Facebook Defriend, Unfriend versus Dropping Real Life Friends
What is the right and kindest way do you tell a friend you want out, and that it is time to let go and move on?
On Facebook, the concept of 'unfriending' or “defriending” has become a lot easier and the process is well understood. All it takes is a simple click of a mouse to unfriend someone if you want that person out of your life for some reason. They don't even get notified and you will be deleted from that person's list of friends as well. If you want become friends with this person again on Facebook, you have to send a new friend request. However its much harder in real life. It can become akin to a very messy divorce with a trail of very awkward exchanges, unwanted meeting, made-up excuses why the communication has stopped, hurt feelings and ill feeling that can be prolonged by a failure to actually say out loud and obviously 'Its Over. Lets Move On'.
This article explores the etiquette and methods for effective defriending online and in the real world using Facebook as a model.
Dropping Friends is Natural
Dropping so called ‘starter friends’ from the early school or college days, or early work associates, or early social friends is inevitable at various stages in life. People mature and change and most are self-aware enough to know which friends now deserve full attention and which friends and less relevant and maybe a drain and waste of time. Most people realise that at a particular stage of their lives they need to review and reassess their collection of friends from their youth or college days to make room for new friendships they are developing. The harsh relativity is that it is a bit like a thumb drive - some things have to be dropped to free up space for new things.
Research has shown that the processing of winnowing of friends starts in the late teenage years, shows a surge between the age of 30 and 40 years of age and sharply increases after an age of 50 to 60 years of age. It appears to be related to people's future expectations. Young people have long time horizons and they are collectors and explorers, interested in getting new friends, with few thoughts of dropping friends.
As people get older and move into their thirties there is a sense of saying 'Its time to Say Goodbye to All That' People's world view narrows, as they struggle with major life changes such as a career, partnerships and marriage and a first child. They often start to feel overwhelmed with new responsibilities. They get annoyed and impatient with less meaningful friends that seem to want to drag them back to the past and stop them forging new relationships with people that have totally new set of ideas. A lot of this happens naturally as people move to new cities and so different things. Many friends realise that they have 'just grown apart' and mutually agree and even feel relief that they don't have to deal with it deliberately.
How to Say It is Over
Problems arise when the impulse to sever friendships is not mutual. There are two levels of responses and the actions and consideration vary depending on why one person wants to end a friendship and how quickly it needs to be done. The first type is the simple gradual wind down and the second is the urgent clicking of the off switch when the friendship has soured and is causing problems for one of the friends.
The Passive Approach - this can work, and may be a kinder way of doing it, but it may also be a weak response that can trigger a lot of reaction from a friend who does not 'get it' and doesn't understand why it is happening. This works by slowing and delaying the responses to texts, being distracted an always busy, selectively only answering the important stuff, but much less personally. The passive can work, ultimately, but is can be painful and long drawn out with lots of queries "why don't you reply?". The response is to remain vague: ‘I’m just so busy’ or ‘I’m traveling a lot more now.’ Honesty and bluntly switching off. The general view is that white lies are justified in not hurting feelings especially when you keep in vague - you are after all very busy, aren't you.
The passive approach works best with shallower friendships based on a singular share interests or past interests. Friendships based only on an old job or shared past experience are easier to sever because in some ways there is a sense in which both parties are moving on along diverging paths. Sometimes you realise that it is time to drop them. You still like them, there is still something in common, but it is in the past and you decide it is time to move on. You don't want to hurt feeling or confront them. The best way is to gradually give them the message by kindly declining offers to meet over and over again with some excuse or another.
The Active Approach - A different approach is required for more complex and deeper relationships and for friends (or ex-friends) who will not go easily and don't get the message from the passive approach. Some friend are extremely determined and keep bobbing up.
To avoid back-biting, misunderstandings, confrontations, on-going contacts and prolonged bad feelings, many experts suggest people adopt an upfront direct approach that one would use for a romantic breakup. A letter, an e-mail, or testing is too cruel and too easily misunderstood and the recipient has no way of responding by being part of the conservation. It may trigger an email or texting war which can be very hurtful and there is too much 'reading between the lines'. An upfront face-to-face talk is much better - harder to do but has a much better outcome. Schedule a time where you can sit down with them. It is not about accusation or guilt or putting the other person down. It is a simple matter of saying ‘You don’t fit into my life, you’re not on same path as me. I have new paths I want to follow’.
This direct approach is the best approach, but it can be hard to do and can create a lot of pain and awkwardness. Also you need to allow time for it to happen and be finalised.
The Friendship Pyramid
It is not a matter of turning a friend into an enemy. It is a twist on the phrase; "Lets just be Friends". Friendships are probably never really over. Its a matter of assigning friends to new categories, perhaps downgrading them or eventually dropping them completely.
The best way to visualise the levels of friendship in a friendship pyramid. People are continually moving between between the layers, including the defriending process.
- The base is made up of general acquaintances, friends of friends and people you acknowledge and recognise but are not close to.
- The second level is classmates, school friends and work friends. These are people we associate with during work hours, but seldom after hours.
- The third level is the transition phase with new Close Friends.This is a friends in limbo group that you are spending some time with and have potential to become close friends or even higher.
- Fourth level is close friends, people that are not your best friends but are still people you hang out with. Generally the relationships are well established and comfortable.
- The fifth level is for your best friends, family members and siblings, people that you are very close to.
- At the apex of the pyramid is your very Best Friend or Friends. This is the person you spend most time with and feels comfortable sharing your life with. It can include a romantic partner, but many people keep this partner separate from their friends, although a partner is generally the best friend.
© 2012 Dr. John Anderson
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