I have just experienced my first traumatic facebook defriending. I have, of course, been defriended before, but it was neither unexpected nor traumatic in those cases – at least, the ones I have noticed. And that’s the strange thing about defriending. You don’t get notified. There is nothing to alert you to it, particularly if that friend was never a prolific poster. There is no gap left in your friend list. No placeholder where that friend should be. Nothing can be a little hard to spot.
In this case I noticed when I happened to be browsing the profile of a mutual friend, and noticed that my ex-friend – let’s call him DF, for De Friender – DF’s name was missing under “mutual friends”. Disbelieving at first, I searched for him, hoping that perhaps it was facebook itself that he had defriended, as some of my friends have in the past. But no. He was still there. With lots of friends. But I was no longer one of them.
It came as a shock. After the first few moments of denial, I had to face the fact that it was no accident. Someone I cared about had declared himself, albeit silently and surreptitiously, no longer my friend. It was like a surreal, slow motion punch to the solar plexus. It may have been weeks before I noticed. He was never online a lot, and I am not sufficiently paranoid to spend hours searching my friends list for any sign of someone who is not there.
I don’t know what the etiquette is now. In some ways I would like to simply click on the “add as a friend” button next to his name, but that feels rather feeble and pathetic. If I were brave I would call him and ask why he did it – my preference is always for open and direct communication – but defriending is surely a way of saying that communication with me is no longer welcome, so perhaps I should respect that.
The difficulty I have is with the silence of it all. Some might see it as a relatively painless way of being disconnected. There is no direct assault. No barbed words. Not even a nasty letter, or a stinging text. But in an odd sort of way I think I would handle those better. At least they might give me some clue as to why.
As it is, I can’t help puzzling over it. Was I too this? Not enough that? Horrifyingly something else? Silence tends to bring out my worst paranoia, and this is no exception. There is no closure. No explanation. Just a gap where a relationship used to be.
Of course it’s important to remember that facebook is not the real world. There is no telling how DF would react if we were to meet in the street. But having been defriended I am reluctant to try any direct contact. I imagine he would be polite and distantly friendly, as he was whenever we chatted online. But what would he be thinking? Perhaps it’s better not to know.
Facebook, twitter, and even sms, are changing the way we interact in fairly radical ways. Sometimes they make it possible to get back in touch with old friends, but they have also created new ways to hurt us. Ways that we really haven’t understood yet, let alone developed any real etiquette for. They provide apparently remote, impersonal and painless ways to detach ourselves from people, but without regard for the consequences. In the world of social networking, consequences happen to other people – and we never see their faces.