In seventh grade, I met a boy from a cross-town rival school who fascinated me. "George" had real swagger. Me and all my friends instantly fell in love with him. He was so different, so confident, so funny. He dated a few of my friends - and as the chubby, somewhat unattractive girl with curly hair - I felt lucky just to be in his orbit. We spent hours listening to early rap and hair bands, playing pool in his parents' basement, and sneaking tastes from his dad's unlocked liquor cabinet.
We stayed friends all throughout high school and for years thereafter. Our parents became good enough friends to be on each other's Christmas card lists. When he joined the Marines and landed in Okinawa, he used to write me long letters on fancy military stationery and I'd receive very official looking mail from Japan on a regular basis.
He married and eventually moved to Georgia. By then we both had kids. I was invited to attend my cousin's wedding in Athens and made a point to visit George even though it was quite a distance from where we were staying. It was fun to reconnect in person and see him in his new life, all grown up. He even let me borrow his truck to drive to the wedding, which I remember being a significant inconvenience to him.
He eventually moved to the Netherlands and I lost touch with him for about 10 years. I went to his grandmother's funeral even though he wasn't able to be there. She was a great lady and we'd also maintained a friendship.
What could possibly go wrong with this picture?
We became Facebook friends.
And as it turns out, none of our previous friendship and connection translated with the friend request. We have opposite opinions on politics. And sports. And America's role in the world. And how awful American food is. You name it, we were opposites.
I've got hundreds of friends that I've known for many years, but only a few that I've known longer than I've known George. I'm sad to report that our Facebook friendship did not survive. Since he lives in Europe, his mom lives in another state, and he has no other relatives here - I doubt I will ever see him again.
What happened? Well, let's just say he doesn't follow the unwritten rules of Facebook conversations. After witnessing countless violations of these rules that have resulted in friendships being lost, I've put together a list.
Rules for keeping friends on Facebook:
- Don't hide behind your computer and think it's ok to be a jerk. In my experience, some men struggle with this one mightily. My friend George is fun and gregarious in person, but on Facebook he was combative, insulting, and downright prickly.
- Don't feel like you have to escalate every argument. It's ok to disagree with someone, as long as you know how to leave some things on the table without becoming angry.
- You aren't going to ever prove you're "right" to some people. Every person comes to Facebook with their own particular biases, and those are hard to change. Learn how to agree to disagree.
- Don't get personal. If you disagree with someone, it's very tempting to start labeling and calling names. This will get you unfriended, especially if you are nasty about it.
- Practice the 5/1 rule: Try giving friends five positive comments or likes for every one that could be considered negative.
Unfortunately, my friend George did not follow these rules. Even when he realized he'd been unfriended and sent me another friend request, he was nasty about it. Here is the actual exchange:
George: "Wow you don't want to be a friend...Sad. Sorry I am not in the 'Liberal Elite Club!' I hope all is well with you and the family."
Me: "This is exactly that type of message that made me delete you in the first place. I wanted to stay friends but you made it impossible because everything you ever posted on my page was insulting."
George: "Take care, Claire, I wish you the best." (dripping with sarcasm)
Me: "You too, George."
A very sad end to a very long friendship. But the sad thing is, I'm more relieved than angry. He was nasty and mean to me and it made me realize that not every long friendship is worth keeping. I'm thankful to have found out now rather than spending a bunch of money on a ticket to Europe to visit and finding a mean old man waiting for me.
What are your "unwritten" rules for social media interactions?