Hooking up with old friends
June 7, 2005 9:34 PM   Subscribe

How are you about being contacted by old friends? Not in the singles scene kind of way, but in the "old friends" kind of way. A general question - not really seeking insight or advice.

For example, maybe you're married, have kids, or you've switched genders, or maybe sold the farm and moved to Alaska. Recently out of prison. Maybe you've bartended at the same place for 10 years, or still live in that corner apartment after so many years. Suddenly, you get an email or phone call from someone you last spoke with 20 years ago who is just saying hello. Maybe they live in your city. Maybe you couldn't stand them. Maybe you had sex once. Maybe you worked together. What's it like to open that email or take that call, once you've skimmed formalities, and consider reconnecting? Are you glad? Afraid? Skeptical? Excited?

Why I ask: I've contacted a considerable number of acquaintances over the past 5 years, mostly from high school, but also from college. Some people are receptive, but others are understandably stand-offish. I guess I have a hard time letting go of relationships. I like to pop in and find out what's up. I take friendship very seriously, and value lasting relationships. I'm not the stalking type (happily married, family, etc.).

But it's so easy these days to think of an old friend, Google them (or Zaba-ping them), and want to just know what they're up to. Is this the fine line of stalking? Am I unfulfilled in my current relationships? Am I seeking the ultimate friend? Am I stuck in the past?

Am I normal?
posted by ValveAnnex to Human Relations (19 answers total)
How I feel about it depends on the friend: some of us simply drifted apart and I'd love to hear from them; other times there was a big blowup and I'm quite looking forward to not hearing from them again (only one of those, thankfully).

From the other angle, I've contacted a number of old friends; all of them were polite; one didn't return the call (and I didn't call again); and in one case the friendship has gotten stronger (currently engaged in a lengthy email exchange with him on any number of topics, and he and his wife stopped in on the way through town so we could have lunch).
posted by Tuwa at 9:41 PM on June 7, 2005

This has happened to me several times in the past few years (my name is extremely rare, in fact I'm the only one of me to be found on the internet at this point, so I'm really easy to Google). In every case I have been very pleased to hear from the person in question. But then I have pretty unambiguous history - basically once close friends that I just fell out of touch with - with the people in question.

I can think of only a couple of people I'd really rather not look me up, and only one that might on the outside... and that is an individual who carried a torch for me way too long and for as far as I could tell reasons that had little to do with me and a lot to do with their own screwed up personal issues. But really it wouldn't bother me much if anyone looked me up, though again those couple might not be thrilled at a lukewarm reception. As long as there isn't junk like that in the background, I see no reason not to take advantage of the ability to locate people if you want to talk to them. I can think of several people I haven't been able to look up who I wish would find me.
posted by nanojath at 9:55 PM on June 7, 2005

I like it - but it's gotta be over email. Don't show up at my door or make my phone ring.
posted by scarabic at 10:36 PM on June 7, 2005

Best answer: IMO Zaba and the info you can get off of it is a little creepy, I'd rather it didn't exist. The same goes for personal information on google, but the genie's out of the bottle on both of those and there isn't any stuffing it back in.

I'm unfortunate enough to have a completely unique name, so I'm easy to google/zaba. Luckily, my username has been used by at least one other person over the years, but I've actually given serious thought to changing to something much more common, for added privacy.

Overall, with how you're using it, I think it's ok as long as you don't take it personally if someone doesn't return your calls/e-mails.

I've had a few old acquaintences try to look me up over the years and I've just ignored the voice mails/e-mails.

If any of the people had actually been close friends with had tried to contact me, I probably would have reciprocated, but I can't guarantee it. Most of the time, I'd rather think of the friendship that was, rather than find out about someone whom I really don't know anymore and probably don't have much in common with now. Chances are that the conversation would be more awkward than rewarding from my perspective.

Then again, I've always been shitty at keeping up with old friends and probably have a bit of guilt about it too :).
posted by freshgroundpepper at 10:39 PM on June 7, 2005

I've often thought about emailing old friends I've lost touch with, and in a few cases I went ahead and did it. No one was explicitly put off to hear from me, though a couple never wrote back. For the most part, they were glad to hear from me, and I just shrugged off the ones who didn't reply. They probably had their reasons, and those reasons probably had little to do with me (these were people I'd been on good terms with when we last spoke).

I can't think of anyone offhand I would specifically not want to hear from, though if I really gave it some thought there might be one or two. There are also a few cases where I wish certain people would drop me a line, whether it's to renew old ties after drifting apart or to mend a fence. Generally, I would probably be surprised, often pleasantly so, to hear from an old friend or acquaintance. In a couple of cases it might be initially awkward to resume contact, but in most cases I'd give it a go.

I think it's normal to think about old friends and want to resume contact. I don't really see any harm in it unless:
a) they explicitly asked you not to contact them, or
b) you repeatedly badger them after receiving a lukewarm (or non-existent) response.
For the most part, the worst thing that can happen is that they don't respond or tell you that they don't want to renew the acquaintance, and you're back where you started.

I think the distinction between curiosity and stalking has everything to do with purpose. If you're thinking fondly about an old friend and look them up for the purpose of sending them a letter to say hello, that isn't stalking. If you're trying to force your way back into someone's life, that is stalking. The key is to respect the other person's wishes.
posted by Aster at 11:12 PM on June 7, 2005

Anecdotally, I recently googled my 7th grade teacher, who I had really liked, and found his current e-mail address. I decided to put all my cards on the table in the first letter, rather than simply pinging him with a "is this you?" type letter. It paid off really well. I had written him, telling him who I was, what year he had taught me, included a few stories he might recall, and told him that he had always been one of my favorite teachers for a few specific reasons. His response was great, and we have since been writing back and forth about once a month, talking about our memories of 25 years ago and about teaching in general--as I am now a teacher.

To anyone interested in making contact with a long-lost friend or colleague, I recommend taking into consideration that if you write just a little blurb, you may leave the person wondering what you're after. If you want to bridge the gap of time, you should make a pitch for yourself--not necessarily a strong one, but a sincere and appealing one.
posted by squirrel at 11:35 PM on June 7, 2005

School reunions serve a purpose.
I'm with Scarabic. I value my hermitness(?-age). I just got off the phone with my cousin who wants me to attend a BBQ. I said my food is already prepared. I will make up excuses. But at least with email you have time to ponder and approach things comfortably on your own terms. Am I antisocial? Yes, so deal.
On the other hand I did google an old friend a few months ago and emailed him. He came by (within 30 mins!), picked me up and we went to the beach. We've been getting together irregularly since and it's great.
posted by peacay at 11:36 PM on June 7, 2005

I've only ever had one long lost friend contact me, I was happy to hear from her but soon realized why we hadn't kept in touch and our contact tapered off. A couple months ago I got in touch with someone whose old address I found, pretty much the same thing happened. Curiosity satisfied at least.
posted by cali at 12:27 AM on June 8, 2005

I've stayed in touch with exactly two people from my high school years.... and have no interest in contacts from anyone else at this point. I've attended two reunions and found that folks were generally the same as they were in HS.... I won't be attending any more.

I agree with the "e/mail, don't call or drop by"...if someone is interested, they will respond, if not, then you probably e/mailed me...no hard feelings, just let the past be!
posted by HuronBob at 5:24 AM on June 8, 2005

I think it can be very nice, and I also think it's normal to want to check in with people who were once important in your life. On the other hand, as cali notes, I think it rarely rekindles anything (although it can). Most friendships, as special as they seem, are a function of time and place as much as of soul-connection.
posted by OmieWise at 5:26 AM on June 8, 2005

Really, it depends on how the friendship ended. A friend of mine and I drifted apart in college. She e-mailed me a couple of months ago and we've been chatting ever since. I've really enjoyed talking to her again because there are no bad feelings about how our friendship ended the first time around. We were both just at difference places in life & our friendship stopped serving a purpose. We're nowhere near as close as we used to be, but I enjoy talking to her all the same.

Another friendship didn't end as well and I have no desire to talk to him again. He isn't getting this though and still e-mails me every few months. I've stopped opening the e-mails.

I agree with everyone else who says to email instead of call or show up at the doorstep. It saves us all from an awkward and uncomfortable moment.
posted by whatideserve at 5:51 AM on June 8, 2005

You're normal...at least in this respect.

I have contacted and been contacted by old friends and ex-boyfriends. How I feel about it really depends on the person. I don't go out of my way to find someone; if a mutual acquaintance mentions a person that piques my interest, I take it further. Everyone can use more friends!
posted by suchatreat at 6:27 AM on June 8, 2005

I love hearing from old friends I've just lost touch with, but agree with everyone else that it's better to email / call first. Now, if it's a friend where we drifted apart or outgrew each other, I may not be so receptive. But in general, I'm always willing to chat and catch up, as long as there are no expectations of becoming best friends again.
posted by geeky at 6:42 AM on June 8, 2005

Most friendships, as special as they seem, are a function of time and place as much as of soul-connection.

It's surprising how true this is - the latter part is important, but it is tough to keep up a long-distance friendship, and weaker 'soul connections' can become quite central friendships if you're thrown together for a lot of time. You work out the ways in which you do relate, and come to appreciate elements of people you might not have initially sought.

I've looked people up on friendster, where everyone's basically asking for it, and I went to my 10 year high school reunion (got back in touch with some people, but have subsequently largely lost touch again). I can't think of anyone I found out of nowhere online, but I have been found that way by a few people (prob because I have a less common name and had a personal site up for years). Unfortunately, for me most of the people who've gotten in touch are ones I would not have particularly made an effort to get in touch with. this is not to say I dislike them, but just that they don't stand anywhere in particular with me - they were nice, ordinary people who I have easily forgotten. And of course, that is exactly how the ones I think about probably think of me... these things are rarely fair.

However, there is no harm in sending off a quick email. I like hearing from people, even those I don't expect to stay in touch with, so long as they are respectful of the degree of interest I show, just as I try to be of the degree of interest others show toward me. If you are always the making contact, back off. But a quick, 'hey I still exist, so do you, cool!' is fun in most situations, unless the relationship ended painfully.
posted by mdn at 6:43 AM on June 8, 2005

Basically, I'd say if you feel like it, send the emails. I was really pleased to hear from the couple of old friends who have contacted me, even though it didn't lead to a renewed friendship. After an initial flurry of emails, there wasn't enough interest on either side to keep in touch. There was a lot of geographical distance involved though.

I would say that if they don't reply, drop it and don't take it personally. I tried to find an elementary school friend, sent an email and never got anything back. Oh well.
posted by mygothlaundry at 6:53 AM on June 8, 2005

Best answer: I like hearing from random people from my past, and I'll contact random people from time to time. Most recently I wrote to my old fifth grade teacher [not exactly what you were asking about, but still] to say that his class was the very best one that I ever took and thanks for instilling a love of reading in me, I am now a librarian/editor, etc.... I got a really sweet email back from him and I hope I at least made his day. We don't stay in touch, but I know how to get in touch with him if for some reason I wanted to.

This is how I usually connect with people from my past, send a quick "Hey this is how I am doing, how are you doing?" note, [including info about yourself as opposed to just saying "hi it's me how are you" usually gets good results] I usually hear back from them and then stick them in the address book along with the other people I communicate with more or less frequently. Occasionally we find that in our adult lives we have something in common and we'll stay in touch more closely. I've rarely had this work badly [one person contacted me who I did not feel charitably towards and I told her not to contact me for a while, one or two people I contacted who I wanted to keep in touch with who drifted away more than I would have wanted, it happens]

I'd suggest if you contact random people from your past you find a way to make it clear early on that you're not on the singles scene [I have gotten at leats a few "hey old flame, I am now on the market again!" emails which are sort of sweet but engender a diferen response than "hi how's your life?"] but otherwise I'd say yeah, it's normal.
posted by jessamyn at 7:40 AM on June 8, 2005

I'm one of those random-contact-with-people-from-the-past people. Except I'm terrible with small talk.

So it goes as far as "Oh my gosh! It's been so long!" and then we don't email back after the initial "Married, got a degree, had a kid, here's a link to a picture." If I do keep up conversation, it tends to be "What ever happened to so and so" or "Remember that time you got really drunk and..."

I also, creepily, keep up with most of my ex boyfriends. I send them birthday emails, congratulate them on kids and marriages and house purchases, and then I wait a year to email them on their birthday again.

I have the same handle I've had since my modem was 1200 bps, so I have gotten contacted by people I used to know. If I was really friends with someone, I'm friends with them whenever they need me as soon as they make the effort basically until I die.

And those people who I've harbored resentment or drama or weirdness over? Well, if I can get over it (or I can make up for it), I'm a better person for it.
posted by Gucky at 9:07 AM on June 8, 2005

I've twice been emailed by old friends. I was pleased to hear from them and sent back long, chatty emails. This was four and five years ago and have yet to hear back. Ah well.
posted by deborah at 10:13 AM on June 8, 2005

Response by poster: This has been a great exchange for me. I appreciate the feedback. I feel more normal about having done this, but always wondered in the back of my mind if there was a reason or need to do it. I've re-established some great friendships with old acquaintances, who warmly received me and continue to be close.

I've been contacted a few times as well, as I too have a totally unique name. I have to agree with both of these statements:
"Most of the time, I'd rather think of the friendship that was, rather than find out about someone whom I really don't know anymore and probably don't have much in common with now." (freshgroundpepper)

"send a quick "Hey this is how I am doing, how are you doing?" note, [including info about yourself as opposed to just saying "hi it's me how are you" usually gets good results]" (jessamyn)
posted by ValveAnnex at 12:25 PM on June 8, 2005

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