Growing up, my family moved a few times due to my father’s jobs in sales and consulting. From Denver to Seattle, and eventually Atlanta, my childhood was a cross-country experience that influenced my development from a very young age. The move to Atlanta took place just before I began my freshman year of high school. At that time, if I wanted to stay in touch with the small community I grew up in, I had to write and mail letters or, if time allowed me to take up the phone line, an email. When my parents would let me, maybe around the holidays, I’d get to make a long distance call from a landline (cue the Stranger Things theme music) for no more than 30 minutes.
Then, social media changed the game. Suddenly, I was getting friend requests from people I hadn’t been in contact with since first grade! But once you’re connected with your middle school bestie, what do you do? If you’re anything like me, you occasionally “like” their profile pictures or wish them the obligatory “happy birthday.” Sadly, it’s safe to say that a Facebook friendship does not always translate to being friends in real life. Sometimes this is okay, but what if we want more? How do we rekindle or maintain relationships we so valued once upon a time?
Here are three ways I’ve been able to keep in touch with childhood friends across the miles:
Forgive and forget
It can be fun to reflect on the past, but we shouldn’t actually try to relive it. Whatever happened in kindergarten should stay in kindergarten. If you want to have real, grown-up friendships, you can’t be petty. We all make mistakes when we’re young and just beginning to figure out who we are and how we fit into the world.
This is something I try to keep in mind when someone from my childhood sends me a friend request. I was bullied mercilessly as a kid, and, if any coming-of-age movie tells me anything, I should gladly deny requests from former bullies in an attempt to “get back at them.” But hating someone for something they did or said when they were 7 or 12 is unfair. Forgiving people for who they used to be before or during puberty allows us to enjoy who they grew up to be.
Take it offline
Online dating experts suggest taking the conversation off of the app to develop real relationships. I believe the same logic applies to maintaining contact with old friends. Social media is fine for an initial re-introduction, but there is something special about getting personal texts from a friend who checks in when they find out my parent is sick or calling someone to hear about her new baby. Social media often offers a highlight reel, but phone conversations help us get the full story.
One of my favorite pastimes in junior high and high school was writing colorfully decorated and elaborately folded notes to pass to my girl friends in the hallway. The letters were often riddled with nicknames and code words that only the writer and reader could understand. I still remember the excitement and anticipation when I received a note; I felt honored that someone took (too much) time out of their day to craft this correspondence. Why should we lose that feeling as we get older? I have received some absolutely exquisite letters from dear friends over the years, delicately scripted on beautiful stationary. The contents of the letter are not as “juicy” as they were 15 to 20 years ago, but the fact that someone took time to let me know they were thinking of me is a gesture that I appreciate.
When I attended my 10th high school reunion with an open mind, I found that some of my grade school enemies were actually pretty likeable, and later, they became some of my greatest friends and business partners. You never know if the mean girl at the lunch table will turn out to be a talented artist who helps you launch your creative career. If you would have told 16-year-old me that the cool kids would become some of my favorite personal photographers, designers, and networking buddies, I would have scoffed at the idea. In fact, an open mind and a willing heart could create opportunities you never knew were possible when you reconnect with childhood friends.
Originally published on March 27, 2019.