Checkmate?

Ending friendships used to be so easy: you just, over time, made yourself less available. This was great, because no one got angry. And no, I’m not reminiscing about when dinosaurs roamed the earth. We had the internet, even in my childhood. But the ubiquity of Facebook has changed the game. Even five years ago, unfriending someone wasn’t the deal it is today. As in, it didn’t cause nearly everyone bowel liquefying anxiety. At least, I think?

Back when my–now–husband and I were in school, making things “Facebook official” was a big deal. Even so, that pressure on us was re: ourselves. At some point, though, the demand that we be authentic morphed into the demand that we perform. Maybe a dozen people on my friends list care what my son is doing; the rest are scanning everything I post so they can decide if they should dislike me. Am I successful enough? Am I too successful? Tell people you’re struggling on Facebook, and you’re a flake. Tell people you’re happy, and you’re a fake. Or, and this is somehow even worse, you actually are happy.

Success is…not rewarded, always.

Prior to a third of the world’s population uploading these adorably chaotic mini biographies, you had to wait months or even years before realizing someone was horrible. So that’s one huge improvement: I can find out, right away, if someone is a Nazi! Mostly though, I find out that my “new friend” just wants to pitch some pyramid scheme.

In theory, of course, the social cues should be the same. I should be able to tell someone, online, “no” the way I can in person. Some people are just plain obtuse but more, I think, see Facebook as the realm where normal rules need not apply. Yesterday, someone who’d started giving me the silent treatment after finding out I was disabled finally unfriended me. Over what? Well, it was the 75th anniversary of D-Day and I said war was bad.

Someone else was shocked when I unfriended them after literally months of them minimizing and dismissing my experiences. Literally, no matter what I said about my life, yes my life, they knew better. And I mean on every topic from the trauma I’d experienced in my childhood to the root causes of Islamophobia in America. This from someone who’d known me for approximately six months, and knew absolutely fuck it all about Islam. Here, or in any other country. Facebook is chock full of people who think the only way to communicate is to lecture, the only connection worth forging one of mentor to mentee. Or, dare I say, guru. Sometimes I think this format encourages narcissism and sometimes I think, wow, the narcissists of the world finally have an outlet.

I’ve started blocking people when I unfriend them, because I don’t like getting angry messages. Almost always from people who couldn’t bring themselves to say a single kind word in the months of years before I finally pulled the plug. Unfollowing them rarely works, as my problem isn’t what they’re posting on their various pages but with what they contribute to mine. Do I really need someone in my life whose sole contribution is popping in now and then to tell me my baked goods are ugly?

No one would allow this in so-called “real life.” No one. So why is putting my foot down online controversial? If you, an almost total stranger, wouldn’t barge through my front door unannounced (and uninvited!) and start screaming at me that I’m a shitty cook, then don’t expect me to love you for doing the equivalent online. And don’t barge in on every single conversation I’m having with other people, either.

We get that, in person, you have to be a friend to have a friend. That telling someone they’re stupid, or ugly, or fat, is rude. That it’s the kind of conduct that’ll (rightfully) lose you a job. Manners, the same thing that allowed friendships to grow, also allowed them to die. I could say “no thanks, I’m busy” without getting maybe even dozens of emails castigating me for being the worst person on earth. Why have so many people, now, decided that friendship isn’t a lovingly experienced mutuality but a test of wills?

Why do I need to “prove” my friendship by tolerating behavior that makes me feel bad?

Where is this “you owe me” culture from?

What’s changed?