The Pain of Facebook Unfriending

Print More

social media unfriendingI lost another Facebook friend recently, and I feel the sting of disappointment . . . in myself? In him? In the casual system of social media relationships?

Maybe I said something on this blog that he found objectionable. In my three years of blogging, I have had several people unfriend me because my politics were too liberal for them; earlier this year, based on a blog post I wrote disagreeing with the premise of the Ender’s Game boycott, two friends seem to have cut off ties because I wasn’t liberal enough.

But those two friends never wrote to me personally to explain their defection; after relating their anger at my post in the Newsfeed comments, they apparently clicked a button and that was the end. I gradually began to notice to my regret that neither of them was showing up in my news feed, and a quick search confirmed that they had moved on and away. The loss hurts particularly in the case of the one I have known since childhood, since there are so many shared memories and experiences there that I would have expected to outweigh current political positions.

I’m truly sorry that my views offended these good people, and I certainly could have been wrong about that blog post. But I don’t quite understand the chilly end to the relationship.

I don’t unfriend people simply because I disagree with them about politics or religion. But politics is among the top reasons why people unfriend each other, according to Business Insider‘s report on a study by NM Incite:

  1. Offensive Comments (55%)
  2. Don’t know them well (41%)
  3. Trying to sell me something (39%)
  4. Depressing comments (23%)
  5. Lack of interaction (20%)
  6. Political comments (14%)
  7. Breakup / divorce (11%)
  8. Don’t like their friends (8%)
  9. Update profile too often (6%)
  10. They add too many people (6%)
  11. They don’t update enough (3%)

However, I don’t have time or energy to keep up with hundreds of people’s lives either, so I have hidden lots of people I’ve never met from my news feed.

This is one of the differences between Facebook and Twitter. On Twitter there’s no middle option: you either follow someone or you don’t. On Facebook there are many gradations of relationship: Is this a close friend, a friend, or an acquaintance? Do I want all updates, some updates, or none at all? Do I want to add the person to a special list related to a particular interest we share?

Considering that Facebook offers so many options, the stark alternative — “I don’t want this person’s voice in my life anymore at all” — can be hurtful.

I’m not talking about disengaging on social media from people we have never met in person. This happens on Twitter in particular all the time. I’m thinking about people who end relationships on social media with people they also know in person.

Someone pointed out to me recently that Facebook unfriending isn’t that different from the way friends have always grown apart from each other. You stop going out of your way to see each other as you develop different hobbies and views, and eventually you disengage entirely. Her view was that on Facebook, this process is actually less traumatic than it is for in-person relationships, because Facebook friends and acquaintances tend to drift away without awkward silences or ugly confrontations.

That’s a fair point. But I think it’s precisely the lack of awkward silences or ugly confrontations that hurts most. The hollowness I feel is made worse by the fact that other people tend to regard Facebook relationships so casually.

  • One thing to consider, which might soften the blow somewhat, is that not everyone is as sophisticated in their use of Facebook as you are. Lots of folks aren’t aware of the finer-grained controls Facebook offers between friend and not-friend.

  • Susan

    I agree with Nathaniel. Give people the benefit of the doubt. Being hurt when you don’t know the full story isn’t worth it, especially because there isn’t a good way to get the full story. You may be right about what happened, and you may not. So find the middle place, where things are more ambiguous.

  • Wise words from both of you! Good points.

  • Tom

    I wish I could agree with the comments here. I think people who “de-friend” do so very intentionally. Of course it’s not worth being hurt but easier said than done. They say a hurt ego stems actually from pride… I don’t agree with Business Insiders’ report. Not knowing someone well is of course a main reason but just the feeling that you didn’t “make the cut”, the wondering why, feeling of exclusion when other mutual friends were not cut. How childish FB is, reversion to high school so of course it can seem like too much of an obligation. I’m sorry, was e-mail broke?! On the flip side, I don’t understand why I should accept a friendship invitation from someone I don’t even know! Why would someone even do that?

  • Susan

    Not someone you don’t know–someone you do.

  • Susan

    The thing is about Facebook that you can reconnect with people you used to know or who used to be good acquaintances. If you are sending a friend request to someone who is actively a friend, of course that person will say yes. If the friend request is to a good acquaintance, past or present, things get trickier. I do not ever accept friend requests from someone who I don’t know at all. I don’t have to know them, but I at least have to know what the context is for them thinking they want to ask (like going to the same high school or being in the same neighborhood). I have found Facebook interactions to be surprisingly emotional sometimes. It’s not pride (although pride can be involved). It’s vulnerability. Yes, vulnerability is one of the things that can be considered to be characteristic of children, but to quote an ad I saw decades ago: The only thing worse than vulnerability is invulnerability. There is also the matter of nuance. Getting nuances right is much easier with people you know well. It’s a lot easier to hit the wrong note when dealing with someone who is an unknown (or partially unknown) quantity to begin with.

  • Kate

    I remember when a good friend (whom I don’t get to see very often in person) suddenly seemed to unfriend me. It turned out they had quit Facebook altogether.

  • I have been unfriended many times in my four and a half years of using Facebook. But this past weekend, I experienced my most hurtful Facebook unfriending, ever. The person who unfriended both my Facebook accounts this past Friday, had been a close friend. She and I had been Facebook friended for a year; then, in May of 2011, she reached out to me, offering to set me up a website. She and I cultivated a close, trusting friendship via Skype and telephone. I shared with her things that I had never shared with a pastor or a doctor. We had had arguments but always, we resolved our conflicts. However, last week, she and I had a series of misunderstandings concerning her assisting a third party, a woman whom I had supported for years. Last Friday, this former close friend and I had an ugly confrontation via Facebook Chat. Saturday morning, I saw, from both my accounts, the “Add Friend” button on my former close friend’s profile. I saw that the third party had blocked me also. I saw that my former close friend also removed me from a secret Facebook group she ran, as well as deleting my website. This all has traumatized me because of all that was invested in this relationship.

  • jr

    A family member of mine (whom I no longer consider family) went to Facebook and bereated me and another family member for things we were not doing, hurling all sorts of. false accusations and name calling and threats. Wow. For all to see. It hurts no matter what.