In some parts of the world, a period of social hibernation is slowly winding down. For many, that comes with a new appreciation of time spent with others.
For more than a year, the pandemic brought face-to-face interactions to a halt, forcing our social lives to be primarily virtual. We took to the web to share trivia nights, cocktail hours, and book clubs. We sent letters, mailed care packages, and spent time on long-and-winding phone or video calls. Our nearest and dearest “pandemic pods” became more important than ever before as we turned to each other for support and friendship in a time of unprecedented challenges.
While our innermost social circles strengthened, many of the people who populated our wider social spheres—like the baristas, store clerks, and neighborly acquaintances—faded from view. Colleagues from past jobs or old friends from school are no longer such familiar faces to us, and even some of the people we spoke to on a frequent basis have been as good as strangers for a year or more.
Casual friendships, built slowly and organically through regular, spontaneous interaction, might have seemed lost forever. Thankfully, in the age of modern technology, this doesn’t need to be the case. And as the pandemic enters new phases, some people are able to safely gather in person again, allowing for reconnection.
Where to start
The easiest way to reach out to old friends is by a simple text message or email. If you don’t have their contact information, then reach out on social media. Remember: The stakes are low—most people will be delighted to see an old friend pop up in their messages. The worst thing that can happen is they don’t reply!
While phone calls are a great way to have longer, more meaningful conversations, for many people they can be quite daunting. According to VeryWell Mind, phone anxiety is common among those with social anxiety, causing shortness of breath, a racing heart, and hesitation to make and receive calls.
Especially for younger generations who are used to communicating via text-based platforms, phone phobia is increasingly common. A 2019 survey of UK office workers found that 76% of millennials experience anxiety-induced thoughts when they hear the phone ring, compared to just 40% of baby boomers.
With this in mind, it’s best to take things slowly. A text message or email gives the recipient time and space to respond. It’s advisable to begin the conversation with just the right amount of open-endedness to help guide the recipient. For example, leading with “How have you been?” forces the recipient to cram a year’s worth of experience into a short message. Alternatively, saying something to the effect of, “I’ve been thinking of you. Are you still going on weekly hikes? How has that been treating you?” makes the message personal and guides the conversation to a specific, positive topic.
When the ice is broken, you can suggest a quick chat on the phone or even an in-person meeting at an outdoor space like a patio, park, or hiking trail.
What to talk about
It may be tempting to dive right into discussing the ups and downs of the past year and change—what else does anyone talk about these days?—but keep in mind that for many people this topic is not so easy to navigate.
Many people have experienced painful upheaval over the last year, and they may not be ready to open up about their experiences right away. Instead, focus on small talk that is easy to answer clearly and directly.
Here are some good examples of easy and direct conversation starters:
- Have you seen any good movies lately?
- Are you reading any good books these days?
- Did you see that sports game/cultural event?
These types of questions can help open up a conversation naturally, and discussion of the bigger topics from the last year of our lives can flow more comfortably from there.
Something to be mindful of
Finally, it is important to be understanding and respectful of people’s different comfort levels when it comes to meeting face-to-face. Some people will want to wait until they and their family are fully vaccinated before taking part in any in-person activities.
Everyone has their own unique experiences of the pandemic, and everyone will process these experiences in their own unique way.
If someone isn’t ready to reignite their social life at the same pace as you are, the best thing to do is let them know that you’re there for them whenever they’re ready.