‘The years melted away’: long-lost friends on the joy of meeting up again

Read Time:6 Minute, 50 Second

The Guardian

The more surprising a message from an old friend is, the more appreciative the recipient, according to a recent study. We spoke to four pairs of friends who had drifted apart and restored their relationships after receiving a message out of the blue.

‘I don’t have a sister, but it was like she was’

Elizabeth and Vanessa pictured outside their old school in 2021.

My best friend when I was a kid was Vanessa Unwin. We lived on the same street in Wymondham in Norfolk and went to the same school. There was something about our friendship at that young age: I don’t have a sister, but it was like she was.

Elizabeth at Vanessa’s sixth birthday party on 3 September 1974.
Vanessa.

When we were six, in 1975 or 76, Vanessa’s father took a new job in Newcastle. She moved away and wrote to me about a year later to say that they were coming back for a visit. But by then, my parents had moved from our street to a new place in Wymondham. We lost touch. There was no way of finding her, really. I don’t think parents always appreciate how hard that can be.

About 46 years passed. I read a story about old friends in the Guardian, which prompted me to look her up on LinkedIn. I reached out to someone with her name in the hope it was her, saying: did you live in Westwood gardens in Wymondham in Norfolk when you were little and move away to Newcastle?

She replied:

“Dear Elizabeth – yes it’s me! And of course I remember you, I think living opposite? I have several photos of birthday parties with you in the pictures which strangely enough I was looking at recently the last time I was at my dad’s house. I’m so glad you’ve got in touch.”

We arranged to have a meal together in King’s Cross. When I showed up, she said “you look exactly like you did” – although I’m blonde now. We have since visited the small town we used to live in. We still wonder how two girls who lived in a small street in a small town both went on to be leaders in engineering. It felt like I’d found my long lost sister. Elizabeth Donnelly, 53, Ely, CEO of the Women’s Engineering Society, Cambridgeshire

‘It didn’t feel like 22 years had passed’

Mark (left) and Paul (right) at an Oasis gig in Knebworth in 1996.
Paul (left) and Mark (right) in October 2021.

In the 90s, when I worked in a Nottinghamshire factory packing tights, I was friends with a labourer called Mark Wakeling. We had similar music tastes and went to some amazing gigs: we were at the front for Oasis at Knebworth in 1996. After leaving the factory to start a new job, the last time I saw Mark was at an Oasis gig at Wembley Stadium in 2000. Neither of us had a mobile at the time, nor Facebook, so it was unfortunately easy to lose touch. After I joined Facebook in the mid 2000s, I’d often check to see if he had joined, but he never did.

In October 2021, I watched John Lydon (AKA Johnny Rotten) do a Q&A show. I paid extra to be a VIP and meet him. I posted photos on a John Lydon Facebook fan page, and two days later a stranger contacted me via Facebook Messenger. She said her dad used to work with me and wondered if I remembered him … it was Mark’s daughter!

It was such a nice surprise. Mark had been to see John Lydon a couple of days after me and wanted to see if there were any photos of the show and had come across mine. A week or so later, we arranged to go to another John Lydon Q&A in Chesterfield. It didn’t feel like 22 years had passed. I think that’s how you can gauge a good friendship. We still message each other regularly. Music was one of the reasons we became friends, and it brought us back together. Paul Sharman, 50, mental health nursing student, Newcastle

‘We lost touch around 2002’

Marie and Stacey in 1990.
Stacey (right) and Marie (left) in Loch Lomond in 2021.

Stacey and I met in 1988 at Cardonald College, where we studied fashion and design. Although she was five years older than me – I was 18 and she was 23 – we hit it off. We spent most of our time together, going to the pub, hanging out on most weekends, and camping in Glen Coe and Loch Lomond. We always had a laugh. It was just easy.

Then we met our respective partners and life became busier. We lost touch around 2002, after I’d had my two children. Stacey had never wanted kids herself, so I put it down to the changed dynamics in our relationship now that I was a mum. But I later learned it was simply because of my then-husband being allergic to dogs. Stacey lived 50 miles away with an alsatian and he’d come away from our visits with a rash every time, so we stopped. I’d forgotten all about this. Looking back, we can both see it was a misunderstanding.

After 20 years of no contact, Stacey messaged me via Facebook in March, 2021. It said: ‘‘Even after all these years, I still think of you as my best pal. Here’s my number, would love to hear from you.” By this time I was divorced and her partner, who I had known well, had died. I was still living in Scotland but she had moved to France.

Since she got in touch, we FaceTime with each other most days. I’m visiting her in France next week with my kids. It has been like we have never lost touch. It’s still so easy being with her. We’re both very grateful to be back in each other’s lives. Marie Feeney, 52, social worker, Glasgow

‘I cycled over 1,500 miles – I called it my freedom and friends tour’

Alison Carter (right) and her friends Jean (far left) and Kelly (second from the right) on a school trip aged 17.

Last year I was made redundant and, after 30 years of working, I decided to take the gap year I’d never had. The preceding 18 months of lockdowns and restrictions had really brought it home to me how much I love time with my friends. I also reflected on all those distant friends I promised myself I’d catch up with one day and never had.

As a keen cyclist, I knew cycling would be part of the trip and as soon as I started planning, I found myself contacting long lost friends through Facebook and arranged to meet them in my tour of the UK.

Alison Carter (right) and her friend Jean (left)

In September 2021, I cycled over 1,500 miles, from Kent to Devon (via Isle of Wight), Lake District to Dumfries and Angel of the North back to London. I called it my freedom and friends tour.

My old school friends gave me the warmest of welcomes, offering a spare bedroom for the night, meals, and even washing my clothes. Their encouragement and enthusiasm for my adventure was wonderful.

Alison Carter (left) and her friend Kelly (right)

We chatted for hours, and the years melted away. It was remarkable how quickly we re-kindled our connections, comparing memories and reminding ourselves of things we had forgotten. These friendships have now been re-ignited and we’ve met up again. Alison Carter, 52, enjoying a late gap-year, London

July 15, 2022 at 09:22PM Alfie Packham and Gemma McSherry

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