The concept of a friend on Facebook is (to say the least) elastic. At its loosest, it can mean someone who might be useful to know, but with whom you have never interacted. At the opposite extreme, it can mean an intimate, or someone with whom you regularly interact online. But, no matter how a Facebook friend is defined, unfriending someone is generally considered a serious step, and I’ve only done it three times.
The first time, I made the mistake of accepting a friendship invitation from a friend of a friend. A few days later, the friend of a friend started chatting with me and tried to interest me in what sounded like a pyramid scheme. I made an excuse to log off chat and instantly unfriended them.
The second time involved an acquaintance who indulges in yellow journalism. They are careless of their facts and their logic is slippery, but they expressed an admiration for my writing, and I thought that maybe if they were taken seriously by other writers, they might evolve into an effective journalist. But then they turned their tendencies on me without any warning or apology, and I decided I wasn’t about to mentor someone who wanted to tear me down in order to build their own reputation. That wasn’t what friendship was about, so far as I was concerned, so exit another Facebook friend.
The third time was more complicated. It involved someone I had known for years. A few years previously, we had quarreled, but they approached me on Facebook and, despite some qualms, I accepted their friendship invitation. I had always admired this person’s brains and talents, and I frankly hoped to get to know them – to become a friend in real life, as I expressed the hope to myself.
However, I had forgot that one of the reasons we had quarreled before was this person’s inability to keep up their side of a correspondence. From somewhere – probably a bad book on business management – they seemed to have got hold of the idea that online correspondence should be limited to two or three sentences. To make matters worse, what they did write was so stiff that it sounded cold and condescending – and I have never been able to endure being patronized. The tone killed all efforts to strike up a conversation, and I soon realized that the development of any actual friendship would require the effort put into the first six days of creation and geological units of time, neither of which I had to spare.
Even so, I might not have bothered unfriending under ordinary circumstances. But my wife was hospitalized and dying, and so was a relative of this person. I suggested (in effect) that we might give some mutual support, and received another cold reply, which indicated to me that I was just another part of their effort to compile the largest possible collection of Facebook friends.
Then my wife died. The alleged friend’s reaction? “That is so sad.”
Granted, their own relative had also died. Yet even the person’s own grief could not justify such a chilly reaction. There I was, facing one of the worst experiences anyone can face, and instead of any real sympathy, what did I get? An insincerity worthy of Dale Carnegie. Anyone else would have mustered a little empathy, being in a similar position.
“Sad?” I wanted to phone up and rant. “Rick and Ilsa’s goodbye at the end of Casablanca is sad. The farewells at the end of Lord of the Rings are sad. This is tragedy, you asshole!”
Instead, I unfriended, and – not wanting to appear a coward – sent a brief note saying that I had done so. I said that if they wanted to talk, I would, adding that they probably wouldn’t care for what I had so to say.
I heard nothing, so I knew I was doing the right thing.
Still, I admit that I regret this third and latest unfriending in a way that I never did the first two. But what choice, really, did I have? I have (and have had) friends of both sexes that have my back the way that I have theirs. I don’t need a hanger-on too egocentric to know what friendship is about.
Or do I make too much out of a word that, on Facebook, no longer retains its original meaning, except by chance?
Maybe. But all I know is that recently I am now much choosier about the friendship offers I accept.