Recently, I realized that I hadn’t seen a family member of mine much on Facebook, so I clicked over to her page to see what was going on. Turned out, she had “unfriended” me.
At first, I was a little taken aback. She’s a distant cousin, not someone I see very frequently, but someone who I do bump into sometimes nonetheless. My first thought was, “Did I do something to upset her?” After realizing that I was sure I hadn’t, I dug a little deeper and remembered that she and I share very different political beliefs, and that is probably what this was about.
She and I have been nothing but cordial about our differing politics over the years, but we are differently minded nonetheless — very much so, actually. And given how passionate I’ve been feeling about politics lately (as have most of us for that matter, no matter what side we fall on), I could see why she would just not want to see my frequent posts about things like how fucking angry and terrified I am about the current administration (among other gripes).
So given all that, I am almost certain that this is why she unfriended me. She did it silently, too, without fanfare, rudeness, or a fight. And you know what? When I realized all that, I felt no anger whatsoever, because there is no reason to interact with someone on social media (or real life, for that matter) unless you actually want to, and she exercised that right.
Social media is not the same as bumping into someone at a family function, the grocery store, or the school drop-off line. For many of us, it’s actually a sacred place to connect with likeminded people, blow off steam, and share information. For parents specifically, it’s a place to go when your kids are having their 4 p.m. meltdown and all you want to do is escape with your phone for a few minutes. It’s an opportunity to interact with a couple of humans over the age of 5 who won’t ask for yet another peanut butter sandwich, and who just get you.
Back in the day, I used to accept friend requests from damn near anyone. But a few months ago, I realized that social media had lost that sense of connection and safety it once had, and that I really didn’t need to be connected to everyone I had known since kindergarten. And when the political season began last year, I realized I needed a place to go where I could express the full breadth of my fear and outrage without constant judgment. (If I want the judgment, I can just visit the comments section on almost any Facebook page, amiright?)
So I did a major sweep of my Facebook friends, and it felt great. Some I just unfollowed, meaning I don’t see what they post on their timeline, which left me the option of following them again in the future. But some I just needed to make a clean break with, so I hit “unfriend.” Yes, there were times unfriending felt like a bit of a “fuck you,” to them, but other times it felt more like a healthy, grown-up breakup.
Unfriending someone doesn’t necessarily mean you never want to see them again. It doesn’t mean they suck or that you do. It simply means that you don’t want to be connected with them on social media, where you are likely to share your day-to-day life, struggles, opinions, and more. Unfriending doesn’t have to be fraught with bad feelings. It can just be a way of creating a boundary with someone, saying, “I’m happy to share certain spaces with you, just not this one, and that’s OK.”
One caveat: If someone posts something blatantly racist, sexist, xenophobic, or hateful in any way, I pretty much take that as a call pull the plug on that friendship in real life too. That shit is not okay, and no one needs to make nice over that, or let that level of hate into their lives — real or online.
I think we have to remember that social media is great for many things, but it can be a stress trigger for lots and lots of people. First, there is the stress of seeing the daily onslaught of bad news, both from current events in the world and from the real lives of the people you are connected to. Then, there is the comparison game that all of us fall prey to from time to time — and social media is rife with opportunities to compare yourself to others, no matter how confident you may feel in your own skin.
But even more than that is the fear that you will feel judged for what you say or do online, or that who you are or what you express simply won’t be accepted or embraced. For some, it’s not even a fear, but a harsh reality. I think all of us have had a conversation with someone on Facebook that made us feel like we wanted to punch them in the face through our computer screens.
As far as I’m concerned, real life is chock-full of opportunities to feel like shit, so why should any of us subject ourselves to more of that online?
So if there is someone you are connected to online who makes you feel anything but awesome, why interact with them? Seriously. Just stop. Unfriend, unfollow — whatever works for you.
And if someone is legitimately making you feel unsafe, humiliated, or worse, you better hit that unfriend button faster than I can say, Bye Felicia. Remember: No one has the right to make you feel that way, and you should never, ever feel obligated to put up with that shit.
And if I make you feel uncomfortable or unhappy for whatever reason, please unfriend me. If you don’t feel like listening to me rage about politics (and it doesn’t look like that’s going to let up for at least the next four years), or seeing me post a million pictures of my cute kids, feel free to unfollow or unfriend. I get it.
We can still be friends in real life, hopefully. In fact, in many cases, disconnecting on social media might salvage our real-life relationship. There is a place for social media friendships and a place for real-life friendships, and the two don’t always have to overlap.
Really, social media has the potential to be a positive, life-affirming experience — a place of safety and connection. Don’t be afraid to shape into that place for yourself, and if that means hitting the unfriend button here and there, just do it. No looking back. No hurt feelings. And no guilt.