Facebook makes it fairly easy to reach out and catch up with friends. For some people, it also, apparently, makes it incredibly difficult to get rid of them.
Two articles running this weekend, one in the New York Times and one at Psychology Today, discuss the impact of and reasoning behind the act of "defriending" on Facebook; giving someone the virtual boot from your online social life once they've overstayed their welcome for one reason or another. I was a bit taken aback while reading both pieces, particularly at how incredibly dramatic "defriending" had become for some people—according to the Times, one woman, the marvelously-named Buffy Martin Tarbox, had actually written 200 notes to her ex-Facebook friends, explaining the reasons why she'd defriended them, which struck me as a bit extreme, but was apparently well-received by many of Tarbox's defriended recipients.
Irene S. Levine, Ph.D, of Psychology Today, has been on the other end of the spectrum, having been defriended by an acquaintance who took the time, like Tarbox, to write an apology letter, which took Levine by surprise. "Frankly, I was taken aback that I was defriended by someone with whom I had only the most peripheral online relationship and who took my comments so personally," Levine writes, "Nonetheless, when someone defriends you it is like having a door slammed in your face and that's how I felt. It left little room for dialogue unless I wanted to take the conversation elsewhere. Under these circumstances, I didn't."
As Austin Considine of the Times points out, part of the problem with defriending is that it doesn't really match up with how most real life friendships come to an end. There's something very sudden and definitive about it—you're essentially deleting and blocking someone from accessing your life, and "this absence of body language, and the single-click immediacy of online sharing has created problems that have no ready parallel offline."
Perhaps that's true, but at the same time, the act of writing apology notes to explain why you kicked someone out of your Facebook world strikes me as somewhat insincere. Unless you have a legitimate explanation, like having to narrow your list down for professional reasons or some such, there's something a little condescending about assuming that someone desperately wants you to come out from behind your velvet rope to explain why you no longer found them suitable to enter your private world. And if you're defriending someone for safety reasons or because you think they're terrible, it's probably best not to reopen those lines with an explanation letter.
Of course, Facebook isn't the only site where people can be upset by defriending; sites like Twitter and Tumblr keep follower counts prominently displayed on user homepages, making users aware of when someone finds their 140-word updates or blog posts too boring/offensive/annoying to keep up with. But the idea behind Facebook, of course, is that the people on your "friends list" are actually your friends, and so the instant dismissal by someone you felt was at least close enough to you to earn a spot in the edited-for-the-internet version of your personal life (or dismissing someone yourself), can either make you feel completely rejected or serve as a reminder that some "friendships" are not equal to others, and that the people who really count are probably worth more than a goodbye click from either side.
And if you can't actually go through with the defriending process, there's always avoidance: I've never actually defriended anyone, mostly because Facebook makes my head hurt and I just don't care enough, but I have used the site's blocking tools to make sure certain updates don't clog up my screen. Sorry, Farmville. I'd write you a letter telling you why we can't be friends, but you'd probably just write back begging me to water something.
What about you, commenters? Have you ever defriended anyone? And has there been any drama involved? Would you ever write a letter to someone you've defriended? Feel free to share your stories in the comments.