Nina Badzin has given friendship a lot of thought.
The Minneapolis woman has written an online advice column on the topic for years, dishing out guidance on how to develop deeper relationships or dealing with a passive-aggressive friend.
However, as pandemic stress and online-only interactions have tested so many of our bonds in the past year, even Badzin found herself overthinking her connections to her besties.
"I definitely felt this — texting and people not responding as quickly as time went on in each group text," she said. "Like you might say something that you thought was funny or you thought was relevant — and it's just like crickets."
Now that she's able to see her friends face to face, things are easier, Badzin said. But the transition back to a robust social life is proving to be far from seamless for many of us.
Reviving friendships that were largely put on hold — aside from an initial flurry of video chats or Zoom happy hours — can feel awkward. And some people are even taking stock of and reconsidering their relationships.
"I know it's been on a lot of people's minds," said Tampa-based friendship coach Danielle Bayard Jackson. "The weather is warming up, people are getting vaccinated, but what does that mean for my friendships? Do I hit pause, do I hit play?"
The pandemic changed our lives and, in many cases, compressed our social circles. Now that we're emerging, it's natural to reassess our priorities, values and even our budgets before jumping back in to old routines. But friendship experts say it's a good idea to keep an open mind when reassessing our friendships.
If a friendship is valuable to you, it's worth reaching out, even if your texts sometimes went unanswered or invitations were turned down. If you feel like you're the one who dropped the ball but want to revive the friendship, an apology be in order.
"Struggling to figure out how to interpret the distance this past year might be a challenge, but I really do think it's a matter of showing each other a little grace," said Bayard Jackson.
'My real friends'
In one column, Badzin offered classic example of a pandemic friendship struggle. A reader wrote that their close friends seemed to have vanished, and added: "It dawned on me that this pandemic could be a chance to sort out who my real friends are. What do you think?"
Badzin counseled anyone considering making a list and crossing out names to hit pause.
"In a time of crisis, I don't think it's a great time to make decisions about who you want to stay friends with," she said.
Shasta Nelson, author of "Frientimacy: How to Deepen Friendships for Lifelong Health and Happiness," has noticed a dichotomy in how we see our friends right now. While some are interpreting dropped communications as a slight, others have more "gracious responses," she said, taking into account that we've been through trying times.
"If our friends didn't reach out to us, it doesn't mean they're a bad friend," she said. "It means they were underwater, it means they were exhausted, it means they were overwhelmed," said Nelson, who lives in San Francisco.
If you want to reach out to a friend you've lost touch with, Nelson suggests a loose script for text or voice mail:
In the first sentence, offer a warm affirmation, like: "You've been so thought of, or you've been so missed," she said.
Then, take ownership for the situation: She suggests a line like, "I'm so sorry that my bandwidth was such that we've lost touch," or "I'm so sorry, I just got so overwhelmed and I haven't done a good job staying in touch with friends," or even, "I'm just so sorry we haven't seen each other."
State your goal: "Coming out of this, you're one of the people I want to reconnect with."
Finally, close with a specific invitation to get together, with the caveat that you understand if it's not a good time.
"Just let it be a compliment that we reached out to them, don't do it as a test that they need to respond to right now," Nelson said. "We have to remind ourselves that we've gone eight months without reaching out to them, so it's OK if they didn't hit the moment that they're ready to re-engage and start socializing right at the exact same time we did."
According to a University of Kansas friendship study in 2018, it takes 200 hours together to form a close friendship. After weathering the pandemic, which limited opportunities to connect, even friendships with a strong foundation may need some TLC, said Badzin.
"There's been a freeze. You have to make an effort to put in more time." A friendship, she said, "cannot just exist on texts alone, especially if you live in the same town."
That's why Nelson believes that reaching out to those who matter to you is important.
"In all of my research around everything that builds a bond in a relationship, you have to have three things present for that relationship to feel meaningful and supportive: positive emotions, consistent interactions or shared experiences, and then vulnerability where we both feel seen," she said.
"You can see quickly how if you don't have the consistent time, like if you're just texting once every couple months or whatever, it's almost impossible to have the other two things happen."
Nelson is in the process of reconnecting with many of her friends this summer. But she's taking her time, taking a mindful approach and not necessarily ramping up her social life to its pre-COVID pace.
"In my own life, I feel like my appetite for connection has shrunk in the last year, and I'm not entirely sure that my personal goal is to just increase my appetite again and reach every single person," she said. "Maybe I need fewer, closer friends than just acquaintances everywhere."
Erica Pearson • @ericalpearson