April 19, 2010

He probably thinks this post is about him.

Remember the old days of friendship?  When friendships were conducted via personal interaction, phones and letters written on paper (with pens! and pencils! LYLAS!)  Back in the day, friendship took effort. Now?  You can "follow" your friends on The Tweetle, "subscribe" to your friends' blogs or the easiest of all - "friend" your friends on Facebook.  I never knew I had so many friends until folks began using Facebook.  In fact, I have been on Facebook for nearly 3 years and for much of that time, I was pretty much friendless (or friend-free?  What is the politically-correct vernacular these days??)  Now?  Folks who would not give me the time of day in high school, are now my friends on Facebook!  They like me!  They really like me!  (Huh?)

On the one hand, this ease of access to friendship is lovely.  Truly, just lovely.  It is a great way to connect and keep in touch.  Many of us are far-flung and busy with jobs and families, so getting together is more difficult.  All of this media helps us keep up on each others' lives so that when we do meet face-to-face, we can dispense with silly "catching up" small talk and move directly into current events.

But what happens when a friendship turns rancid, much like that long-forgotten Diego yogurt I recently found skulking in the depths of my refrigerator?  What should I do when that friend comes to my Facebook wall goading me into arguments?  Or when that same friend deceptively takes pieces of my own wall posts, completely out of context back to the safe confines of her wall, so that she can garner a little bit of Groupthink on her behalf?  When she uses pregnancy as an excuse for her behavior?

So, last month, I unfriended her.  Another delightful verb created in this sparkly new era of fraternization.

It was a hard decision.  And in the time that it took me to make the decision, I had the discussion of friendship with a few other folks who were also struggling with these new boundaries that are completely redefining the term "friendship".

I struggled with that decision last month because it is the first time I have had to make such a clear distinction such as this.  In the past, I would let friendships die a slow, quiet death.   I would simply quit returning phone calls and emails.  With one such Friendship Fade years ago, I actually debated telling the friend why it was over.  However, I realized it was not my place to tell her why I did not want to be her friend because it was a simple difference in opinion in how she conducted herself and her attitude towards others.  It was not my place to call a judgment on that and I decided the problem was mine and mine alone.

Of course, she found me on Facebook 10 years later and we are now friends.  Again.

This recent situation last month?  Was different.  This person was coming to my space and spewing steamy loads of poo all over it.  Oh, gentle reader - make no mistake about this: I am the first one to acknowledge that I am crude, bitter bitch.  In fact, I hand out blanket warnings now when connecting with folks on Facebook.  (Hey, if you do not mind?? I will offend you.)  However,  I consider my wall as my personal space.  If you do not like it, then do not come to visit me.  And I will do the same.  I read Tweets and Facebook statuses every single day that make me roll my eyes or even make me disgusted.  I MOVE ON.  I do not comment on other folks' walls unless it is 100% agreeable in some form because I have been burned so badly by this weird Facebook phenomena.  I respect other folks on their Walls as I would respect them in their actual presence.

On a grander, more meta sort of thought, I do wonder how social media such as Facebook is affecting women in the way they communicate.  Most women do not like to tell the truth in how they feel about someone or the relationship -  I am most certainly guilty of this.  I do not like hurting someone's feeling, so I will go to great lengths to avoid confrontation.  Truthfully, this post has been in draft for over a month because I wanted to think about the action I took of unfriending someone.  And then?

Over this past weekend, someone unfriended me.

I discovered this when I went out to unfriend her and I realized with a start, that we were no longer Facebook Official.  And the oddest part is that I was relieved.  Sad, but it was a friendship that had long run past its expiration and I am so comforted that this Facebook Decision was ultimately mutual.  Obviously, we were in agreement and we were both in a place where we realized we are better off not being friends. (Gentle reader, could this be Facebook Nirvana??)
So.  If you will let me get all Transcendentally Carrie Bradshaw for a moment, the question is this:

Will social media force women into being more genuine in friendships?

I have seen us struggle with truthfulness within the blogging community, but it is much, much easier to end blogging relationships.  It is not so very difficult to simply stop reading and slip away, since there is no "record" to be wiped.  And furthermore, Facebook is lacking one critical character.


Ah, yes.   Anonymous, that crafty little bitch who is seemingly friends with half of the Internet.  That little minx? She does not mince words and she'll cut you to pieces in one fell stroke.  Ah yes, never fear. Anonymous delights in telling you exactly how she feels because after all, she knows you better than you know yourself.  Do not mess with Anonymous, folks.

However, most of us are not lurking around pretending to be Anonymous.  Most of us actually care about hurting feelings, even when we want to be more authentic in our dealings with other people.  Even when we want to move on to happier relationships.  And I suspect many of us struggle with how to be honest with our friends.  And ultimately, ourselves.  I have to hope that social media will force women to be more truthful in their dealings with people (myself very much included.)  Ultimately, I have learned in this gilded age of social media that forming friendships is all too easy whereas forging them is a bit trickier.

And I am determined to never let a friendship go rancid again.


kristen said...

Great post! I've been pondering some the same thoughts lately. I just went through and cleaned Facebook house a couple of weeks ago. All of those guys who were uber-popular in high school, you know the ones who are either divorced or were never married and all have at least one kid now? The ones we swooned over in the halls but they never looked at us? Then low and behold they friend us on Facebook! And even though they were total jerks to us growing up and we have been married 10 years now, our heart skips an ever so tiny beat when that friend request pops up. Then we realize they are the exact same people they were in high school and are just casting a wide net in hopes of finding a date. They are all gone now.

But back to the female friendships and Facebook topic. My problem is that I'm a hopeless romantic about what could have been when it comes to friends that I have lost touch with. Facebook does give me that closure. I can say for certain this is why I no longer want to be friends with this person. I don't have to wonder any more.

~ifer said...

Will it force us into being more genuine in friendships? Now that is a good question. In a lot of ways, I think it allows us to be more genuine, while at the same time being less invested. We are cultivating the mindset of the ease of friendships, and I am afraid that might mean we don't take them as seriously as we once did. Back in the day, when we passed notes in class, and "texts" was the slang term for our schoolbooks. Like you said, we worked for our friendships then, and they were ever so valuable.
You have given me something to think on...

ML said...

Less invested - good phrase. Nothing can force anyone to be genuine. You're either capable & willing or you're not. I'm hoping the phenomenon makes people more selective; it's still much easier to unfriend (mutually or otherwise) than to duke it out. We should use FB et al. to hone the skills of interaction. Practice being your best self virtually, and I think you'll be laying the groundwork for being a better person, friend, thinker, communicator IRL. The virtual one is easier b/c you're less invested. Just hope we learn that the point of RL is investing. Although the consequences are steeper, the rewards are greater.

LuAnn said...

" . . . in this gilded age of social media that forming friendships is all too easy whereas forging them is a bit trickier."

So articulate, interesting, and insightful, and if you don't mind, I'd like to explore this sentiment with my students next week.

Thanks for posting.

meno said...

Having watched my husband go through his vast FB friends for about three years before i joined, i was VERY careful about who let in, as i had seen the result of careless friending.

And as one crude bitch to another, i salute you! We need a secret handshake.

Christine said...

I unfriended everyone in my mom's group in one swoop. I didn't necessarily need to dump everyone, but I was leaving the group (one too many pointed comments re: how to parent an autistic child from people who were not, in fact, parenting an autistic child combined with the realization that my children - or one of them - were being purposefully excluded). Anyway, to my horror, they noticed and I started getting emails. I took the cowards route and just ignored them. I didn't want to start a fight and I knew it was going to be discussed behind my back. I also knew that they would never honestly assess how they were treating Max so I figured I would just let them call me names, leaving Max out of it.

Plus I was sick of watching my language around them anyway.

I think I had a point to this...I guess just that while these women were FB "friends" they weren't real friends. And after about a week I didn't regret that decision at all.

Also, Obama is a socialist, Marxist, Nazi who is leading this country into communism and Palin's really, really smart (just in case you missed the fun times on your wall).

Christine said...

That was from me - apparently I can't type my own blog name anymore.

jodifur said...

I have never been so happy in my life to not be on Facebook as I am after reading this post.

Anjali said...

You and Christine touch on something I've been struggling with lately -- ending a friendship suddenly becomes much more public when you do it on Facebook. No, they don't get a message about it, but sooner or later, everyone knows about it.

I'm still on FB, but I often question why.

Me said...

Very interesting, well articulated post. I haven't yet had sour Facebook dealings, but I've seen it happen before and am as a result careful about who I friend. I also agree that my Wall is my space - if you don't like what I post, don't read it. Having friend poo on your wall must be like finding a troll in your back yard. Never a good thing.

MLE said...

I think that in some ways FB allows us to be far more lazy than we might otherwise be. For example, this year on my birthday, I got phone calls from 3 people (one of them being my mom) and facebook messages from everyone else, even my sisters. It made me really sad that everyone took the easy way out. :(

Cara said...

First, I have to disagree that its really all that different. I'm friends with several of my young cousins on facebook, and they post to each other much the way we used to send notes. And, trust me, they still use the phone. Its as different from what we did to stay in touch as it is from when my mother had to write letters to her sister to stay in touch when they lived in different states. I don't think technology changes how we handle our friendships; I think age and the busy-ness of life does that. In fact, I heard someone say on NPR just recently that we make fewer friends as we get older because we are busier, our commitments are already made elsewhere and because we don't stay in our jobs for years the way we did or schools. Not sure I agree with her either, but there you go.

That said, I think we do a poor job of distinguishing between friends and acquaintances sometimes. I can remember when I started in my very friendly office how startled I was that people expected to be my friend and be privy to all the details of my life. They weren't. I had friends; they were co-workers and acquaintances. (8 years later that is much less true, but friends take time to grow.) I treat facebook much the same way. If we aren't truly friends, I don't accept your friend request and make you privy to what I share there with my family and friends. It works for me. So far the only 'friend' drama I've had as an adult was with a friend I truly believe was suffering from mental illness. But, I wasn't in a position to help and she was coming close to really harming me, so that had to end. Otherwise, putting a little thought in to my boundaries has worked for me.

Cagey (Kelli Oliver George) said...

MLE - I have to say that I am totally okay with Facebook messages, texts and emails for my birthday. It is really difficult for me to talk on the phone these days, so a day of fielding phone calls is not my cup of tea.

ML - You have some good points - Facebook itself has not forced me to be more genuine, only in the aspect of whether to firmly end a friendship or not. I was consciously trying to avoid conflict and actually, Facebook made that more difficult in both of the friendships mentioned. I am definitely reflecting on how I can conduct my friendships differently in the future.

Cara - you make a very good point about friends vs. acquaintances. The word "acquaintance" is not used nearly enough and probably a good half of my Facebook friends are just that, acquaintances.

Everyone - I would also like to point out that using social media is not always negative I have actually made some very good offline friends because social media made it easy for us to initially connect and get to know each other a bit before proceeding online. For example, my friend Amanda - I would see her occasionally offline, but Facebook really allowed us to interact and get to know each other.

Melanie said...

I had to un-friend someone a few months back for spewing hate on his own wall.... I know he wasn't spewing it on mine, but I just couldn't read it day in and day out without feeling like my blood pressure was rising and my faith in humanity was truly shaken. It got to the point where I thought, ok this constant barrage of crap is truly putting a dent in MY happy factor. Sure at first I tried to comment on his posts in a non-confrontational way letting him know that there is nearly always another way to look at things, but I soon learned that every comment I made, gave him a platform to spew rebuttals of hate.... then I just decided I was done. Even more interesting are the people I have come into contact with who were mentally unstable that I made sure I blocked while setting up my profile... there are only two such people in my past life that fit that category, but none-the-less it was important to me that they not find me. I too ignore people who I was not friends with in HS, if you couldn't talk to me then, why do I want to friend you now?

D. said...

As Kristen mentioned, all the people who wouldn't look my way in junior high now want to be FB "friends" with me and it seems so...contrived. Sure I accept the friend requests, but I try to use FB for the positive interactions I can have with those that I truly consider friends. For instance, I have a personal policy of not using FB to wish someone a happy birthday if that person would be totally flabbergasted to get a phone call from me wishing them the same.

Will social media force us to be more genuine? I doubt it, because I still see plenty of junior high shenanigans going on amongst perfectly grown adults. Will some of us choose to use it as an means to communicate more effectively with one another? Absolutely.

Cagey (Kelli Oliver George) said...

Thanks for reminding me, I forgot you had witnessed the lunacy, too! It doesn't bother me that folks bag on Obama, hey free speech, what a lovely right we have here. But equally, if I want to call a spade a spade (or a Teabagger or a BeelzeBush), then that is my right, too. On MY wall.

Please note that Christine was being sarcastic in her last comment. She loves Obama more than her luggage.