Once upon a time if you fell out with someone, there was no simple mechanism for expressing this to your wider community. No symbolic divorcing was available, and either you avoided them in person, or you couldn’t and life went on. The word ‘unfriend’ did not exist, nor did the concept. I am fascinated by the way facebook has changed things for those of us who frequent it – and those other social media sites as well.

There have been seven people in my life who were known to me personally and whom it became, at various times over the last five years or so, necessary to unfriend. We’ll leave aside the spammers and the random internet connections that didn’t work because those would never have existed pre-internet anyway. Seven people I just didn’t want to interact with any more. There were reasons, some more serious than others, but it boils down to a quality of life thing and not wanting to be messed about or made needlessly miserable. In many ways the whys are irrelevant, and also too personal to share. The mechanics of it are the more interesting bit, along with the emotional impact.

Unfriending is in many ways a ritual and symbolic action of rejection. If we have friends in common and do not go so far as to block, there will remain a degree of mutual visibility. Even a blocked person in touch with mutual friends does not disappear entirely, sometimes. So the tools of the internet do not deliver total separation and freedom from the person who was driving you nuts, if they are part of your wider network.

Phrases like ‘you’re not my friend any more’ have echoes of the school playground to them. The youthful ease of acquiring and rejecting people perhaps has online parallels. Perhaps the ‘adult’ version is to be more tactful, less honest, more passive-aggressive in our dealings with people who are physically present but no longer liked or valued. Perhaps there was more honesty, integrity and utility in the childhood drawing of lines, the willingness to be affronted and the aptitude for walking away. Perhaps being socialised into tolerating what drives us mad, accepting what wounds us and putting up with those we find offensive is not as wise and mature as it’s presented.

I’ve tried it both ways, online and offline, and I am increasingly a fan of deliberate, considered unfriending where appropriate. The world is a big place and there are more people in the small town I inhabit than I could ever meaningfully interact with. Why not walk away when people do things I am really uncomfortable with, hurt by or unhappy about? We are not such a small tribe that we must of necessity work together.

The counter arguments are many. The challenge is supposedly good for me, they’re doing me a favour really. Well, I’ve come to the conclusion this is for me to decide and not for anyone else to tell me. I’ve run into the ‘this is a good person so you shouldn’t be hurt by what they do’ line a few times. That’s bullshit. If it’s necessary to defend someone as ‘a good person’ I think there’s very good odds they’re a lousy person who makes a lot of noise about how good they are. I get plenty of helpful, meaningful, growth-inducing challenges from people who do not make me miserable, so I’ll be sticking with those. I’m very suspicious now of anyone who thinks I’m so crap as to need taking apart and knocking down, but who still wants to be around me. That’s a combination I now run away from as soon as I spot it.

The other argument is that maybe these people need me in their tribe, to challenge and help them. I’ve had it suggested to me, and I’ve given it some thought. I just don’t have enough of a Jesus complex to hang around martyring myself for people who don’t seem to like me much, or value me, or have any actual use for me. There are plenty of other people, why expend all my energy on the high-maintenance few who don’t even like what I do? That’s just silly.

The ritual of unfriending has a lot of symbolic and magical power. It is a strong statement, not to be used lightly and better not deployed in haste or in anger. But sometimes, drawing a line and saying ‘enough, thank you,’ is a powerful and liberating thing to do. Now, onto the good things with the lovely people…

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

20 responses to “Unfriending

  • Sighild

    Interesting article about the “unfriend function” phenomenon

  • paulaacton

    The one other issue of unfriending though is the belief that the person you are unfriending will actually notice, I have a person I work with who frequently sends friend requests to work mates only to unfriend and block them when they disagree with her over the slightest thing, the only problem for her is half the people don’t even notice she is gone unless she makes a point of telling them (usually in the staff canteen) the problem is she does not realise that their retort of having not noticed her absence says more about her than them

  • Cianaodh (Key-Ah-Knee) - a.k.a. Troy

    So eloquently put and you’re right on target as usual. I too have had to “unfriend” people who seem to take pleasure in making me and/or others feel like crap or are otherwise manipulative in their actions. Like you said, it’s a quality of life thing and quite liberating but not something to do hastily or out of temporary anger.

  • Cianaodh (Key-Ah-Knee) - a.k.a. Troy

    Reblogged this on OurPantheons and commented:
    Excellent article on the topic of unfriending.

  • Catherine Crayton

    Unfriending is a ritual process! Thank you for putting it into that perspective for me. I think for me it would almost be more difficult to unfriend than to tell a person, we just don’t get along or have much in common so I don’t want to be your friend anymore, Something about the electronic worldwide aspect of it feels more intense and perhaps more hurtful (even though they are hurting you). Thank you for something which will give me much more food for thought. Now happier places to go and things to do 🙂

  • Running Elk

    Reblogged this on Shamanic Paths and commented:
    Having just gone through a bit of a purge on Facebook, I can well relate to the sentiments expressed by Nimue, here. Love the way that she has pointed out the ritualistic aspects, something I hadn’t even considered in the process of cutting away so much. There is, after all, many good reasons we “lost touch” with these people before they tracked us down… Quite liberating – I’d thoroughly recommend it 🙂

  • alienorajt

    Superb! Jolly well said. I quite agree. Excellent post!

  • Christopher Blackwell

    No is a powerful and magical word that helps you set boundaries in your life and it is not used near enough because we are taught that it is not nice. This seems to be taught stronger to girls than boys perhaps because girls have more need to use it. Remember NO is the word you are probably not using often enough!

  • greenmackenzie

    What a great post, and full of wisdom. I unfriended a whole bunch of people fairly recently who had managed to creep back into my life via Facebook, but who were causing me nothing but pain. The up friending was not really supposed to be noticed by them, but to free me from being subjected to their posts and opinions which I could really do without. I love your perspective that the world is big and full of other potential growth inspiring friends 🙂

  • Wisp Of Smoke

    Reblogged this on Wisp Of Smoke and commented:
    A very interesting and relevant post regarding the handling of relationships in our ever-expanding digital environment.

  • syrbal-labrys

    I’ve had four people in life that I had to step away from, and sever all ties….well, five if you count my toxic mother. Ironically, my own drug/alcohol addicted daughter invoked that same “magic” on me — cutting ties because I would not stop insisting she seek help. The act of stepping away does let you move on, but I remain convinced it leaves a mark.

  • caelesti

    It also depends on how selective you are with your Facebook (or whatever site) “friends”. I debate back and forth with myself about who I want to include- for now it’s basically “I think you’re an interesting person I’d like to be loosely in touch with” but I have second cousins, high school and college classmates that I’m not in touch with much, from time to time I mainly weed people out that I don’t have much in common with- I haven’t had to unfriend people mainly for being unpleasant or even abusive, fortunately- though I have in offline friendships! Kinda the opposite what you might think. I like Google+ also because it makes it easy to categorize people and share certain things with certain “circles” whereas FB isn’t as user-friendly.

    • Nimue Brown

      I think there is an innate distance with facebook friends such that, if you don’t know each other and are polite, all is viable… it’s only ever been people I knew in person who have given me real grief.

  • caelesti

    There’s actually a Wiccan ritual called “hand-parting” generally for divorce, but could be used for friendship.

  • LadyBlueRose's Thoughts Into Words

    I enjoyed your thoughts tonight…even more since I deleted my FB
    as I told Running Elk…I have a different definition of friends I guess…
    but then I am different in real life too…
    Wonderful Post..perfect timing ( synchronicity? 🙂 )
    Thank you for sharing….
    Take Care…You Matter…

  • Thomas Peace (author)

    Interesting post! It made me think of our predicament today. Though we had a few friends over for Easter today, we did not go to a household that we were invited to (of a relative whose husband cheated on her… left her out to rot… and then – when she got a better lawyer and was about to get half – came running back to her to be able to keep all his property). Some relatives went to the party and (like the naive wife) also “forgave” him. My wife and I both had rotten parents. My parents did plenty of cheating and other truly insane things while I was a child. I’ve more than fulfilled my quota for putting up with that kind of thing and forgiving. People change, and sometimes forgiving them, staying with them, clinging to them, etc., is not in anyone’s best interest. When i once posted a thing that the cartoon Tweety Pie once said: “Once a bad old puddy tat… always a bad old puddy tat!” … someone said that that may be a bit too closed-minded and harsh. But we are not talking about being closed-minded; we are talking about protecting dignity and mental health with prudent decisions (that are still, nonetheless, quite open). A gazelle who gives the lion a second chance isn’t a gazelle for very long!

    • Nimue Brown

      Yes. And I know from assorted experience that it is always far easier to see these from the outside – frustratingly so from the outside, while suspect motives can be dangerously invisible if you’re too close to them.

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