it wasn't me, I wasn't there / I was stone drunk, it isn't clear
March 24, 2015 10:44 AM   Subscribe

I used to be very, very wild. Now I am very, very boring. How can I bridge the gap to get back in touch with the people who only knew me as I was back then? Difficulty level: I don't want to talk about the old days at all.

For a lot of people, the transition from wild to boring is just something that happens gradually as you get older. For me, it happened overnight, when I was still young. There was one specific incident that resulted in me packing up 100% of my wildness and moving to The Boringlands for good. The incident itself was very unfortunate but the 'move' was absolutely for the best. I am so much happier being boring and I don't miss anything about my old life at all. A lot of times, I can't even believe the person who lived through the wild years was actually me... it just feels so distant and foreign to recall.

As collateral damage to that one specific incident, I instantly dropped the entire circle of friends associated with that period of my life without saying a word -- I just never spoke to any of them ever again, never answered another text, email, or phone call. That was almost a decade ago. Most of them have moved on, but a few of them have been consistent about trying to get in touch with me via email and text over the years, which is so thoughtful and kind. None of these people have been anything but sweet and dear to me, I just associated them so strongly with Bad Times (it's how we all met) that I needed to keep them at a distance while I was busy securing my proverbial oxygen mask. No one I've met since then has any idea what I used to get up to; I keep all of those experiences very close to the vest.

Now that I'm at the point where I have the psychological wherewithal to reconnect with my homies of yore, I have no idea how to do so under these restrictions:
- I don't want to talk about the specific incident with anyone but my therapist. Any more detail than "And then A Thing happened" and stuff gets dicey.
- I don't want to reminisce about when I was/we were all wild, in no small part because I'm (imo, rightfully) deeply embarrassed by and ashamed at the way I used to behave.

Mostly, I just don't know how to acknowledge the 180-degree behavioral shift and massive re-prioritizations that have occurred in my life without immediately stepping into a field of emotional landmines. Is it possible for me, as I am now, to rekindle my friendships with all of the people who only knew me back then, with an eye only on the future rather than the past?

Specifically, I'm looking for help with finding precise choices of words and/or general conversational tactics that might help to contain or address at arm's length the mess and awkwardness inherent in "Hey, old friend, you've probably gathered that some stuff happened that made me drop out for a really long time, but I can't/shouldn't/don't want to talk about it. Suffice it to say that every part of my life is very different now! I'm sorry and I miss you, can we catch up?"

Thank you, MeFites.
posted by divined by radio to Human Relations (17 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: And since I failed to mention this -- the specific incident I'm talking about wasn't something I did, it was something someone else did to me. I'm totally OK with owning up to all of the stupid and awful shit I did, apologizing, taking responsibility, etc., I just don't want to revisit something that was visited upon me against my will.
posted by divined by radio at 10:47 AM on March 24, 2015

I have similar experiences of totally cutting people out for my own sanity (and because they were abusive assholes or friends of..), and then them reappearing (largely because of Facebook.) In my case, these aren't people I want to be friends with again, rather people I just need to be polite and civil with. One of my ex-friends who really let me down FB messaged me to apologise and I responded with:

'Hi B. It is surprising but lovely to hear from you. Thank you very much for getting in touch - I really appreciate your apology. It wasn't the best time of my life, but it was a long time ago and we were all young and therefore stupid and easily manipulated.

How are you these days? I'm back at university studying (blahblablah)'

I share this as a demonstration of wording and tactics. Acknowledge shared history, make brief and cliched comment about being young and that being in the past, quickly change tack to what you're doing now. That's generally a lot more interesting to people than dragging up the past, and they might be trying to avoid that too. I think being full of enthusiasm about the present and future will give out a strong enough message that you don't want to dwell.

Good luck. Having made peace with some of my own ghosts from the past I feel a lot healthier.
posted by Dorothea_in_Rome at 10:54 AM on March 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

First off, although I get what you mean, it might help if you stop thinking of Current You as "Boring." You're probably a lot less boring now, to be honest.

It's a decade later, you've moved on. Assume others have too. Some haven't, and if you find that's the case, there's no reason to keep in contact with them.

You will probably have to acknowledge your past at some point in the beginning, if only to get them to drop it.

I would just go with "You know, that was kind of a time in my life that I really don't want to revisit. I've moved on. I'd prefer to focus on now and the future."

If they've moved on too, they'll understand. If they don't understand, they're not really worth re-visiting.

I did the same thing, changed almost overnight and dropped out of that circle of friends. In my case I'm the only one who moved on and any attempt at re-visiting with someone turned out to be a waste of time.
posted by bondcliff at 10:58 AM on March 24, 2015 [22 favorites]

I was a professional whitewater guide back in the day. There was debauchery. I have reconnected with a number of those folks on Facebook, and we talk about our modern mundane lives. There is still whitewater paddling and Ultimate frisbee playing, along with, now, kids. And even the occasional drinking story and/or mentions of sobriety.

But we don't wallow in our pasts, we are people who had similar backgrounds, and have now gone on to other things. I'm actually amazed by how little reminiscing there is.
posted by straw at 10:58 AM on March 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

I know you phrased things to make the question as eye-catching and simply-explained as possible, but you probably shouldn't use the word boring. You didn't choose to stop doing anything at all; you do more with your life than breathe, work a job, and pay rent, everybody does. You like your life, you are happy with your choice to stop doing (wild crap) but you also chose to start doing something. Part of not talking about ThingA is talking about ThingB instead.

I'll suggest that the people who continue to try to contact you are a combination of (1) people who have also realized they can't live on wild crap, and are now hoping to talk with you about new stuff. And (2) people who are all strung out and see some kind of success they can latch on to. Avoid type 2, they'll drag you down like a concrete block. But type 1 could be genuinely worthwhile conversations. I encourage you to take that risk and get in touch, but do it carefully.
posted by aimedwander at 11:00 AM on March 24, 2015 [4 favorites]

"Hey, it's been years and I wanted to reconnect - so how are you? I'm living in __, doing a lot of ___. I'd like to catch up and see where you're at these days"
So why did you disappear all those years ago/what happened?
"Suffice it to say, I decided it was a bad scene for me, and I've been a lot happier since I ___ [quit drinking/left town/whatever the change was]. So, [change subject to present day]"
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:01 AM on March 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

You don't live in The Boringlands. You live in Stable Town. Stable Town is pretty awesome, isn't it?

If you have missed your friends' company/the parts of them that were separate from the wild stuff you got up to, try a brief email exchange or phone conversation. If they have good social skills, they'll notice that you don't talk about the "bad old days" and won't take the conversation there; if they do address it, just be upfront -- "Hey, yeah, that wasn't a great period in my life and I'm so happy to have moved on. You know what I'm interested in these days? This really cool new..." and if they don't respect that boundary, drop 'em like a hot potato.

But I have to say -- you phrased your question as if you're feeling guilty for dropping friends who sound like they were really unhealthy for you. They are perfectly in their rights to wonder what happened to you, but you're not obligated to connect with them. You don't owe anyone friendship just because they want to be friends with you. So if this is out of guilt, don't look back - live your new awesome life in Stable Town with your Stable Friends with no regrets.
posted by rogerrogerwhatsyourrvectorvicto at 11:28 AM on March 24, 2015 [9 favorites]

There is hope I fucking promise you. I went through a very similar sort of thing between ten years ago and now -- I think lots of people who had some Vida Loca shit going on have -- although I didn't go totally no-contact with the lot I did sever a lot of relationships that were bad news, or that were associated with bad news. And I've reconnected to people now and again.

A bunch of these people you are going to reconnect with are going to be the same people you left, just more mature and chill and less prone to drama and anti-social/illegal acts and hopefully recovered from the worst vices. Some won't but you'll be able to tell pretty quickly (especially if certain substances are involved) and you can steer clear of them. And do steer clear of them; you can leave a party if it gets too wild in a way you don't dig anymore. I think you're long, long past the point where you're out to prove anything to anyone.

And otherwise, in a month or two, you'll be hanging out at the park having a coffee with an old friend and talking about the movie you just saw or the dinner you're going to have and no one's the wiser to the fact that you two peed in the window of an unattended police vehicle one night a decade ago.

TL;DR - Is it possible for me, as I am now, to rekindle my friendships with all of the people who only knew me back then, with an eye only on the future rather than the past?

Yes, it absolutely is and it's absolutely worth trying. And if someone asks you about your past and you give them the "eh, it's a long story" or "just a lot of shit I don't want to talk about", it'll be a great litmus test of them being an okay person to reconnect with if the a) press you on it (bad!) or b) say "that's cool" (good!)
posted by a manly man person who is male and masculine at 11:29 AM on March 24, 2015 [6 favorites]

You're not the only person who doesn't like to talk about the past. You might be surprised at how many of your old friends don't want to dredge up that old stuff either. And even the ones who do will still be likely to take a hint and not talk about it for your sake. The ones who keep harping on it and pushing for explanations will probably be a very small percentage.

If I were you I'd take it on a case by case basis. Of course you should apologize for things that were your fault, but for everything else a general statement such as 'That wasn't a really great time for me. I don't really like talking about it" should be enough to let most people know where you're coming from. Say that a few times and you'll quickly learn who's going to let it drop and who's not going to let it go.
posted by sam_harms at 12:00 PM on March 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

I tend to be up front about what I need from someone and try to never beat around the bush. I would go with something very much like you posted above, in writing (because I sometime have my thoughts written all over my face.)

"Hey there, Pal! Wow I've missed you. A lot of stuff has changed for me since we last spoke, and I actually don't think about the old days any more. I'm better off! But I would love to catch up with you about what's going on in your life now."
posted by lyssabee at 12:21 PM on March 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

If the people you'd most like to reconnect with are ones who've emailed you over the years, I'd try emailing back with an abbreviated version of the above.

That it's wonderful of them to have reached out, that you very much appreciate it. You had to get your stuff together and take time for yourself to get clean and put the past behind you. Now that you've done that, you'd love to hear what's new with them. Lead with something fun from your current life, even if it's trying to perfect your meatloaf recipe.

A good friend will hear the "put the past behind me" and not pry. If they do ask, just say you don't want to talk about the past. As others have said, real friends will respect that.
posted by ldthomps at 12:42 PM on March 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

I think a good strategy is to say something that gently acknowledges the elephant in the room (the past and your disappearance) and equally closes the door on it, while at the same time offering an opening to reconnecting. Something like: "You know, those got to be pretty tough times for me and I just had to bail on everyone to go off and get my shit straight. I don't really feel like talking about the old days, but I do miss friends like you and I'd love to catch up."

One issue for you, however, is that any meaningful and organic kind of catching up may involve what's gone on in your friend's life and yours since the last time you were in contact, and this may involve things that happened during the intervening years to people you knew back then. It's one thing to say that you don't want to talk about the old days, it's another thing to have a prohibition on mentioning anyone you might have mutually known during those days. Do you have a sense whether this larger social group is still intact? One thing that tends to happen as we grow older, is that the kind of large social groups that may form among people in their teens and twenties tend to disaggregate as we approach our 30s.
posted by slkinsey at 1:26 PM on March 24, 2015 [3 favorites]

i had a friend when i was in high school - we were wild, with all sorts of embarrassing incidents - he had a rougher time of it than me, some of it through his own doing and some of it through stuff done to him. we fell out of touch when i broke up with his best friend. through the years we'd occasionally say hi if we happened upon each other. facebook showed me that at some point he had a gigantic turn around - not only did he stop all the wild stuff, but he was suddenly holding opinions and views that are antithetical to the guy i knew. it's obvious to me that he has changed and doesn't want to discuss any of the whatever we got up to back in the old days., as (i hope) a good friend, i never bring it up. it's not an elephant in the room, we just approach each other as we are now. it's nice. he's a good guy. i don't feel fiercely connected to him like i once did and likely never will again, but the casual sort of "oh hi person i used to know" connection is pleasant.

i think if you approach these friends in a moving forward sort of way that they will take the lead and just follow you into a new way of engaging and relating to each other. a simple "i missed you, what are you up to these days!" is a good place to start from. if they bring up the past you can just say, "oh, that was a very long time ago and i don't really want to get into it - so you say you started a new job? that sounds neat! tell me more about it!" and if they bring it up again, they might not be the kind of friend you need in your life.
posted by nadawi at 1:27 PM on March 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

If I were reconnecting with someone who had been through something, I'd naturally be curious about it - especially if I knew parts of it, had heard rumours, or whatever. That said, I'd also want them to be direct with me - not deflecting things - if we were going to rekindle our friendship.

I don't think there's anything wrong with saying nothing at all about that time without being asked. But, if asked, I'd go with being direct and saying something along the lines of, "I know that I disappeared really suddenly. I'm comfortable saying [whatever you feel okay saying about whatever happened] but I don't want to talk about it beyond that. I hope you're okay with that!" and then maintaining that boundary. If they're really a friend, they'll respect that boundary. If they're not, go back to ignoring texts/calls/whatnot.

(I am super duper curious about WHY you want to reconnect. It's been my experience that people either reconnect with old friends for the purpose of "hey, remember when..?" conversations or because they want to be reminded of who they used to be.)
posted by VioletU at 5:32 PM on March 24, 2015

It might be easier to addressess the things you want to via email or text before you meet up with these people, just so you can get your reluctance to talk about the past out of the way before they are standing besides you.
If these folks respond that they're fine with your conditions related to getting back together, then they can let you know in their reply and then you'll know if you want to meet up with them. Having this distance might make it easier for you to fully express yourself.
posted by Fister Roboto at 10:25 PM on March 24, 2015

> But I have to say -- you phrased your question as if you're feeling guilty for dropping friends who sound like they were really unhealthy for you.

The friends are not bad people because they were part of a scene that turned out to be unhealthy for the asker. I am sensitive about this because I am someone who was essentially dropped by a close friend who decided he had to quit drinking, and as part of that he (like the asker, though not so thoroughly) cut his ties with the people he had been drinking with, including me. I totally understood why he needed to quit drinking, and I understood why he felt he couldn't be hanging out with people he associated with that period, but it still hurt. We were all good people, we just enjoyed drinking and it wasn't good for him. Mind you, he didn't refuse to see us ever again, and I wound up occasionally visiting him at the bookstore where he worked and bringing him coffee, and we had good conversations, but it was never the kind of real friendship it had been before, even though he clearly held no grudge against me or his other drinking buddies and was fine seeing us from time to time.

I think if the asker is ready to reconnect with some old friends, "I'm sorry and I miss you, can we catch up?" accompanied by the caveat "I'd really prefer not to talk about the old days" is excellent. The important thing is to try not to feel guilty, ashamed, or any of that stuff to the extent you can help it; you did what you had to do, you're moving on with your life (as are your old friends), and you're reaching out in friendship. That's a good thing! (And of course if any of them insist on revisiting stuff that bothers you, you should just drop them again without hesitation or remorse. The onus is on them to be the kind of friend you need.)
posted by languagehat at 6:51 AM on March 25, 2015 [2 favorites]

You can tell people "I don't want to discuss X" until your voice is raw, but some people will just keep talking about X because that's the topic. Have a mental list of alternate topics Hey, wasn't S married to J? What happened to J? or Did you finish that pottery course? or How did you guys do in the Great Storm of '11? I once derailed my Mom from a tantrum by asking her about drapes. Initially, my siblings looked at me like I was from Pluto, until Mom took the bait, and a screaming match was averted. It can also be effective to say Ugh, the 'Old Days,' let's talk about something more interesting, like how insanely cute your Baby/ dog/ SO is.

Some people, on learning you are mortified by X, and dislike talking about Those Days, will work it into conversations as often as possible. Drop them.

Acknowledge those who kindly tried to reach out to you. It was so thoughtful of you to reach out to me. Though I didn't respond at the time, it was a comfort.

I'm saying this to me as well as you. Forgive yourself, cut yourself slack. You deserve it.
posted by theora55 at 10:21 AM on March 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

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