There are countless reasons why we may lose touch with friends – more often than not without really meaning to. You know how it goes. Family and work commitments get in the way. Life events conspire against you. You're forced to cancel a couple of dates although you have every intention of rearranging 'soon'.
Alternatively, maybe you've fallen out over a silly disagreement and taken time out to heal your wounds. Either way, before you know it, a few years have passed – and you seem to have dropped off one another's radar.
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Feeling regretful? The good news is that it's now easier than ever to get back in touch with long-lost friends, thanks to the internet. Even if you can't find them on Facebook, chances are you'll stumble across someone who knows where they are.
All it takes is a quick email or phone call and – just like that! – you're in one another's lives again. You can finally get round to rearranging that catch-up, and reminisce about all the experiences you shared and people you knew in the past. But what happens next?
What holds you together?
Let's try to manage our expectations here. Sometimes, we drift apart from friends because the 'glue' that holds us together – working for the same company or having kids at the same school, for instance – isn't there any more. If your shared social lives were centred around moaning about your boss over a bottle of wine after work every day, your friendship was probably destined to flounder when one or both of you moved on.
Yes, your former colleague may be over the moon to hear from you again. And you may finally have that much-postponed catch-up. But true friendships need a little more than shared experiences in order to flourish. Some people serve a purpose for a particular period, but it takes something special to sustain the relationship in the long-term. It's the difference between 'friends' and 'acquaintances'. So don't be disappointed if – following the initial flurry of activity when you're first back in touch – the two of you start to drift again.
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How much have you changed?
Right, that's the reality check out of the way. Let's focus now on those genuine friendships that just happened to hit a lull due to a misunderstanding or because life got in the way for a while. 'You can definitely rebuild a friendship after a break,' insists psychotherapist Lara Hickey-Webb from the Priory's Wellbeing Centre in Southampton. 'Remember, the things you liked about that person in the first place are more than likely still there, in abundance.'
But what if a silly argument was partly to blame for driving you apart in the first place? 'Time may well have healed any rift,' says Hickey-Webb. 'A period of mourning for a friendship that was seemingly “lost” isn't a bad thing. After some time apart, a different – and sometimes better – kind of relationship can be built, based around the kind of people you are now. You may well appreciate each other more, having not found a similar friendship to replace the one you had – with all its uniqueness, memories and laughs.'
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Can you forgive and forget?
Of course, there's always the chance that rekindling the friendship will also reignite any unresolved issues or feelings of resentment. This is particularly likely if the rift happened because one or both of you couldn't face having an argument. Sometimes, it just seems easier to shut yourself away and sulk! But if you truly value the friendship – and, let's face it, you do – it's important to get any problems ironed out as soon as possible.
The trick, of course, is to handle things differently this time. 'Do try to address the issue from the outset,' advises Hickey-Webb. 'Look at how you might communicate more effectively now, and what didn't work previously and why. Be completely open about what your expectations had been, and why they weren't realistic originally. More than anything, find a way to voice your true feelings, both negative and positive. After all, friendships are supposed to add value to our lives, aren't they?'
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