How to kickstart a friendship you’ve totally neglected

I’ve had a pretty crappy year. I won’t bore you with the dirty, depressing details; just know that it involved broken bones, broken hearts, lots of hard decisions, and lots of crying in the shower. As a result of the terrible, horrible, not great, very dramatic year, I spent a lot of time alone, trying to piece myself together and trying to figure out what I really want and how I intend to get it. I took a bunch of “me time” and forgot that I had tons of people in my life that wanted to help me, and that probably needed some help themselves. I put some important friendships on pause this year, and even though I think I needed the space to get my life in order, I regret that I hurt and neglected the people who mean so much to me. It’s easy to let friendships falter, especially when we have bad years or stressful periods when we can’t find the time to sleep, let alone give a friendship the love and care it deserves. We make mistakes, we put our needs first, and sometimes we just drift apart. It sucks and it’s sad, but it doesn’t have to be final. It’s never too late to make amends, and there’s almost always a chance to jumpstart a friendship you’ve left idling. I’ve got some work to do, and if you do too, here are some tips to reclaim cold friendships and hopefully make them all warm and toasty again.

Make the first move

The first step to fixing a friendship is extending a hand to hold. Nothing gets fixed without action, and if you really want it, you may have to reach out cold and let someone know you miss them. It doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact please don’t make it complicated. No one likes reading long emotional Facebook messages (except my mom). Just text your friend and say you’d like to see them soon. Be sincere, and be humble. If you’re the one who messed up, you best not pretend like nothing happened.

Make an actual plan

I swear to Beyonce if I get another “we should hang sometime!” text I will lose the little sanity I have left. “Sometime” texts never amount to much. It’s what we say when we feel guilty or awkward and need to look like we care. If you actually want your friend back, you need more that vague half-plans. Pick a day, pick a time, and stick to it. DO NOT CANCEL. I know the bed is warm and the Netflix plentiful, but get your butt down to the meeting place at any cost.

Keep it low pressure

Your first hangout after a period of not talking and not hanging should be light and breezy. Pick an activity that involves something more than just talking. Bowling is great because you can talk in-between sets and there isn’t a need for a lot of deep eye contact. A movie isn’t a great option because there is no talking (unless you’re that one theater jerk) and you can leave the hangout feeling like you didn’t accomplish much. Just find something where you can be with each other and reconnect without the crushing pressure of having a multi-hour feelings discussion.

Start from an honest place

Once the initial ice is broken, you’re going to need to have the feelings talk. It may be awkward, so be prepared for possible tears and angry hand gestures. If you were the one who dropped the ball, you need to admit it without excuses. You need to own up to your mistakes and be earnest in your apology. If you were the one that got dropped, you need to be truthful about how it made you feel. Despite my admittedly bad behavior this year, I’ve been on both sides of the friend divide and I know that nothing gets better if we’re not honest about what we’re feeling and everything that’s happened. Be kind, but be firm, and don’t let them try to diminish your feelings. You are justified in being hurt, and it’s okay to admit it.

Forgive fully or walk away

After the apologies you need to decide if you can forgive the offender. Sometimes too much has happened to smooth over, and it’s best to cut your losses. If the cuts run too deep, and the offenses are too great, there’s no shame in giving up. Sometimes a friendship just expires. Maybe you realize you don’t have much in common anymore, or maybe you just can’t forget the pain they inflicted on you with their negligence. If you decide to start fresh, commit 100%. Do not reenter a friendship with a chip on your shoulder, because it isn’t fair to either of you. You can’t forgive someone one day and be angry the next, friendship is about loving completely and without conditions. Accept your friend for all their cracked edges and stained spots, or let them go.

Be gentle when telling secrets and life events you failed to mention

If you take anything away from this post, please, please let it be this. I am one of those infamous “highly sensitive” people, and I will just break to pieces if after months of not talking to me, you suddenly dump bushels and barrels of new information on my unsuspecting, highly emotional self. I place a high price on being in the loop, and if I find out that you got married or had a baby or lost your virginity or quit college or got a dog without telling me about it, I will feel simultaneously guilty for not knowing, and hurt for not being trusted enough to be informed on your big life changes. Even when in weird limbo stages with friends, I try to maintain a steady flow of “big freaking deal” news. If you know that your friend doesn’t know what’s been going down, tell them, but in spurts and with compassion. Again, you’ve forgiven them, so there’s no need to hurt them further. Inform them of your life without inflicting unnecessary pain; this is a fresh start, not a chance to list the reasons why they suck.

Remember that friendship is a two way street

We all have periods when we are bad friends. That doesn’t make us bad people; it makes us human. I pride myself on being an excellent friend, but if asked I could supply a detailed list of all the times I’ve messed up. My personal offenses include: not answering texts, cancelling plans, being too in my own head to deal with other people’s problems, holding onto anger for too long, and not being honest about my feelings when I’ve been hurt. The key is admitting our mistakes, and doing our absolute best to right them. If you’ve been hurt, be kind, because at some point you’ll do the hurting. If you hurt your friend, be kind, because you blew it. Second chances are a gift, not a right, so always be grateful for the people who let you into their lives, and love them for their flaws in addition to their strengths because no one is just one thing. We fall, we fail, and we try our best, and hopefully we learn a little along the way.

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