Traumatic defriending

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.

heart crossed out

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.


7 thoughts on “Traumatic defriending

  1. Just thinking about this, it maybe that they don’t necessarily want to defriend you, but don’t want to interact with you in the manner you interact on Facebook. Not good, not bad just different. I like the ignore button better and there are definitely folks I ignore. Like hanging out with them, but we interact with Facebook in a different way.

  2. Joe

    This is one of several reasons why I refuse to have a facebook account. Because of the necessity to have this public binary status… friend, or … not friend.

    The real world has a lot more fun shades of grey to it.

    Personally I think facebook sucks many thousands kinds of bad time, and the damage is far greater than the utility.

  3. lindamciver

    I do appreciate all the advice. There is, of course, more to the story than I could/would blog about. I’m not looking for advice in this case, though – I am more interested in exploring the ramifications of this communications medium. Like all technologies, their impact primarily depends on how people choose to use them, but they do encourage particular ways of interacting that can have strange consequences. Something I shall no doubt write more about sometime. :)

    1. lisa

      Toby and I deleted our facebook pages last year. There were elements of disliking the privacy issues we all know about, elements of feeling hurt about how some people choose use facebook to insult, slight, or bully. Some people choose to share some odd stuff, choose to represent themselves in negative or dubious ways. Yes I could have ignored a lot, but I found I felt more isolated using facebook. I stopped phoning people for their birthdays, sending little happy messages instead. I cyber stalked old friends instead of actually catching up with them, I presumed people would check my status if they wanted to know how I was. In then end there wasn’t much I liked about it.

      Then I thought about the future. My kids are growing up, it won’t be too far off before I’ll be having conversations with them about social networking sites. I’d like to be able to tell my boys that I tried it, but didn’t like it. I’d like to be able to tell them that there are better ways to keep up with friends (without seeming like a hypocrite). There are better places to play games online, there are better ways to invite your friends to a party. How many things did we say or do as a teenager that we really wouldn’t want everyone from our landlords to prospective employers to read about or see photo evidence of…..?

      If old friends want to track me down, I think they’ll find me, without facebook.

  4. Jane

    R and I had been defriended by our teenage nieces. How does that feel? I guessed R was a threat – a possible spy for their parents (who weren’t on their friends list). I post photos of the kids for my family since they are so far away. Now that we are not ‘friends’ they don’t get to know their cousins anymore. Oh well, teenagers.

  5. Julia

    That sounds hurtful. On the other hand, I wonder if that’s giving too much power to Facebook, letting an organisation define what a friend is to you personally. I hope you can work things out with your friend.

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