Ever wondered what you'd say to a therapist, given the chance? We asked Dr Sheri Jacobson, a retired psychotherapist with over 17 years' clinical experience and the founder of Harley Therapy Psychologists, for advice on the things we worry about in private.
Since moving to the city I’ve drifted so much from my home friends. I knew it would happen but I didn’t realise it would happen so fast. We don’t speak as often as we said we would and over time it has become more and more awkward to reach out. I’m the one from the friend group who left and I assume they are all still in contact and up to date on each other's lives. I neglected the friendship but they did too. How can I reconnect when I see them next?
Changes are a given in almost every area of life. Everything evolves – even our relationship with ourselves. We are always going through changes in our life circumstances, in our desires, in our priorities. And the circles that we associate with are always in flux too. Even if you are connected with someone for a long period of time, the nature of that relationship is likely to evolve. It's not good or bad, it's just the default, and it's often very hard to predict what's going to come next.
It's also worth bearing in mind that because of the hyperconnected world we live in now, we can have a large number of relationships, but we're only really equipped for a few very close relationships. Maybe some wider connections too, but not the thousands that we ended up having. So it's much easier in this day and age for friendships to be diluted. Because of this we have to make a conscious effort to stay connected with the people we want to, and not connecting with people is not necessarily a bad thing. It just means that other choices have been made: it could be other things like a career or family or self. Clearly that is not a sign of failure. It's more recognising that friendships are very difficult work and hard to maintain, and many of them will fall by the wayside.
With all that in mind, let's talk about this specific scenario. You want to reconnect with your friends but worry about a growing awkwardness. I would advise trying to accept the awkwardness and allowing that discomfort to surface. The more that we can flow with all emotional states, the less we resist them and the quicker we can get over them and on to the next phase. That could be reconnecting or it could be discovering that reconnection is difficult – whichever feels best for you. Things may have adapted to a level that you don't have as much in common with your old friends or you don't gel as well. Ultimately, if you can reach acceptance over that it will cause less hardship. The more that we fight for things to be the way they are, the more disappointment usually arises. Remember, relationships are a two-way street. So it's likely you're not the only one that's feeling the way you're feeling.
Most difficult feelings like feeling left out, as uncomfortable as they are, can be turned into opportunities. You can use them as signals that something isn't quite right and maybe a spur to action. In this case, maybe this is an opportunity to spend some time either alone or with your own thoughts, doing things that feel self-nurturing. Or maybe you want to reach out, whether that's to that person, to that group, or to new groups. Rather than feel like something's been done to you, you can use that as a catapult to be proactive. Taking steps to connect to something so that you're not the victim, you are an actor.
Understandably, you are searching for meaningful connection. So I would say start with taking the pressure off ourselves, reduce the expectations on ourselves to have perfect friendships, be the perfect friend, how much contact we should have and so on. When you try and ease things off a little bit, it makes the whole thing less burdensome. Then you can focus more on the pleasure or benefits that friendships can bring. Be selective if possible in life: make conscious choices about who you want to spend time with. And then make concerted efforts to foster and nurture those connections with small gestures, not grand, sweeping statements. The smallest thing – a note to say something reminded you of someone – can be a reminder that you are linked.