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3 Reasons To Look Up an Old Friend Today

Reconnecting with an old friend from your past isn’t just a lovely memory stroll; it has surprising health benefits too.

Snap Decision/Getty Images
Snap Decision/Getty Images,

by Janice Holly Booth

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Recently I’ve been hopping back and forth across the continent to spend time with my parents, revisiting the place where I grew up. I left in my 20s, but dozens of old friends and cousins who mattered in my early life still live there. Time and distance has frayed those connections, but recently I re-established contact with people who meant something to me 30 years ago. I expected our reunions to be fun; I didn’t anticipate the strong feelings of rejuvenation and happiness I felt from sharing a glass of wine and some long forgotten stories. If you’ve let too much time pass, here’s why you should consider reconnecting with old friends right now.

Memories That Transport and Transform Reminiscing about being bad-asses together makes for great conversation, even as one of you holds an ice-pack on an elbow and the other bemoans the fact that orthotics are just not cutting it anymore. There’s a reason you feel good when you remember the past: for the famous “counter-clockwise” study she conducted in 1979, Harvard University psychologist Ellen Langer brought men in their 70s and 80s, most of whom relied on relatives to do things for them, to a weeklong retreat staged to look like 1959. One group of men was told to reminisce about the era, the other to let themselves be who they were 20 years earlier. By the end of the experiment, both groups were functioning independently, actively completing chores, and showed significant improvements in hearing, memory, strength and intelligence tests. The group told to behave as if they were 20 years younger also showed better dexterity, flexibility and looked younger, too. Yes, a trip down memory lane can also be a sip from the fountain of youth.

Revisiting the shifts in life circumstances that led us to choices we thought we’d never make helps us gain a clearer view of our changing selves.

Ellen Langer, psychologist

A Fresh Perspective Remember that pact you made with your BFF to never get married and have kids? Oops! Revisiting the shifts in life circumstances that led us to choices we thought we’d never make helps us gain a clearer view of our changing selves. For two old friends who once traveled the same path but then diverged, it can be a fascinating, enlightening conversation.

Old Friends, Special Friends There is something powerful and enduring about having been young together, before the burdens of adulthood settled firmly on our shoulders. Sharing those memories is an intimacy you can’t have with anyone else, precious and immediate. Your old friends remember exactly how you looked back then (gorgeous), how you moved (like buttah), and how you behaved (take no prisoners). No new friend, no matter how terrific, will ever have that memory of you. And on the flip side, if you discover after reconnecting with old friends that they have attitudes and opinions that make you cringe, maybe your judgment in friend selection has improved. Either way, it’s a win.

Should You Reconnect?

It’s one thing to visit, and another to re-engage. This one’s tricky because let’s face it, the days of you and your BFF dancing ‘til 3 a.m. are long gone. What will you share now? Once you’ve exhausted the litany of memories, then what? Sometimes it’s better to enjoy a day together and then let it go. If you do reconnect, try to base it on something you can both be passionate about now. For one old friend and me, it’s our love of travel. She’s a wiz at hacking the frequent flyer system and I’m able to find little-known, off-the-beaten path adventures. 

If you do decide to reconnect with some old friends, keep these caveats in mind.

Don’t overstay your welcome. As Benjamin Franklin once said, “Guests, like fish, begin to stink after three days.” So if you’re doing an overnight, keep it to one day or two, tops.

Be sure you have more to talk about than old times. The inevitable lull will come. Listen to the cues of her life so you can move the conversation into new territory—essential if you want to begin a shared future together.

Swap photos. Nothing brings a rush of nostalgia like old pictures of your matching disco dos. Make an effort to unearth any pictures you can find. They’re gold, treasure.

Go for it, even if it’s last minute, and even if it might be painful. Recently, I contacted an old friend I’d met during my early work in criminal court. I wanted to know how he was doing 30 years after he’d been witness to a violent crime. I agonized over whether I should call him, hesitant to revive the difficult memory. He called me back immediately, cleared his schedule, and in our meeting he said that only someone who’d been in the courtroom that day could ever understand what he’d gone through. It was uplifting for both of us, something I’ll never forget. Don’t worry if your bond is thin—people are grateful to discover that others are thinking of them.

With more and more research suggesting that our social circles, and face time with people we care about, keeps us mentally healthy and helps stave off depression, it’s more important than ever to connect with people who are part of our backstory. Good people are hard to find; once we know where they are, we shouldn’t let them slip away. So put reunions with old friends on your calendar today.