That sun-soaked pause in life triggered nostalgia for many, says Mariella Frostrup. If it’s a real relationship you want focus on one driven by current connection
The dilemma An acquaintance I didn’t know very well from 15 years ago added me on Facebook last year, then over lockdown asked for my number and started texting. He had split from his wife last year and moved out. The messaging became quite frequent and he indicated on several occasions that he was interested in meeting up. It definitely seemed that he wanted to be more than just friends. We were getting to know each other, and I started to think he was a nice guy and was considering meeting. We had a few things in common and have the same sense of humour.
Suddenly things started to cool off. In the space of a week he stopped initiating texts, although he did reply in a friendly but distant way if I messaged him first. He still “likes” my posts. I’m completely confused. Do I forget him? Wait and see if he wants to meet at some point in the future? Should I assume he’s met someone else? Looking back, I don’t think I did or said anything off-putting. We are both in our 40s, so I wasn’t expecting this. This is all a bit of a head wreck!
Mariella replies I totally understand. If I had a pound for every fleeting acquaintance and old lover who returned to pastures old during the pandemic, I’d be well placed for comfortable retirement. Although when I say returned, I probably need to qualify that. It wasn’t in any tangible, hands-on, can-I-carry-your-shopping way, but more by stealth, facilitated by social media: creeping back into your inbox, liking your photos on Instagram, or suddenly manifesting on your Facebook page. In many cases (well, mine anyway) it was as though they hadn’t behaved so badly two decades before.
What was it about that crazy, hazy, unseasonably sun-soaked pause in life that caused thoughts of old friends, dreams of old lovers and turbulent nights crammed full of memories to flow? It’s an interesting phenomenon but there was definitely something about the psychology of lockdown that spurred so many to seek reassurance by re-connecting to their past.
It begs the question of just how different our emotional lives might be if we didn’t spend so much time speeding around keeping our memories suppressed and our longings unsated. When you get to a certain age, trawling back through contacts is a displacement activity that can last for weeks. I still keep the details of my increasing number of deceased friends as it seems so heartless to just delete them from my phone, but often there’s a jolt when I scroll and see names pass like ghosts long forgotten. If you can’t let go of the dead, how much more tempting is it to connect with the living
Checking out where past acquaintances’ lives have taken them while deep in assessing your own journey, during the halt in normal life was, I would say, a natural instinct. On the bright side, how lovely that, for whatever reasons, you were a compelling memory that this man sought to follow when lockdown gave him time on his hands.
Blasts from the past are well named as such. They tend to blow into our lives, unannounced with hurricane force and sadly, for those eager for contact to continue, often blow out again just as speedily. You describe this man as an acquaintance with no detail of how or on what basis your friendship was formed. I’ve no idea why this man got in touch, but I’d definitely take it as a compliment. You’ve left your mark on him in a way that inspired him to explore further – at a time when nothing was normal, so it didn’t feel abnormal to embark on anything.
Those long, peculiar days of lockdown forced many emotions to the surface. Couple that with the hazy mist of nostalgia that engulfed us and had us baking bread and gardening, it’s no wonder that thoughts of old loves and paths not pursued came to the fore. Trying to tidy up your feelings, address opportunities not taken and reconnect with those you’ve come adrift from are all natural impulses – but in most cases what was left behind is best behind.
You’ve had the kind of Covid exchange that was experienced by many but now, as life creeps back to its normal tempo, is losing its potency. A real-life encounter could have been one way of testing what was really going on, but there’s unlikely to be much mystery there – he probably has a life you’re less aware of by design.
My advice would be to savour the fact that you left an impression that compelled him to reconnect but focus now on a relationship less driven by nostalgia and more by current connection. Many of these “drift-ins”, as I’ve come to call them, are people acting on a selfish impulse fuelled by their own wider regrets. We are all too often a species that’s focused on our own survival. You’ve sustained this guy while he needed tethering, and now he’s back in the cut and thrust. It was fun to have had that displacement activity – but moving on is a far better choice than chasing shadows.