Posted by: Liza Rosenberg | February 4, 2010

If a friendship falls on Facebook and no one is there to hear it, was it ever really a friendship?

In the age of Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms, I daresay that most of us – if not all of us – have been there. You know what I’m talking about – virtual friendship. Those friends we make online, often through other friends, but not always. We interact with them on our profiles, we poke and get poked in return. We tag them in notes and we exchange 140-character “tweets”. Deepest thoughts are revealed, private jokes are created, mundane tidbits of everyday life are shared. Before you even realize it, you have a new friend. Sure, you haven’t actually met in “real” life, but in the days of friendship 2.0, that almost seems trivial. After all, you “connect” on so many different levels. Or at least you think you do…

Because, after exchanging hundreds of messages, wall comments and the like, it slowly begins to change. A flurry of pathetic excuses are made, occasional bickering ensues (followed by abject apologies, of course) and with each passing day, the friendship feels more and more like a toy whose time has passed. The initial excitement has seemingly died down (for one of you, anyway) and maybe you lose interest and toss the friendship aside. Or perhaps you are the one relegated to the virtual shelf with all the other “toys”, taken down to be played with at random, at the whims of someone you believed was your friend.  You just don’t understand it, because not only were you led to believe that things were going well, but even when you decide to take a step back, they’re back on the radar with emails and comments, keeping you just off-balance enough so as to keep you guessing.

Suddenly, it all goes to hell.  The person you thought you knew, the friend you thought you’d made is no more. You can’t figure out what happened, so you push the issue, you question the silence. Outrageous accusations begin to fly. Words, calculated to cause pain, hit their mark. You are stunned, shaken, hurt. And once you get over the initial shock, you are angry. Angry that this individual you’d trusted and liked could twist things around in such a grandly absurd manner, absolved of all responsibility. Angry that this person has decided that they were an innocent victim of a “stalker” of sorts (!), conveniently forgetting their own involvement in the “friendship”. You are shocked by this blatant display of pathetic, childish behavior, and it comes as no surprise when you discover that you’ve been unceremoniously defriended, blocked and publicly moaned about on your former “friend’s” wall (the modern day version of calling everyone in your address book to badmouth someone, even if you don’t mention them by name), for apparently, this is what we do when friendship 2.0 goes sour.

So, how do we go about the nasty business of ending friendship these days? With the magical click of a few buttons, of course. An “unfollow” here, a “block” there, and presto, the direct connection is virtually severed. They can no longer see your comments on the profiles of mutual – often virtual – friends and you can’t see theirs. In many cases, they live in some far-flung corner of the world, so you’re not likely to run into them in your local café or pub. If you play your cards right, you might even be able to pretend that they never even existed, that you never willingly invited them into your world. Except, of course, that you did.

So, how have your online friendships fared?

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  1. ah…. very good. Online friendships are great as long as they are superficial and mutual admiration societies. But if anyone is critical of anyone else for any reason – we really don’t know who we are talking to. x i

  2. A topic that will , I’m sure, only become more relevant as time passes. It was bound to become a theme and you hit the nail on the head as usual. It’s just a new online, techie area where protocol hasn’t been decided yet. Grown people behave in ways they never would dream of behaving in person. Defriending? Blocking? What happened to saying, “you know, this isn’t really what I signed up for and I’m not interested in pursuing this online friendship anymore. Please respect that decision”?? All of a sudden we regress back to junior high. Online back stabbing is still back stabbing. Defriending and then telling all your other “friends” about it is still cruel. Isabel is right, when push comes to shove, we really don’t know anything about our online friends and should be careful not to put too much of our emotions on the line.

  3. I’ve only had one really big, dramatic implosion of an online friendship but it was a doozy, and has definitely left scars, and made life with some mutual friends more than a bit awkward.

    Each year around Christmas I think of sending her a card, to try one last time, and then the fear of rejection and the memories of the hurt win out and it goes unwritten and unsent.

  4. Isabel: Sad but true, though I have to say that for the most part, I’ve been lucky with the people I’ve encountered online. I do think it’s possible for online friendships to be “real” friendships, depending on the people involved, though obviously, it doesn’t always work. I’m not sure they have to be superficial, though some definitely will be. This is true of real-life friendships as well, though.

    I think the internet in general has created a situation where people feel less of a need to be responsible for their words and actions, and as NRG said, allows people to believe they can act in ways that they would never act in real life (or at least you’d like to think they wouldn’t).

    NRG: Some people seem to think that the communication over the internet means that they don’t have to be held accountable for their childish behavior, though you’d think they’d have the sense to realize that the way they act online should be no different from the way they act in real life. Of course, who knows? Maybe they do act this way in real life, which is just very sad. I’m still pondering your last sentence, because it makes me sad to think about miscalculating so badly with people you’ve grown to like and trust.

    Around the Island: While I don’t worry about mutual friends, I can totally understand the scars. I think these online friendships can certainly evoke the same feelings and emotions as real-life friendships, and the problems and pain they cause can hurt just as much. Perhaps even more sometimes, given that everything is in writing, and words can very painful when that’s all there is to go on.

  5. I’m ashamed to say that my best friend of 16 years used facebook to start a fight between my sister and myself. She told my sister that she no longer wants to talk to her because she’s too sensitive. But wouldn’t anyone be sensitive about someone who lies about them behind their backs? We both opted to be the bigger person and didn’t even comment on what she wrote. Those friends who really know us never said anything on facebook either and eventually stopped talking to her one by one as they realized that she lost her mind. So what I really want to say is, if you have something to say, say it in private and don’t act like a high school girl. Your friends are your friends and the people on the computer are a way to kill time. They do make things more interesting though.

  6. I don’t know what to say (OK, now a long tirade). I was wary of Facebook and Twitter when it all started. Today I am even more sure that both are tools that support extremely superficial ersatz-relationships, much worse than (even) blogs. At least in blogs you and your readers, at least that part that produces comments, have an opportunity to exchange something more meaningful than 140-long sound bites.

    If you trace the decline of inter-human communications through the chain: e-mails, blogs, Facebook, Twitter, you can see the decline in quantity and, possibly, quality of the exchanged info. What next? I am kinda afraid to guess 😉

  7. Aleya: What a sad story. I have to say that I’m always appalled by people who hurt someone else, and then blame the other person for being too sensitive, or for not understanding the original comment properly. It seems very basic to me to apologize and show remorse when you’ve hurt someone, even if it wasn’t intentional.

    I think you can make friends with people online, though, and they aren’t necessarily just a way to kill time. I’ve made friends with people online, and then those online friendships were also taken offline. I spend my days in front of a computer, and many of my friends are in the same boat. The internet allows us to maintain these friendships very easily. Sure, some online friendships are superficial, but I don’t think they have to stay at that level. It can be whatever you want to make it – just like friendships in real life.

    Snoopy: That was a long tirade? I’d hate to see what a short one looks like. 😉

    Read what I wrote to Aleya. I think if a friendship is nothing more than comment exchanges on someone’s wall, then yes, it is superficial. If you take it beyond that level, though, I think it’s possible to achieve a “real” friendship. That being said, this era of friendship 2.0 absolutely lends itself to spiraling levels of superficiality, precisely in the manner that you describe.

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