The Great Reconnect: How Even Tiny Gestures Can Rekindle Friendships That Fizzled Out

When it's been months and months since you reached out to a pal, it's tempting to just write-off the friendship... but a few words can work wonders.


By Laurie Santos

“This is a perfect time to reconnect with people,” says the psychologist and friendship expert Marisa Franco.

We spoke about how to strike up brand new relationships in our last article, but maintaining the friendships we already have is just as important.

Marisa points to research suggesting that “every seven years we could lose about half our friends”. In normal times, says Marisa, we can make good on some of these lost friendships by adding people to our social network – by befriending a new co-worker or a new neighbor.

But the COVID-19 pandemic and all the disruption it has caused made that natural cycle of replenishment more difficult.

“I think this is a really hard time for us to make new connections. And so what I tend to say people is that while it is a hard time to meet new people, it has been a time of reconnection.”

Marisa points to people contacting old college roommates, or fellow players from their high school sports team, or colleagues from two or three jobs ago.

“I think that's a really good idea if our friendship has just sort of fizzled, but it hasn't been a friendship that we want to lose.”

But this doesn’t just apply to long-lost friendships. If you haven’t spoken to one of your closer friends in a few weeks, reconnecting with them right now is a good course correction to make sure they don’t continue to drift out of your social network.

“Our social worlds are very much within our control and there are intentional actions we can take that can really change the trajectory of our friendships.”

In fact, an interesting new research paper suggests that those “intentional actions” are more modest than you might think. Even making a tiny effort – one that you might think is totally insignificant – can have huge impact on our friends, it seems. Peggy Liu of the University of Pittsburgh lead a team looking into how much we underestimate the power of small gestures.

Liu and her colleagues enlisted more than 5,900 participants and asked them to think about a recent occasion when they’d casually reached out to someone they’d not been in contact with for a while. Other participants were told to recall a time when a friend had contacted them after a period of silence “just to check in”.

Those who’d reached out were asked to predict how impactful that casual contact had been on their friend. On a seven-point scale, how grateful or pleased had the friend been for the gesture of reconnection?

The people who’d been contacted were also asked to rate their feelings of gratitude and pleasure (One being “not at all”, and seven being “to a great extent”).

The experiment was repeated in a real life, too… with participants being asked to send a note or a small gift to a friend they were losing touch with (and to again rate the impact it would have). The recipients of those notes and gifts were then asked to rate their actual experience of being contacted out of the blue.

Liu and her colleagues found that in all cases the instigators of contact significantly underestimated the power of their call, text, note or gift. Recipients were far more appreciative than the instigators had ever expected.

And interestingly, recipients were even more grateful and happy when the message or gift was totally unexpected. The element of surprise added extra power to the gesture of reconnection.

When we haven’t contacted our friends in a while - when that break grows from weeks to months - we tend to become anxious and worry that renewing contact after a prolonged period will seem weird. We also question why the other person hasn’t initiated contact. Maybe they don’t like us anymore?

Liu's findings suggest that such fears are unfounded and cause us to needlessly let some friendships we value slip away.

“I sometimes pause before reaching out to people from my pre-pandemic social circle for a variety of reasons," Liu said in a press release. "When that happens, I think about these research findings and remind myself that other people may also want to reach out to me and hesitate for the same reasons.”

“I then tell myself that I would appreciate it so much if they reached out to me and that there is no reason to think they would not similarly appreciate my reaching out to them.”

So what are you waiting for? This is a perfect time to reconnect with people… and all it takes is a quick text or call.

Stay well and stay happy...