To friend or de-friend?

Recently, I've had to send a few pretty specific and sensitive emails. Both to employers, both possible and current. I sought out the help of my father and he gave me some great advice on email communication. I started to think about other ways in which we communicate online and their varying degrees of peculiarity. There's e-mail: the digital letter. But even that's complicated because you can tell some things better when handwriting  is involved as opposed to font. Unless they use comic sans. Then you know A LOT about them. Then there's chatting/messaging: like texting, but faster. I'm very fond of chatting online. The pressure is lower and you have access to an entire computer and its resources. Some people like chatting because of the anonymity. I have the opposite feeling. If I write something hilarious I want you to KNOW it's me. Then there's video chat: self explanatory but potentially dangerous. Trust me. Then there are the various social networks: Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Reddit, LinkedIn, and of course Facebook. I already mentioned chatting and messaging, and I won't insult you by explaining all of the other facets of Facebook. I don't want to be "Bill O'Reilly explaining texting" stupid.  What starts it all, though, is the act of sending or receiving a friend request. For every friend you gain on Facebook, though, the potential to lose that friend appears. I have de-friended exactly 3 people in the course of my Facebook lifetime.

1) My boyfriend cheated on me. I de-friended him and my friend with whom he cheated on me. I think this is an acceptable case, no?

2) I would physically get angry and upset to the point of anxiety at the sight of this person because of their actions in real life. Yet, I couldn't stop myself from looking at their page. For my own sake, and to save myself from self destruction... de-friended.

That's it. Those are the only times I have felt compelled to remove a friend on Facebook. Now, I have definitely had people de-friend me. This of course immediately makes me wonder what the heck I'm doing wrong as a human being, and also about the act itself. I'll get to the first point, but as to the second: It's not exactly an easy thing to do, Facebook de-friending. You have to make a conscious decision to do it and doing it says so much. For example, on one occasion after an email exchange with a friend in which I said what I thought were a lot of well meaning and not necessarily negative things, I found that the other person did something that I heard loud and clear: de-friended! So, is it the digital age's example of actions really speaking louder than words? Maybe it was actually a braver act than just letting the friendship die naturally. Maybe they did us both a favor by just doing something that ended the friendship without a question instead of having a long conversation that may or may not lead to a reconciliation. But I still had questions. I went back and read the email and felt as though their action was an extreme response to what I wrote. That's just it though: I looked at the situation the way I would feel about it and not how they would. Even though I took into consideration how it might be taken, I was always thinking about how I would take it had it been sent to me. I've spent my whole life worrying about how other people are going to perceive my actions when in reality they are going to react to them in their own way. A way in which I will never be able to intuit. So, why do I fret so much about it? (Even now I'm worried about who might read this and the reaction they might have to it.) That's not to say that I should take on a "devil may care" attitude and not worry about other people. But I've begun to realize that this habit of taking no consideration for the self implications of my actions is foolish and detrimental to my health.

As to my first thought: I, like anyone in this situation I'm sure, have to wonder why someone wouldn't want to be friends with me on Facebook anymore. I consider myself to be a peacemaker. A lover not a fighter. I try my best not to say bad things about people, to the point where my family and closest friends get mad at me for not having the courage to stand up to people who have hurt me. I'm not trying to imply that I'm some sort of saint, in fact I don't think it's a particularly good quality. All I'm saying is that I don't think I've ever overtly done anything to someone that would require a removal from their friends list. Of course, I have no way of really knowing that and it's their prerogative to not be my friend if they don't want to be. I'm positive, however, that the people whom I've de-friended know EXACTLY why. The people who have done so to me... I don't know. It's varying degrees of a question mark. In some cases it's been an ex-boyfriend... ok I can see why you would de-friend me. We're not friends anymore. Were we ever even really? Other times it's after an altercation. Then there are the others that are just completely baffling and seemingly out of nowhere. This hearkens back to my point that de-friending is such a deliberate and thought out action. Unless you have a lot of time on your hands, or are particularly bitter, I'm pretty sure people don't really sit around de-friending large groups of Facebook friends. I don't know about you but I'm still friends with people I haven't seen or spoken to in years. You know... that person you met briefly at a party Freshman year of college? Still Facebook friends. People that you've loved and been incredibly close to? NOT FACEBOOK FRIENDS.

Why do we hold on to the loose acquaintances and let go of the stronger ones? Is it because it's easier to act like the ones that hurt us are removable, instead of actually dealing with the pain of breaking off a friendship? It's also an act that seems to be easier on and possibly even unique to Facebook. How many times have you "broken up" with a friend face to face versus letting a friendship slide naturally into oblivion? In my experience the second has been more frequent. Moreover, on the occasion that you did break up with a friend, when was it as quick and detached as Facebook friend deleting? There haven't been any times where I have said, or had said to me, "I don't want to be friends with you anymore. Let's not hang out or talk. PEACE OUT". That's essentially what you're saying when you de-friend someone on Facebook. The problem is, as my father so expertly helped me circumnavigate, nuance and intent in internet communication are impossible to read. De-friending someone on Facebook inevitably says something extreme because, if you're like me, you naturally assume the worst. So, what that person hears is "I hate you so much that I wanted to let you know that we will never be friends again". When you de-friend someone you are literally burning a (digital) bridge. What happens if you change your mind? Unlike talking to someone about why you don't want to be friends anymore, Facebook de-friending is permanent. At least until you re-send a friend request, awkwardly highlighting the fact that you de-friended them in the first place. In my darker hours, after discovering a de-friending, I have thought about requesting their friendship again, just to make them squirm (I'm working on eradicating those kinds of thoughts altogether). With one click you are telling a person that your friendship is beyond repair. In the time it takes you to refresh your browser, we have the power to erase not only internet content, but friendship. That terrifies me.

I may make light of these de-friendings but I can't pretend that I wasn't hurt by them and I think the way we have put so much importance on Facebook to our relationships is worrisome. The positive aspect of it all, however, certainly outweighs the negative. I hesitate to call it a silver lining because honestly, the whole cloud looks pretty darn good to me. In the aftermath of heartbreak I think it's important that we take a look at the good that remains. For every person that has de-friended me in the 10 years I've been on Facebook, I have more that show me on a daily basis how much they care. I once left Facebook because I felt it was more trouble than it was worth, but now that I've come back I realize I was wrong. Because, in the immortal words of the Full House theme song "Everywhere you look, everywhere you go: there's a heart, a hand to hold on to. Everywhere you look, everywhere you go: there's a face of somebody who needs you" and that's pretty sweet.


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