifer Litner, Ph.D., LMFT, CST, licensed marriage and family therapist
Vanessa Williams, LCSW, licensed clinical social worker
Tina Alvarado, LMFT, therapist
Emily Sharp, LCAT, ATR-BC, BC-TMH, RYT-200, licensed therapist
Kelly Neupert, LPC, licensed therapist