Why You Should Reach Out to an Old Friend, According to Science
Reconnecting with an old friend you’ve lost touch with might sound like a challenge, but a recent study says it might be worth the effort. According to new research published in the American Psychological Association’s Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, the science actually says you should. You might think you’ll be bothering them or that there won’t be much benefit to either of you beyond a quick chat, but the results of 13 experiments involving over 5,900 participants say otherwise.
What science can tell us about reconnecting with old friends
The researchers who conducted these experiments wanted to test whether people accurately predict how much their social contacts will appreciate hearing from them. As it turned out, whether participants were college-aged or older, and whether that communication involved sending a simple note or a small gift like coffee, pretty much everybody underestimated how much the people they once knew appreciated being contacted.
“Our results suggest that it’s related to how little the people reaching out factor in the surprise felt by those being contacted,” wrote two of the authors in a subsequent post on The Conversation. “When we asked recipients what they focused on when indicating how appreciative they felt, they reported paying a lot of attention to their positive feelings of surprise, which were linked to how appreciative they felt.”
The key here, then, is the element of surprise. There are plenty of things that can get in the way of our relationships, from work commitments, to childcare, to the pursuit of personal hobbies, and those take up major brain space, not to mention our time. If you and a pal have drifted apart, it is likely because these time-sucks are bedeviling one of you—or, likely, you both. The other person is probably not sitting around all day stewing because your friendship has weakened, since they’re likely consumed with their own various goings-on, so your outreach will be a pleasant surprise.
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The best ways to reach out to an old friend
The researchers conducted experiments that involved people of various ages sending notes or small gifts to people with whom they hadn’t spoken in a while. Consider the relationship you had and have with the person you have in mind. If you used to work together and often enjoyed your morning coffee in the break room together every day, you might send them a coffee or a Starbucks gift card, to add some specificity and nostalgia to the gesture. If you don’t think a gift is appropriate, a text, email, or call can work, too.
You don’t need to sweat the details too much, or jump into unpacking your history. Start small, with a simple greeting, and ask how they’re doing. Include a unique reference to your shared past or explain what’s prompting your outreach. The research is clear that however you word things, the mere act that you’ve shown you’re thinking of the other person is enough to make them feel appreciated.
Unless you’ve sorely misjudged your relationship, your old buddy is bound to be pleased to hear from you (again, according to the science!) and you’ll feel good about the interaction, too—even if you go back to your separate lives after the catch-up. And if a fear of rejection is what’s keeping you from sending that email, the research should give you some solace there, too: It shows there’s an excellent chance your friend will love to find out others are thinking of them positively. Wouldn’t you?
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