Reunions are sad. I’m not just talking about ten-year high school reunions, although they most definitely are sad, especially how dumpy all your hot teachers got. No, I’m talking about childhood friend reunions.

Time changes everything, including you. Hanging out with your childhood best friend could end up feeling like that time you were small-talking with some lady at the supermarket who kept complaining about her allergies while you’re trying to listen to the girl in front of you who ran into Shaquille O’Neal. (True story. Fucking allergies, and I never found out whether Shaq was a douche in real life.)

The worst kinds of conversations are the ones that happen while a much more interesting conversation is happening within earshot. Similarly, the worst kind of friendship is one that feels like it’s taking time away from the more interesting stuff in your life. As you catch up with some of your old buddies, you might start thinking about all the better things you could be doing.

You grew up, James grew up, and despite all the high school stories, you’re both completely different people with different worldviews.

Let’s say you run into your old high school buddy James. He looks good. Gained a little weight. His hair got kind of weird. Whatever. He seems happy.

Then you guys start reminiscing about stories that happened a decade ago, stories you both already know. Why are you telling each other these stories again? Because they’re the only things you have in common anymore. What else could you be doing right now? Having lunch with one of your current friends, someone who actually has real things to talk about.

Now, the awkwardness isn’t James’ fault. It’s not your fault, either. The only responsible party is Time itself: you grew up, James grew up, and despite all the high school stories, you’re both completely different people with different worldviews and experiences and interests. It might be fun to remember all the wacky hijinks you pulled in Mr. Dawson’s chemistry class, but it’s mostly sad.

With that in mind, here are some handy tactics to make any childhood friend reunion a little more bearable.

1. Make up stories about the past and see if your friends “remember” them.

For example, instead of staring at James’ hair (seriously, what happened to him?), ask him about that time a sheep wandered into your high school and made a mess on the soccer field. This didn’t happen, obviously, because your high school was in the middle of a major metropolitan area and the only sheep within walking distance were Starbucks customers and people wearing novelty t-shirts from the mall, so you have to sell it with as much enthusiasm and sheep noises as you can muster.

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The fun part comes when James reacts. Does he say you’re insane? Does he look at you with a blank expression? Or does he pretend to remember, perhaps even adding little details that you forgot to include?

This isn’t the best game in the world, but at least it’s more interesting than the seventh retelling of that one time someone farted somewhere.

2. Speculate about all the people you lost contact with.

Some people do this naturally. When you run into someone you barely remember, it’s pretty easy to fall back on the mutual friends you both actually liked.

“Oh yeah! Natalie! Isn’t she a doctor now?”

“Hey, what ever happened to that guy with the facial scar? Is he in jail or what?”

“I forgot about the Baxter twins! Are they married? I mean, to other people?”

That’s all well and good, but for a much-improved conversation, see how weirdly specific you can go. Instead of asking if Natalie is a doctor, say, “Oh yeah, Natalie! Isn’t she the psychologist who worked behind-the-scenes on The Bachelor and accidentally killed that girl in the hot tub?”

Of course, your friend will ask you where you heard that from, which is your cue to keep going, creating detail after juicy detail until Natalie, that forgettable girl in your student council, turns into the most interesting ex-convict/astronaut in the tri-state area.

3. Try to stump each other with obscure memories.

Let’s say your friend mentions that time your vice-principal face-planted on the auditorium stairs during the choir concert. Of course, you’ll remember that. Everyone would remember something like that. It’s hilarious (and also sad, considering how that same vice-principal died of some awful disease a few years later). Still… it’s pretty memorable.

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If your friend says something like that, try to one-up his memory with something more obscure: “Hey, remember that time we made presentations about the circulatory system in biology class?” He probably won’t remember that, which means you just won the game!

If he does remember your weirdly musical presentation about sickle cell, try to get even more obscure: “Hey, remember that time Little Mike won a poetry contest, but no one clapped for him in the assembly?”

This could keep going and going. Don’t stop until your friend gets stumped, walks away, or you run out of memories.

4. Whatever you do, don’t fall into the nostalgia trap.

This last trick is probably the most important. Every time you run into someone from your past, there’s the very real threat that you will both be pulled into a self-sustaining nostalgia loop. Do not let this happen. Just because you both remember the good times doesn’t mean they somehow outweighed all the horrible, horrible bad times.

Because, let’s face it, high school sucked. Your teenage years were full of sweat stains, public humiliation, and awkward conversations with friends who were only friends because you were both born in the same town on the same calendar year. Don’t put on rose-colored glasses, because then you’ll stop appreciating how much better life has gotten since you had your braces removed.

If you catch yourself falling into a nostalgia loop, blurt out the worst memory you have about your childhood, and hope that you and your friend are both brought back to reality.

It’ll sound something like this…

Friend: Hey, remember that old donut shop?
You: Yeah. That place was awesome.
Friend: I know! They just don’t make donuts like that anymore.
You: Exactly!
Friend: And remember all those—
You: I WATCHED MY DOG DIE IN MY ARMS!
Friend: (backing away) I gotta go.

See? That wasn’t so hard.

In the end, friend reunions are best avoided at all costs. If, however, you find yourself face to face with a blast from your past, feel free to mess with him until he leaves. That way, everybody wins.

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