I read recently that a friend was taking a “friendship inventory”, and eliminating social media “friends” from their life. As I read the post, I was struck by the word “inventory”. When did friendships become viewed as no more than just common shelf stock? When did we stop valuing people as a human? When did we stop being adults and sitting down to have meaningful conversations about said friendships?
I find it disturbing how social media has reshaped our view of other people. We can “friend” and “unfriend”, “like” and “unlike”, “accept” and “block” in one tap of a key without a lot of feeling behind it. We make our choices on a whim, often based on our current feelings. We feign real friendship. But what is it that makes the non-acceptances and “un-friending” feel like a sucker punch to the gut? I am beginning to see that it’s the passive-aggressive, childish nature with which they are delivered. Especially coming from adults.
I have been on Facebook since 2005. Almost 10 years of wading through the muck and mire that is social media. I love it and hate it in the same breath. I love the connectedness that it brings with so many friends and family members that don’t live in the same area as I do, but I hate the intense scrutiny and lack of reality that it has brought with it. Then cue in Instagram, Twitter, and all the other social sites available, and we have a well-rounded community of pseudo-connectedness. Don’t get me wrong, I am on them all. Partially because I want to be and partially because I feel like I’m supposed to be. (Social media social pressure is a doozy.) I have been like and un-liked, friended and un-friended, accepted and blocked. We all have. And I have felt the excitement of new friendships that start with the click of a button and a welcome mat into their social world, as well as felt the sting of wondering what went wrong when I find out I’ve been pink-slipped.
Over the years, I saw tons of posts of people announce they were “cleaning out their friend box” or “taking a friendship inventory” and I hated when those posts were made because the neurotic side of every human on that persons’ friend list checks and re-checks to see if they made the cut. It’s a public display of “you’re just not enough” with the flick of a finger and a button. There is no explanation if you are rejected (like in real friendships), no sit-down to talk (like real friendships), and the casualness with which we delete people from our lives proves that the term “friend” means very little. Yet, the rejection stings all the same.
So how do we keep our friends our friends and not make them more than just a toss-away at Walmart? We grow up.
We treat social media relationships like we are a second grade child, and not an adult. We run away from conflict and disengage when things don’t go our way. It’s easier to hit a button than to have a conversation. Yet, sitting down with those people that we interact with in our real lives is something they deserve. Why? It’s more than just valuing someone’s feelings (because we are human, remember?). It’s seeing people as flesh-and-bone, soul-filled humans. When we treat them as no better than an employee who’s been let go, it’s easy to see that true friendship never actually existed.
I know that at one time or another, everyone has been burned, had a disagreement, not seen eye-to-eye, and just generally disliked a friend. But treat them how you would want someone to treat you. (Grandma had a point.) If someone you considered a friend hurt or frustrated you in any way, wouldn’t you want them to sit down with you, face to face, and talk about it? Call me old-fashioned, but that’s what I would want. Not some confused, “I got unfriended”? You may still choose to walk away from the friendship, but at least you have respected each other and possibly gleaned information you may not have previously had. In the end, it helps us to be better people. It helps us to be better humans.
I want to treat others better than inventory because you are better than inventory. You are people. You have feelings. And it’s how I would want to be treated. I have been burned by people I thought as friends, only to find out that I mattered very little in their lives. It stung when I found out (via social media) that I was no longer a part of their circle of friends, and to this day I have no idea what happened. What sucks is that I would love to know what happened so that I can make sure that it doesn’t happen again, and if it was something that I did, that I could have the chance to make it right. The bitterness, hurt, and anger hit me like a freight train and I was left bewildered and wondering why I didn’t matter enough to talk to. The sting of rejection can be poisonous if left untreated. If I was completely honest with you, you would know that there have been occasions where I was so crushed, it took some serious soul-searching to forgive and let it go. I wanted to be righteously angry forever. But in the end, it just made me cynical and turned off by people. Ultimately, life goes on with or without those people, and that’s okay. I just wish I had been given the respect of an explanation.
All this to say, social media will continue to redefine the meaning of “friendship”, and in the end people will still be people and feelings will still be felt regardless. Disregarding others’ feelings and emotions as we hit the “unlike” or “unfriend” buttons on our screen says something about our own character. We cannot simply “delete” people from our lives. But having grace for someone, or having the tough face-to-face conversation says a lot about our character as well. It shows how we value people and in the end, helps us be better people.