The Power and Joy of Reconnecting With Old Friends
There's nothing quite like meeting up with chums from your early days
So, old friends,
Fill me in slow, old friends
Start from hello, old friends.
I want the when, where and how.
Old friends do
Tend to become old habit
How much I missed you till now.
— Merrily We Roll Along, Stephen Sondheim
Lately, I’ve had a little spring in my step and I know why. It’s because I recently came back from a reunion of five of my old camp friends, most of whom I hadn’t seen in over 40 years. We met up at Interlochen, the arts camp in Northern Michigan where we first found each other as teenagers. I’m smiling just thinking about them.
Three of us had performed in The Music Man in 1972: Dr. Richard Davis, now an ophthalmologist and University of North Carolina professor, was Harold Hill; Laura Ross, now an accomplished New York City-based book editor and marketer, was in the ensemble, and I, a journalist, was Winthrop. (Kathy Manning, aka Marian the Librarian, couldn’t make it because she is running for Congress in Greensboro, N.C., but she FaceTimed with us.) Rounding out the group were Dr. Susan Strow Stegeman, now an ophthalmologist in Springfield, Ill., back then, a wonderfully talented ballet dancer; Ken Posner, a retired lawyer outside Detroit, and Lisa Gottlieb, managing director at Compassionate Communication and a school social worker, who's based in Ann Arbor, Mich. Five of us brought our spouses, who were great sports to join us.
Third Time Recently Reconnecting With Old Friends
The Interlochen reunion was the third time this year I’ve reconnected with friends and colleagues from decades ago.
A few months ago, I was lucky to have dinner at my former Money colleague Tyler Mathisen’s home (you know him from CNBC), along with four former Money editors-in-chief (Frank Lalli, Lanny Jones, Eric Schurenberg and Diane Harris). And a couple of months back, I lunched with two of my West Orange High School (N.J.) pals — lawyer Andy Manshel, who now works for New York City, and gifted pianist and composer Jed Distler.
If you’re over 50, as I am, I strongly encourage you to reconnect with your old friends, too. In fact, I’m willing to wager that doing so can make you not only happier, but— if you’re still employed — more productive at work because you'll feel recharged. As Bill Maher likes to say: I don’t know it for a fact. I just know it’s true.
What’s so great about getting together with people you were fond of years ago?
Recapturing the Trust You Built
Ben Healy put it nicely in “Make Old Friends,” his September 2018 article in The Atlantic. “Reconnected friends can quickly recapture much of the trust they previously built, while offering each other a dash of novelty drawn from whatever they’ve been up to in the meantime,” Healy wrote, citing a recent study by University of Kansas communications studies associate professor Jeffrey Hall (How Many Hours Does It Take to Make a Friend?).
I second that.
I also agree with Inc. columnist Kevin Daum, who wrote how much he has enjoyed renewing bonds with the people who shaped him in high school, college and early in his career. Daum says they “taught me the rules of the game. Most cheer for me to succeed, as I do for them. People early in my life are the foundation from which I continue to grow.”
The Key: Meeting Up In Person
Personally, I think you’ll get the best results not by Instant Messaging your long-ago chums or writing on their Facebook wall or talking by phone, although all are fine. I think meeting in person — for a meal, for a drink, for coffee or for a weekend — is the way to go. There’s something about seeing them, and their seeing you, that elevates the catch-up to a special level. It's about laughing over old times and about what you can't remember (or prefer not to remember), as well as sharing confidences, revealing secrets, holding back tears and talking through the challenges you've faced over the years.
Not convinced about the power and joy of reconnecting? Nervous about getting back together? So maybe you or your friends have lost some hair or gained some weight or walk more slowly than you once did. Big deal. Your life didn’t turn out exactly the way you expected? That’s life. Your friends understand.
Reflections From a Reunion
Let me tell you what some of my Interlochen reunion pals said when I emailed telling them I planned to write this post:
“For many our age, we have lost parents, partners and close, dear friends. For myself, I value my long-term friends — there aren’t that many people, other than my siblings, who I’ve been in relationships with since childhood, and they become more and more precious to me as the years pass.” — Lisa Gottlieb
“I was worried about trying to reconnect with people, some of whom I had not seen in almost 50 years. While I wondered if I would remember them well enough to spend an entire weekend with them, my bigger fear was trying to remember the 13-year-old boy that I was back then. Those fears dissipated when one friend I hadn’t seen in almost five decades said, “You don’t have to worry, Ken, you are exactly how I remember you!” — Ken Posner
"49 years later, I choose all of you again as friends... Our vulnerable child selves are still visible in our eyes at times, and that had me in tears at times during the reunion weekend. You are all incredible people with gentle souls." — Dr. Susan Strow Stegeman
“What can I say? I’m shocked that after all these years, 90 percent of us are 90 percent sane and 10 percent of us are famous [Kathy Manning]. But I’m not surprised that we all still love each other deeply.” — Laura Ross
Thanks, old friends.