Out on the Frozen Tundra: Weathering the Cold Shoulder
When I came out as polyamorous online, there were a few people close to me that decided to disassociate themselves in one way or another; someone who was very dear to me unfriended me on Facebook. This might sound silly to some people, but research has shown that Facebook is useful in the building of relationships as well as strengthening the self-esteem of those who might be lacking (through the building of social capital). 1 So, as you can see, it’s not necessarily arbitrary.
Friendships are tricky things. You can be friends with someone most of your life and still have it ripped from you in the matter of a second. Some friendships end in conflict, but most of them tend to just “fade out”3; inventions like Facebook seem to catalyze this process, which can be particularly stressful because people don’t need permission to end a friendship on Facebook (even though they have to ask for permission to start one).4 I wasn’t granted any explanation as to why she dissolved our friendship.
In one research sample, 57% of people reported unfriending someone for online reasons; 27% did it for offline reasons.
The top reasons for online unfriending are:
1. Unimportant/frequent posts (e.g. food, asinine posts)
2. Polarizing posts (e.g. religion/politics)
3. Inappropriate posts (e.g. crude humor, racism)
4. Everyday life posts (e.g. exercise, purchases)
The top reasons for offline unfriending are:
1. Disliked behavior (e.g. betrayal, dislike, misdeeds)
2. Changes in the friendship (e.g. geography, disruption of relationship, romantic intrusion)5
I’d like to think this happened because I post too much, but really it’s because I post too much. I guess she didn’t want to pick up what I’ve got to throw down. I threw the ball; I don’t know where it went. Did she pick it up? Did it fly by her? Is it sitting next to her and she’s looking at it like if she touches it she’ll catch “the poly”? I’d like to know.
If someone wants to dissolve a friendship, I think they should do so in a way that doesn’t cause collateral damage to mutual friends or colleagues, much less the person that’s being dumped. Weathering the cold shoulder can be especially difficult without a jacket of support. I don’t know of any official rules for unfriending someone, but maybe there should be. This is a breakup after all; why not give it the same credence as a 15-year romantic relationship? That’s how long we were friends, after all. Here are some rules I think might be useful when breaking up with friends online:
1. Tell the person why you are unfriending them. Letting a person know why you are not interested in following their life is respectful. You get to lay down your view on things and the other person might at least learn something from it. Just unfriending someone after a friendship of any depth is like packing up your stuff and moving out while someone is at work. Respect this person enough to give them the truth; it might be something they need to hear.
2. Follow through with whatever actions you’ve promised. Maybe you have a conversation with them about why you want to be done, and decide to take a break. Then, take a break. Follow through with what the “plan” is.
3. Be courteous. If you decide you are done completely, then shake hands and part amicably. You were friends once; think of those moments as you move on in life. Wish each other well.
I would have really liked the opportunity to talk to her about our relationship before she decided to end it. I don’t unfriend people because they post a million pictures of their children (which I don’t have and can’t relate to), their insanely awesome world travels that make me envious, or something that I kind of get, but don’t. I just “like” these things, because that’s what makes them happy. I see them smiling in these pictures or beaming from status updates and although I can’t see myself in all of my friends’ lives, I’m truly happy that they seem happy in theirs. I hope she’s happy in her world. I know I am happy in mine.
1 Kalpidou, M., Costin, D., & Morris, J. (2011). The relationship between Facebook and the well-being of undergraduate college students. CyberPsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 14(4), 183-189.
3 Sprecher, S., & Fehr, B. (1998). The dissolution of close relationships. In J. H. Harvey (Ed.), Perspectives on loss: A sourcebook (pp. 99-112). Philadelphia, PA: Brunner/Mazel.
4 Baxter, L. A. (1979). Self‐disclosure as a relationship disengagement strategy: An exploratory investigation. Human Communication Research, 5(3), 215-222.
5 Sibona, C., & Walczak, S. (2011, January). Unfriending on Facebook: Friend request and online/offline behavior analysis. In System Sciences (HICSS), 2011 44th Hawaii International Conference (pp. 1-10). Kauai, HI: Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.