How to RECONNECT
Clara How was called out by a one-time BFF for not trying hard enough in their friendship. Like a grown-up, she ditched the social meds and handled it face to face.
When my friend Kate* sent me a text saying she didn’t think we could be friends anymore, I felt awful. Former colleagues, we were close confidantes who saw each other both in and out of the office; we even complemented each other with our differences. She was the person I could count on for sound advice, especially during a rough patch when I was dating men I shouldn’t.
When we both left the company, the friendship took a hit. We went from texting daily to infrequent check-ins, and only seeing each other in groups. I subconsciously noticed the drift, but hey, I’m a busy (and selfish) gal!
So when Kate called me out in that text saying she felt excluded, and posited that “we were comrades in arms in the office, but maybe we aren’t a good fit outside of it”, I was shocked, then ashamed. Because she was right. I had neglected to invite her to drinks with our ex-colleagues (excuse: not my gig, I was just a guest). And I had stopped asking about her personal life, to the point of being dismissive when she did share details. Essentially, I had stopped being a real friend in just 18 months. My bad.
I had two options: go with what Kate suggested (accept that the friendship was kaput), or try to revive it. I wouldn’t get a second chance to salvage a friendship that had seen me through the transitions of a new job and being single after a tumultuous relationship – I wasn’t ready to see it get buried. So with pride in pocket, I apologised.
I held back from asking her out immediately; going from zero to 100 would seem disingenuous. Rather, I texted every week or so, about books (she recommended Tash Aw and Jeremy Tiang), and an author’s reading we were keen on. I sent her links to fun events; I initiated group outings. She met me halfway by being receptive to my invitations, and eventually, we eased into dinners, with a real human connection.
It’s a statement everyone understands in theory, but real friendships are hard work. You have to carve out the time to meet, keep in touch with texting, and remember the little things like birthdays. If you’re honest with yourself and realise that you don’t have it in you to maintain a particular friendship, then it’s just face value, and there’s no point in reconnecting.
In that case, if you’re as bold as Kate, send a polite message to express that while you cherish the good times, the friendship might have run its course, and it’s time to “unfriend”. Or if the pair of you haven’t spoken in years, you probably have a tacit mutual agreement to leave things be.
If you realise that you’re on the brink of losing someone special, you’ve got to commit. Rather than abruptly ask to meet, gradually up the texting. (Call too abruptly and people always think you’re trying to sell them insurance!). It also indicates you’re sincere in wanting to find out more about your friend’s life. Eventually, pinpoint a specific date to meet rather than a vague “let’s catch up”.
The experience with Kate also helped me reconnect with Melissa*, a childhood friend I hadn’t spoken to in a decade. We had bumped into each other and said the usual “oh we must catch up”, and then… nothing. Melissa had been my best friend in primary and secondary school. What if I was missing out on a great friendship in adulthood? I decided to send Melissa a text. (After all, I’d learnt my lesson with Kate.)
It felt a little awkward at the start, but we seized on books as our convo topic. And after a couple of months of start-stop messages, we managed to meet. Now, a year later, we see each other every couple of weeks.
When I told Kate that I was writing this story, she was gracious and offered her take: She’d decided to be frank because she remembered how good a friend I had been, and wanted to do something about it. She was prepared to let the friendship go, but she knew I wasn’t meanspirited and, at the very least, she wanted me to be aware that my actions were hurtful.
I asked her how she felt when I started making an effort again.
“I was touched,” she said with a smile. *Names have been changed.
Life is what happens when you’re busy making plans with other people.