How to Rebuild Relationships after a Long Pause

“So, how’ve you been?!”

You search for the words. Between unrelenting work chaos, managing virtual school, and the constant anxiety of dealing with a pandemic, it’s hard to know how to respond to a well-intended reach out like this.

“Uh, we’re hanging in there! Crazy time right!?” You awkwardly stammer back.

Whether it’s physically seeing your coworkers for the first time in a year, dialing into the family zoom calls you’ve been ghosting lately, or striking up a chat with the other parents on the playground, most of us we want these relationships back. We miss the joy, support, and camaraderie that came from these interactions. Yet, plugging back into social relationships that have taken a long pause can be a little awkward.

Here are four tips to help:

  1. Acknowledge the weirdness (If there actually is any)

If you’ve been ignoring texts or bailing on virtual happy hours, it’s helpful to briefly acknowledge any weirdness. You don’t need to go too deep, a simple, “This last year has been challenging; I apologize for the lack of communication.  Please know, I’m really happy to be back with you,” can address that elephant in the room. But sometimes (most of the time) that weirdness is all in our own head.  We’re the centerpiece of our own lives, and just supporting actors in other people’s lives. It’s probably not as awkward as you think.

  1. Have realistic expectations  

It’s not going to feel like the “good old days” overnight. It’s been a while and a lot has changed. Don’t be surprised if it takes a few interactions to start finding your social sea legs again. Give yourself (and the other people) time to work back up to the level of closeness you had before.

  1. Start small 

It’s tempting to want to jump back into life as we knew it the second we get the go-ahead. Instead of immediately booking a girl’s trip or a whole team retreat, try shorter, more casual interactions. This helps everyone (including you) relax and get back in the groove.

  1. Be honest about your own change 

Job loss, stress, illness, all of that makes us reevaluate our lives. We often come out of it with different priorities and different beliefs. Other people have changed and so have you. If you’re finding yourself not interested in the old conversations or less aligned in terms of what’s important, that’s okay. As we begin to (hopefully) reemerge, open your mind to new hobbies, new friends, and new expectations.

It’s tempting to want to “get back to normal.” I hear you. But after a year+ of chaos, the truth is, our relationships will not be the same as they were in March of 2020. I don’t know a single person who has not been through immense challenge and change this year. At the very least, a recalibration on what matters.

These relationships might not be the same as they were, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be good. Better, even.