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How to Rekindle Friendships After COVID-19

group of friends having coffee together

Verywell / Bailey Mariner

Key Takeaways

  • Friendship benefits both our mental and physical health.
  • After a year of pandemic restrictions and Zoom fatigue, it's natural that some friendships have gone dark. Reaching back out can feel awkward, but it's worth the effort.
  • Taking time to reflect on the lapse in communication can also help you evaluate the friendships that may no longer be healthy.

Muhammad Ali once said, “Friendship is the hardest thing in the world to explain. It’s not something you learn in school. But if you haven’t learned the meaning of friendship, you really haven’t learned anything."

One thing the Covid-19 pandemic has shown us is how deeply our friendships enrich our lives. A year without parties, gatherings, playdates, and hangouts has left us yearning for connection. And to the great American boxer and activist's point, perhaps we've also learned that some of these important relationships have been taken for granted.

But keeping up with friendships this past year hasn't been the easiest task, and in most cases, this is through no fault of our own. With pandemic restrictions, working from home, e-learning and Zoom fatigue, it's only natural that some of us have fallen out of touch.

But as more vaccines are administered across the United States each day, reunions are becoming a reality and we are collectively entering a new phase of life as we know it. This can feel overwhelming on many levels. If this potential for reconnection has you questioning how to rekindle relationships, you're not alone.

Losing Touch

While the pandemic might've brought us closer to certain people in our lives, there's a good chance that the bonds of our more casual friendships have loosened. Along with our loss of access to the workplace, gym, coffee shop, and other daily haunts, so too have gone our interactions with the people that occupy them.

Friendship expert and relationship columnist Irene S. Levine, PhD, points out that for some relationships, technology does not adequately substitute for in-person friendship, especially when we only occupy a certain slice of each other's lives.

Irene S. Levine, PhD

Since time and opportunities for friendships are limited, it could be prudent to take stock of your friendships after the big pause. Figure out which ones are most satisfying and how you might strengthen them.

— Irene S. Levine, PhD

"Depending on someone’s circumstances and needs for affiliation, some people have found themselves bereft of their once-friends who are now juggling childcare and work at home," Levine says. "The toll has been particularly hard on people who live alone."

In most cases, friends have the ability to pick back up right where they left off no matter the amount of time that's passed. But a year of collective trauma and stress might make this reunion feel more precarious.

For many people, feelings of social anxiety are bubbling up more frequently, which is completely normal after a year of heightened isolation. But it shouldn't stop you from reconnecting with the people you care about.

Reaching Out

Connection is key for both mental and physical health, says psychologist and friendship expert Marisa Franco, PhD.

“Our society is set up in a way that we privilege romantic relationships as our primary form of connection," she says. "But friends are so important for our identity, our sense of who we are. If you’re only turning to one person all the time, you only experience one side of yourself. To be a complete person you need a community to draw out all sides of your identity.”

But friendships aren't just good for the soul, research shows that friendships of high quality benefit physical health, as well by increasing happiness and lowering both chronic illness occurrence and mortality rates.

As rates of depression and anxiety are surging globally, it's important to take action to bolster your mental health. Reviving friendships that have gone quiet in past months is a step in the right direction, even if you're feeling awkward or uncomfortable.

These feelings of discomfort can often be attributed to negative metacognition, which Franco explains as our thoughts on what other people think of us. For example, we're plagued by the "liking gap." a phenomenon in which we gauge ourselves as less well-liked by others, which can shade our memories of past interactions and conversations.

Marisa Franco, PhD

Friends are so important for our identity, our sense of who we are. If you’re only turning to one person all the time, you only experience one side of yourself. To be a complete person you need a community to draw out all sides of your identity.

— Marisa Franco, PhD

We'll often avoid putting ourselves out there if we first tell ourselves that the other person will reject us. This can be avoided with some mental reframing, and keeping in mind that our perception is imperfect can make all the difference.

“Assume this friend is giving you all the grace and still wants you in their life and will be happy to hear form you," Franco says. "And that is the kind of behavior that’s going to motivate you to actually feel comfortable reaching out to them.”

When you're ready to reach out, what you say, exactly, isn't as important as making the effort in the first place. Checking in with someone by asking for or providing a life update after a period apart conveys the value and importance of the relationship.

Evaluating Relationships

Rekindling a friendship can stir a warm, fuzzy feeling, but is it always the right move? While reflecting on your inactive relationships, it's important to consider whether the cause was distance and inability to see each other rather than something else.

It's OK to step back and assess. For example, could your mental health benefit from less contact with a judgmental, argumentative friend or one who's revealed their views on public health or social justice don't align with yours? Or maybe you've made new friends with individuals in digital spaces and would like to prioritize those friendships moving forward.

"Since time and opportunities for friendships are limited, it could be prudent to take stock of your friendships after the big pause," Levine says. "Figure out which ones are most satisfying and how you might strengthen them."

If a friendship feels consistently draining and brings little joy, it might be time to reflect on what's keeping you in the relationship. But before ending things, Franco strongly recommends having a conversation with the person about the issues within the relationship, as well as the value that relationship has provided.

As an alternative to the friendship breakup, Levine suggests seeing the person less, only seeing them in a group or taking a timed break from the relationship. "Friendships are voluntary relationships and need to be mutually satisfying," Levine says. "It’s hard to end friendships and a great deal is lost in ending one with a rich, shared history. And once you go down that road, you usually can’t go back."

While it's import to evaluate or mend friendships that have fallen away this past year, we also need to acknowledge that the pandemic has fundamentally changed us. This period of loss, fear, confusion, anger and isolation has and will continue to affect the way we see our world and approach our relationships.

The pandemic has been at the same time an individual and shared experience of extreme pressure and stress. Everyone copes differently. It's important that, going forward, we are gentle with ourselves and others.

What This Means For You

If you've lost touch with a friend over the course of the pandemic, take some time to reflect on the relationship. If it consistently provides joy and support, reach out to that person with the self-assurance that they'll be happy to hear from you.

Get Advice From The Verywell Mind Podcast

Hosted by Editor-in-Chief and therapist Amy Morin, LCSW, this episode of The Verywell Mind Podcast shares how you can build mental strength after the pandemic.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

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2 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Abbott A. COVID’s mental-health toll: how scientists are tracking a surge in depression. Nature. Published February 3, 2021.