How to revive a fading friendship. And whether you should even try.

There are the friendships that happen over coffee or cocktails, on lunch breaks or at the school gate. 

Then there are the ones that exist entirely within a text message thread. The ones that crawl along, sustained by an irregular drip-feed of memes, links, and warm takes on Married At First Sight.

It’s a normal product of modern life; a collision of crowded schedules and the often-shallow, quick-fire nature of mobile communication. Throw in the isolation of a pandemic, and you’ve got a recipe for a friendship crumble.

The fading friendship is one of the many subjects Rebecca Sparrow, Lise Carlaw and Sarah Wills tackle in their podcast The Friendship Project — a six-part audio series about finding your tribe as an adult.

Speaking to Mamamia’s No Filter podcast, Sparrow said that even before COVID-19, friendships were on the decline and now we’re deprioritising them more and more.

“We put relationships in some kind of hierarchy, with romantic relationships at the top — as if that's the be-all and end-all — family in the middle, and friendships are at the bottom,” she said. “They are the first thing we cut when life is busy.”

Watch: Best friends, translated. Post continues below.

Video via Mamamia.

Even once-strong friendships can fizzle to the occasional text message, or clicking the love-heart reaction on social media posts. 

But can’t that be enough? In Sparrow’s view, no.

“What happens is that you don't have any in-depth conversations. Then you find out they were in hospital six months ago, or they went through some big event, and you didn't know,” she said.

Sparrow’s co-host, Sarah Wills, notes that the longer you go without having proper conversations, the more inclined you are to put them off. That’s usually due to the guilt that you’ve neglected the relationship, plus the knowledge that each other’s news only compounds with every skipped call.

“It just feels like this bigger-than-Ben-Hur activity that you have to do,” she said.

So how do you get things back on track?

How to revive a fading friendship.

But first another question: should you?

Well, friendships are incredibly good for our health.

That has been one of the key conclusions of the Harvard Study of Adult Development — a major ongoing study of health and wellbeing that’s been running since 1938. As reigning director Robert Waldinger explained, close relationships, namely those with partners and good friends, “are better predictors of long and happy lives than social class, IQ, or even genes”.

The study found that it’s not about the number of friendships or their duration, but “the quality of those close relationships that matters”, he said.


And that’s the key.

Quality (or “robust”, as Sparrow puts it) friendships are those that are healthy and mutually satisfying, those that support your success and allow room for your mess. 

Did your fading friendship have that once? Could it one day? The Friendship Project hosts suggest a question to ask yourself when confronted with any difficult moment in a friendship: “Is our friendship bigger than this?” In other words, is it worth working to repair?

That ‘work’ doesn't mean you have to suddenly be calling your friend every day or seeing them every week. Again, it’s not about quantity, it’s about the quality of your communication. So while daily text messages might not be enough, a monthly phone call or in-person catch-up could be. 

The easiest thing to do, Wills argues, is book it in.

“You have to schedule a time. It's like, ‘Right. I'm calling this person back on Sunday when I have the hour to dedicate to it,’” she said.

And by all means, keep up the texting as well, Sparrow adds.

“To nurture a friendship, you need lots of tools in your toolkit. I think using your phone and using text message can be really useful, because it's about showing up for people and it's about bearing witness to your friend’s life. And I think you can do that really effectively,” she said.


For example: “If one friend will say to you, ‘I've got this big health appointment next month’, throw that down in your calendar. When that day comes up, then you put that text out. That's all it takes, sometimes, to just keep the fire burning in a friendship.”

Listen: The Big Secret To Female Friendship. Post continues after podcast.

When reviving a friendship, go slowly to start with. Perhaps even try a group catch-up, if you’re wary of awkwardness. And don’t feel like you have to launch into the big, vulnerable topics straight away if that doesn’t feel natural for you or the relationship.

And importantly, prepare yourself for the fact that your friendship may not revert to what it once was. As the saying goes, people come into your life for ‘a reason, a season or a lifetime’. If it turns out to be a season, embrace all that has to offer and allow yourself to grieve it, if you need to.

“It can be painful,” said Sparrow.

“But I would say that just because a friendship only goes for a season, doesn't mean that the friendship was a lie, or that it wasn't a great friendship.”

For more wisdom about adult friendships, including how to make new ones and how to deal with conflict and ghosting, listen to No Filter via your favourite podcast app. 

To subscribe to The Friendship Project, visit the website.

Featured Image: Canva.

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