Dear Aunt Dandelion,
The world of online social media is in a constant state of flux. With that comes confusing new versions of old problems. My question is about Facebook unfriending. I have only unfriended two people since joining Facebook several years ago. One because someone was causing loud dissension and publicly defaming someone's character in an unfair manner. Another was to set up a boundary against someone's creepy behavior. I was recently defriended by two good friends – a couple – with no warning.
I recognize my fault in not communicating with them regularly for the past few years. Yet communication is a two-way street. I am, frankly, bewildered at their sudden bridge burning, with no explanation. From what I can tell, it was not accidental, as their accounts are still active and we have still have mutual friends. Would it be best to respect that boundary and not inquire from them their reasoning? Or, would it be better to let it go, leaving the "porch light on"? I see no point in asking mutual friends, as it is unfair to put them in the middle.
Aunt Dandelion replies:
There are many reasons why people both add and delete friends from Facebook. Aunt Dandelion does not believe it has as much to do with etiquette as many seem to think. What trips us up here is the term “friends,” which Facebook applies equally to all connections, from spouses and siblings to casual acquaintances and ex-coworkers. People are not terribly upset when contacts drop them on other social networks, such as LinkedIn and Twitter. Why? Because there is no expectation of a personal friendship in the notion of “connections” or “followers.”
Nor should there be on Facebook. Many Facebook “friends” are really just acquaintances whom, in a frenzy of fellow feeling, one added to one’s cadre of Facebook friends without first establishing a genuine friendship. Sometimes these “friends” work out, and sometimes the tenor of their very first post triggers a form of buyer’s remorse.
Unlike you, many people periodically rationalize their Facebook friends list in order to focus on a select group that interacts with them regularly or shares more of their interests. Some people just decide Facebook isn’t really worth their time and trim their lists down to family and close personal friends. They do not always think to send a personal note before a purge, explaining the whys and wherefores to the soon-to-be-deleted friends. Asking someone why they unfriended you is like asking why you weren't invited to their party. Awkward. And not good manners.
In your own case, you mention that you had not communicated with this couple regularly for years. A lot of people, even real friends, might infer that you didn’t value your connection with them on Facebook. Do not take their unfriending as a sinister act. You mentioned “burning bridges” – if Facebook was your only bridge to them, how close were you, really? While it is always possible that one or two of your posts might have offended them, causing them to defriend you, isn’t it more likely they just decided to shift their relationship with you back to the real world?
If you want to continue your friendship with this couple, give them a call and invite them over, or send them a friendly e-card, or make a point of holding a pleasant conversation with them next time you see them at church or the grocery store. Don’t mention Facebook. You might even enjoy their friendship more when you revert to more personal forms of social interaction.Sometimes, the old ways are still best.