Defriending Friends

Marjorie Murphy Campbell

Keep your friendships in repair.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

I love Facebook.  But after a full year of socializing through FB, I have taken a summer pause to evaluate my “Facebook friendships,” relationships which are not all traditional or non-virtual but which can as easily become dysfunctional.  Reviewing and cleaning up my FB network took both time and reflection – but all worthy relationships require diligence, purpose and care.  Facebook relationships are no exception.

Let me emphasize that I love Facebook.  Like people who use several rolls of aluminum foil a month, I am a “heavy wrapper” when it comes to Facebook:  I like to share photos, status, articles, funny stuff, news, family matters and posts from this blog and others, often several times a day.  I like to read where others are and what they find of interest.  I don’t mind the deluge of posts from heavy wrappers like Elizabeth Scalia or Leticia Velasquez – neither of whom I’ve met but both are bloggers who share posts and links on Facebook everyday, all day.  I enjoy light wrappers, too – friends or family members who only occasionally post a tidbit, peak or comment, made precious by its rarity.

I’ve met some wonderful New Feminists and new friends on Facebook, connecting through mutual friends or “cold calling” to be friends because they wrote something interesting, provocative or memorable.  I’ve joined the community support for heroes like Travis Mills and followed interests ranging from Snowshoe Magazine to Beauty and the Beast to New Feminism.  I have FB friends who post recipes, tattoos, prayers, military videos, political quotes, vacation photos, cute puppies, health alerts, and pleas to add one more “like” or one more donation to a favorite cause.

I especially love comments – that tell-me-what-you-really-think space where a post becomes a connection, maturing into a discussion with FB friends and strangers.   I get a buzz from the occasional snarky comments I receive from people who experience something I’ve posted emotionally, even personally, as though I posted specifically to aggravate them.  I appreciate these comments – and doubtless, I make them myself.  This is the buzz of engagement, an intentional sparring of differences, where we are invited to another point of view and “like” can mean, “I hear you,” not “I agree with you.”  I value what I learn in these exchanges and how relationships – based on blood, shared experiences or simple fascination – prevail and no one defriends each other, at least, not for long.

This is the healthy side of Facebook, I’ve concluded, well worth preserving and sharing – and protecting.

To protect the health of my FB network, I have decided to set boundaries on my network.  I have implemented two criteria for defriending family or friends on Facebook.

1.  Abusive language.  Call me sensitive – many people do – but when snarky becomes abusive, it’s time to part company.  I recognize that posts or comments with pointed insults, name-calling or cursing are truly “just words” on FB and, often, reflect a user’s passing mood, alcohol level or frustrated passion, but I am not an “idiot” and my opinions are not “asinine” and if a “friend” thinks otherwise, that person is not a friend – real or virtual.  Even on Facebook – perhaps especially on Facebook and other social networks – word choice recognizes and honors the dignity of the other person, or not.  I have no interest in comments and posts that invalidate, denigrate or verbally assault groups or individuals, perpetuating online personal dysfunctions.  To remain FB friends with such users enables behavior that destroys and dismantles – not nurtures and builds – community.  All human communities will have multiple differences, even disputes – but they are guaranteed to escalate in hostility when we turn the other into an opponent, combatant or object for defeat.

2.  One-sidedness.   Lopsided friendships are always suspect, typically characterized by boundary issues that leave one person anxious to please another who is needy and without personal resource.  We’ve all seen or known these situations: where one person never seems able to say “no” just as the other person can’t resist asking one more favor – or where one person works pathetically to win affection that is withheld but not foreclosed.  FB, I discovered in my summer review, can foster a similar “one-sidedness” that I almost did not notice:  FB friends who never post, never comment, never share but amply consume information about other people.  There may well be situations where lack of mutuality is relatively harmless – but I decided to give focused consideration whether the FB eavesdroppers upon my life are people who I really ought to be having real relationships with.  Defriending FB friends because the friendship is not mutual, I hope, will define the reality because, without virtual contact, we will either reach out for face time, or we won’t.

I am only half way through summer.  Facebook – how it connects me, how I use and misuse it – remains in my near sights.  Possibly, I’ve just begun to wrench this social tool, and when to defriend friends, into proper position.

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