Unfriended. Unfollowed. Unsubscribed.
Do these words strike sadness, insecurity, or offense in your heart?
My feeling: THEY SHOULDN’T.
I think social media has really skewed our ideas of friendships, relationships, and our feelings of self worth.
FIRST: The definition of friendship.
Merriam-Webster defines a friend as “one attached to another by affection or esteem.” It does NOT say “one who must follow your every thought and all of your online activities in every space where you are active.”
It’s possible to be friends – to have affection or esteem for one another – and not necessary want or need to know every little detail of each other’s lives. A little space can be healthy and appropriate. AND can still equal a good friendship. In fact, there are times when no boundaries in friendship can turn into a very dreadful thing.
I will confess that I’ve unfriended and unfollowed a few people from my everyday life and some I’ve met online because my affection and esteem for them was best served by NOT knowing every little thought and whim of theirs. I would never want for them to take offense, because it was not done with any malicious intent on my part. In fact, it was really done to preserve our friendship.
And I will be totally honest in saying that I would expect anyone feeling that way about me to do the same.
SECOND: What is required from a relationship?
I’m at the grocery store when I run into Sally, a good friend. We stand in the cracker aisle and have a great 10-minute conversation, catching up on what’s new with work and the kids, etc. We say goodbye and both head our separate ways.
Later, I see Sally again at the post office, where we’re near each other in line and exchange a few more bits of small talk before we each get our chance at the counter and then go our separate ways.
Finally, Sally and I run into each other yet again at the school carnival that night, where we nod our heads and smile at each other before being carried off by our children to different game booths.
Wait. But Sally and I are friends. Shouldn’t we be engaged in constant conversation every place we go?
OR…can I take our conversation at the store – which I enjoyed very much – at face value and for what it’s worth and be satisfied with that?
It might be a lame analogy, but sometimes that’s how I feel about my online relationships. I may not follow someone at every single place they are active online, but does that mean the one place I *do* follow them isn’t worth much? If so, now I’m the one who’s sad. Because I think in a healthy relationship, you should each be willing to accept what the other is able to offer, and take that for what it’s worth and value it.
Finally: why you shouldn’t take it personally.
I know this is easier said than done, but there are SO many reasons not to take things personally when it comes to friends/follows in social media.
First of all, different social media platforms can be very…wonky…sometimes. Random unfollows happen ALL the time. So sometimes what you think is happening very consciously at the hand of an actual human is really just a glitch in software.
Second, for many – if not most – people, managing social media is all about managing TIME. In fact, I think that’s how it ought to be. We ought to each be very protective of the time we spend online, even if it’s a part of our paid careers. We need to be disciplined and efficient, and sometimes that means being very, very selective in who we follow and how we follow them.
I do A LOT of stuff online. Blogging, writing, site editing, and more – I’m often in a lot of places at once. My own mother has apologized for not “keeping up” with me, and I would not be surprised if my own sisters don’t read my blog anymore. AND THAT IS OK with me. We are each individually responsible for the amount of time we spend online and what we do online, and I respect anyone’s choice to perhaps unfriend or unfollow me in doing what they feel they must to keep the social media noise to a minimum and keep their activities online as focused as possible.
Because I understand it’s not about me, it’s about them. Especially if otherwise we have a happy, healthy relationship.
I think we should take and value our friendships for what they are worth. I don’t think we should let the contrived establishment of “friends” and “follows” online affect what we know about our relationships with others. A real friendship transcends whatever definitions have been created for us through social media.
Be who you are, put good things out into the world (and yes, through social media), enjoy the positive interactions you have with others, share affection and esteem with those you consider friends, and just let it be.