Old friends, an ex or loved ones who've passed on - Here's exactly what to do when you miss someone

Illustration. Getty Images
Illustration. Getty Images

Given the amount of songs that’ve been written about missing someone, you already know it’s not a novel experience — just a ridiculously common (and super sucky) one. 

“Missing someone can include anything from remembering a memory shared with that person to a deep yearning for someone who is no longer in your life,” says Dr. Candice Nicole Hargons, counselling psychologist, assistant professor at the University of Kentucky, and director at the Center for Healing Racial Trauma. The feeling can even manifest itself physically and “elicit the somatic experiences of warmth in the body, butterflies in the stomach, or even aching in the chest.” Yay.

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And as if that weren’t enough, that pang of missing someone has a habit of busting its way into your brain all. the. damn. time — usually when you least expect it. Suddenly realise the ice cream you’re eating is your ex’s favourite flavour? It happens. And when the song you used to jam to with your long-distance BFF comes on shuffle, it’ll happen then, too.

Given the spontaneity of all those missing-somebody-sensations, you might just shrug your shoulders and give up on trying to do anything about it, but Hargons suggests otherwise. “As with all feelings, identifying them and allowing yourself to feel them helps you process the emotion,” she says. “In the end, processed emotions are more likely to pass and not keep you stuck in a cycle of behaviours used to prevent yourself from feeling.” 

But that doesn’t mean what helps you process your emotions in one situation (missing your cross-country bestie) will work in another (yearning for your first love), she adds. “Since there are so many reasons why you might miss someone, each requires an intentional response.”

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Admittedly, this is when things get even trickier. How the heck do you decide what the best move is when you’re already feeling down and lonely? Given the emotional toll missing someone can take, you could end up doing something you regret. Don’t worry, that’s where an expert comes in. Ahead, Hargons breaks down everything you need to do (or not do) when you’re missing someone. 

When you’re missing someone who’s moved away

“Reach out to them by text, call, or social media, and let them know they crossed your mind,” says Hargons. Sure, it sounds like the obvious choice. But think about it: How many times have you thought about reaching out to someone and never ended up doing it?

Sorry, but it’s not the thought that counts here. Instead, once you do get to chatting again, make plans to visit each other, Hargons suggests, and get some virtual hangs on the cal in the meantime. You might start a monthly virtual book club, or cook the same meals at your respective homes and eat together over video call until you can do so face-to-face. Making concrete plans for some QT will make you (both) feel better. 

If you’re missing someone who’s died

Chances are you’re missing this person every single day. But when the sting of loss feels especially sharp, Hargons suggests writing a journal entry detailing what you miss about this person most. Just the process of organising your thoughts and feelings on paper can relieve some of the pressure. If that doesn’t work for you, try talking it out with someone or a group of people who miss that person, too, says Hargons. Sharing and listening will remind you you’re not alone. The conversation might also introduce you to a coping mechanism you never considered, or spark a happy memory about that person that had started to fade.

Sometimes, loss feels too personal for group discussion, and that’s okay. In fact, it’s normal. If you feel that way, contact a therapist or a grief counsellor who will help you discover effective methods of processing your grief that are unique to your needs. 

READ MORE: ‘I never cried when my mom passed on’ - Why it's not always unnatural to grieve without tears  

If you’re missing an ex

“This one depends on whether you want to be with that person again,” says Hargons. Simply missing them doesn’t necessarily mean you’re meant to be. You might just be craving touch, affection, or even attention (no shame in that), but it’s important that you process those feelings on your own — or with a therapist — for as long as you need to before you even consider shooting that person a casual “hey, how have you been?” text. 

Processing these feelings means considering why the relationship ended, says Hargons. Then, figure out whether those factors have since changed for the better, whether getting back together is a healthy option, and how reaching out might impact both of your lives — especially if one or both of you have already moved on.

Look, there’s nothing wrong with missing someone after a breakup, but things can get messy if you don’t take the time to think things through. Maybe call a friend who knew the two of you well when you were together and run the idea by them. They can help you put things into perspective. 

If, in the end, you still find yourself wishing your ex were around, Hargons says to go ahead and see if they’d like to catch up. But if you realise you’re just reeling from the breakup, scrub your phone, social media accounts, and home of any memories of them. It might sound dramatic, but it’s an effective way to disconnect from someone who once meant a lot to you, which will ease the pain of missing them. 

If you’re missing someone who’s changed

People grow apart. It’s a hard truth, but a necessary one to remember. Maybe your friend got married and started a family, and your priorities just don’t line up anymore. Maybe their career is taking off, and you’re having a hard time keeping up. Sometimes, growth like this is out of your control, but that doesn’t mean you can’t try to get back on the same page. It’s just going to require some honest conversation. 

If you’re ready for that, “tell them that you’ve noticed a change in them without accusation, and see if they noticed it, too,” advises Hargons. Your goal shouldn’t be to get your friend to change, or apologize for changes they may consider positive, but instead gauge how willing they are to put in the work to get to a place where you two click again.

If so, make plans to go out together once a month sans kids or partners, or tag along to one of their work events so you can get to know the coworkers they keep raving about. Sure, things might be different, but this way they don’t have to end. 

It’s also worth considering that it’s actually you who’s changed. It’s entirely possible that the people in your life are having a hard time relating to the new(ish) person you’ve become. Or maybe, you miss the “old you” who was more spontaneous and went out dancing on a random Wednesday night. “Identify the reasons you’ve changed,” says Hargons. “Then, write down which parts of yourself you want to reclaim and those you want to leave behind.” With this tangible plan, you can move forward as the absolute best version of yourself. 

READ MORE: This is why they've moved on while you're still grieving after a breakup

When you’re missing an old friend you’ve lost touch with

Don’t let the fear of feeling awkward keep you from hitting them up. If you find yourself randomly laughing to yourself about the good ole days, they probably are, too. Kick things off by sending them an old photo of the two of you because nostalgia’s always a good way to reestablish common ground.

Once you get to talking about all the trouble you used to get into, make the switch to the present and ask them what kind of trouble they’re getting into these days. Soon enough, it’ll be like no time’s gone by at all. 

When you’re missing your family and home

Never underestimate the power of touch and smell. Next time you and your fam are reunited, ask your daughter or mom for a shirt they don’t mind parting with. Then, when you’re home and the loneliness starts to set in, run your fingers over the fabric and give it a few sniffs, says Hargons. It’s second-best to actually having your loved ones beside you. 

Until you all see each other again, set up family trivia nights on Zoom, or collect a few memories in a scrapbook and mail it to your family members to add to. And when you’re catching up over the phone, don’t skimp on the minor details. These particulars about what someone had for breakfast or the bird they saw on their walk not only deepens your connection, but will make you feel like you’re experiencing these things together. 

When you’re missing someone who doesn’t miss you

“Leave them alone,” Hargons says. Really, it’s as simple as that. It might sound harsh, but she’s adamant. For whatever reason, this person’s decided to separate themselves from you for good, and you have to accept that. “If you’re having trouble processing those feelings by your yourself, hit up your therapist for help,” she suggests.

Remember: No matter how lonely you might feel in the moment, you don’t have to go through it alone.

This article was originally published on Women's Health SA

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