No offense, I don’t want to be friends on Facebook

If you’re reading this it’s possible until recently we used to be friends on Facebook. But before that, we probably were friends IRL…in real life. We fell out of touch, or maybe we just saw each other rarely.

And then we joined Facebook. We became “friends.” And I had a lot of friends, racing steadily towards 1,000 friends. Wow, I was popular! People liked me! What could I do with all those friends?

What could I do, indeed.

I started hiding people’s updates from my News Feed. Facebook said I could put people into Lists, so I did, and I dissected and debated contacts into this list or that one. I diligently managed permissions and access for people on those lists – this list could see my photos, this one couldn’t. This other list could see my Wall, and this one could not. I removed my comments on others’ updates from my own profile feed, as well as the notice of any new friends I added. I blocked applications. I deleted Like requests. I ignored Pokes. I change my profile picture about 1x year. I was updating about once a week.

And I started thinking, this is a lot of effort I’m investing in not furthering any of these relationships, and making sure they don’t intrude on any other relationships.

After the initial “Add to Friends”, and most of those requests included no personal notes or questions, there was still no communication. Nothing was strengthened. Nothing was reborn. Nothing was created. A few old contacts wrote me to say hi; others asked for favors. But most just stayed silent. Maybe they browsed my profile or my photos, or maybe they weren’t that curious after all.

So why does un-friending someone on Facebook feel like you’re rejecting them?

It’s a bandaid in our relationships. It’s not that I don’t want to be “friends” with you, it’s that Facebook doesn’t define what relationship I have with you. Most likely without Facebook, our relationship will remain the same as it has always been: casual friends, business-related associates, networking acquaintances, old high school friends, occasional chatters, daily Re-Tweeters, or even weekly emailers. Facebook doesn’t fundamentally change that.

But I’m not really worried about unfriending.

I am accessible; I was before Facebook and I am even more after I joined. I have websites. Many websites. All with forms and addresses to contact me. I hand out business cards with an email address. You can Tweet @rosso at me. If you search for Sara Rosso on Google, my sites are about 90% of the first page.

So why am I still on Facebook at all?

First, I have several fan pages for my websites and I do see a utility in keeping them – they’re an additional way for content consumers, if not friends, to stay updated with your very-specific content and to give me feedback.

Secondly, for some of my family members, who live more than 5,000 miles away from me, and for a few of my very close friends, it’s the only way they have decided they will participate in this whole online world. Email didn’t work, a phone call is expensive and different time zones can be challenging, and for now, I’m ok with staying in touch with them this way. But I know where they live, what their phone numbers are, and I’ve probably seen them in the last 12 months.

And for now, this small minority has priority over acquaintances, people I meet networking, and whoever else is online and has many, many, many other ways to stay in contact with me and what I’m doing other than Facebook.

I don’t know if I’ll ever leave Facebook completely. I’ll probably continue to cut down my friend list, encouraging them to interact with me in other ways.

But don’t take it personally if you get unfriended.

Do I want to be friends with you? Sure I do. But it doesn’t have to be on Facebook.

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21 replies »

  1. So timely as I was thinking about writing a post about who to friend on FB.

    Recently I’ve been getting requests from people I don’t know at all or maybe they left a comment or two on my blog. I’m thinking maybe I should set up a FB page just for my blog.

    Like you I have friends and family who live far away and FB is the easiest way to keep in touch.

    • @Nyc, perhaps you feel “vain” or something opening a fan page, but I think it’s a good idea. I’ve never gotten a comment from a reader that they wish they could be FB friends instead of being on the fan page.

  2. I have a FB page for my modest blog as I agree with you that this is the way forward, although I am no where near as popular as you are.
    Great post Sara and I will continue to LIKE your page :)

    • @Lindy – thanks for your comment. I feel like the Fan pages are another commenting system in a way – and anyone can email me still so I’m accessible :)

  3. I don’t mind being removed as a friend on FB.. especially since I don’t personally know you.. As you mentioned, you have the fan page as well as multiple site where people can contact you. I have used them, several times and I’ve always appreciated your responses and help with my questions.

  4. Hmmmm, living in a small town I find that I get friend requests from all sorts of people that I see every day in the street. But most of these people don’t ‘salute’ me (say hi) when I pass by, maybe just a cursory ‘ciao; and hardly ever stop to talk, so why should I befriend them on facebook? But I feel guilty rejecting their friendship. I don’t particularly want half the town looking through my photos and reading my updates which are more for the benefit of my friends and family, but I still have a long list of unaccepted, unrejected friend requests that I don’t know what to do with. Am going to look into all this sorting and dividing, it could be the answer for me! Thanks Sara x

  5. @Sonia – thanks for your comment! I try to be helpful if possible, and try to make myself open to meeting people for a coffee – a lot of those meetings have turned into friendships :)

    @Nicki – Lists can be useful, for sure, I just have a problem thinking that I have to be friends with someone yet limit them to what content they can see? At that point they could just remain blog commenters or casual acquaintances around town, right?

  6. I love having one profile that is my public persona, open to everyone, personal yet reserved, and very, very stimulating and one profile that is my top secret personal persona, never going above 100 friends and family, pictures of kids and intimate details of my life, and much more boring (guess what…we tend to preselect our friends and they are generally very similar to ourselves).

    I have often gotten around the to friend or not to friend issue by friending people in the grey area on my public persona profile, and I have often unfriended people on my personal persona profile when I find I am starting to get about 100 friends (and have sometimes gotten called on it…oops!).

    I find fan pages and business pages much less human and interactive, which is why I have two personal profiles. It is a system that has worked, if not perfectly, pretty well for the past couple of years.

    • @Rebecca Funny, but you’re actually one of the people I thought about when looking at my list because I don’t have any “friends” on FB that are tied to a company / website / brand – Rebecca @ Brigolante I find to be a brand and not really a personal account which now I understand is exactly what you intended. :) It does seem like the Fan Page might be the best route at that point, don’t you think?

  7. this is a great article, and so true. I ignore friend requests from people i don’t actually know. I think in a lot of cases it’s like a contest-who can get the most friends. I only have about 70, and 100 seems to be about the max i would want to deal with. ciao, Cristina
    PS Auguri on the picture in Glamour!

  8. Great story. I can relate.

    As someone who has always lived far away from “home”, who went to college in New England, grew up in the Midwest, lived in Italy and Costa Rica, now lives in Colorado, has family on the East Coast and has traveled frequently – if you do the math, that’s a lot of PEOPLE along the way. e.g. friends on Facebook.

    I come from the generation where I remember when Facebook launched, only for college students. I was in college then, in 2004/2005 when it came around. I loved it. I still really enjoy it. I love the way it aggregates photos, videos, news and stay-in-touch mechanisms. But I also, don’t need to be everyone’s friend. I’m pickier now.

    I also think that if you’re putting people on lists, organizing privacy, etc. you shouldn’t be Facebook friends with those people on your list. I don’t have any lists and since privacy essentially doesn’t exist, there isn’t anything to hide. My boss, my mom, my grandfather and my best friend all see the same information.

    Great article, got me thinking!

  9. The way fan and business pages work have changed a lot recently, so if I were to open a page now for the more professional side of my life I probably would do it differently. Two years ago the fan and business pages were very impersonal and it seemed hard to keep up a real connection and conversation with people, which is what I try to do on FB.
    I suppose if I did nothing but make commericial posts or push my business, it would be different…but that kind of posting I find irritating and invasive with other people, so I end up not doing it myself. It’s a hard call when you have a business like mine that is so closely intertwined with your life…I am passionate about travel and I work in the travel industry, I love Italy and I work in Italy, I know a lot about Umbria and I work in Umbria. It’s not easy to draw the line between passion and profession.
    That said, I’m sure I am friended and unfriended as often as I friend and unfriend. I’m pretty philosophical about it…it seems everyone has a different take on what they want out of FB. So we can not be “friends” but I will still be a loyal “fan” ;) Rebecca

  10. Hi Sarah,

    Very interesting, I have just been reading a book called Focus by Leo Babauta from Zen Habits and have slowly started to remove things from my life that are not needed. He has a hugely successful blog yet does not have an email, or FB page or most of the online tools I have been struggling to keep up with.

    I do have a FB page for Renovating Italy and another in my own name, what I am finding is that people who like the first want to also befriend me personally. I always check them out first and see who and what we have in common. I think I’ve only declined about half a dozen people. So for this reason I have taken photos of my children off my personal page, yet this is what my family wants to see. I don’t want to split my family and friends from the people who interact with me on my personal page. Often the best discussions have come from interactions with family and friends in Australia and new friends over in Italy. My cousin has a great personal page under a totally different name which I would never have found just searching for him.

    So short story is if you want to befriend me, I would love to connect and have a chat. If you comment on my FB pages I will always reply cause I want to get to know you. I have only had to defriend one person and that was my husbands 16 year old nephew as the language was a bit blue!

    PS how about Twitter, and Linked In, now I am getting total strangers following my and connecting with me left right and center ( now I need to work out how this all works???) Connecting is becoming exhausting!

    so ciao for now

    lisa

  11. Mmm…I guess I have a very different experience with FB, Twitter, etc. I have a ‘personal’ account, and am over 1000 friends. And I also have various fan pages for books I’ve written, businesses I’ve started, etc. While I am ‘friends’ with my true and close group of friend, FB is certainly not the way I interact with them. I still use the phone, emails and – yes- face to face, real life, actual encounters to keep in touch with them.
    And those 1000 friends? Many are in my field and I do like keeping up with what they are doing. Some I don’t care about so much, and so ‘hide’ them. Others (like most of the gals who commented above) I would never have ‘met’ had it not been for FB, and for that I am very grateful.
    I do believe that FB is a wonderful thing for someone like me, who works on her own, with no ‘office’ to feel connected to others doing the same thing.
    And while I appreciate the advantages of having a Fan page (or whatever they are called now) I also think it becomes hard to juggle what you want to share with ‘real’ friends, fans or the public in general. My blog is called Elizabeth Minchilli in Rome, and my FB ‘persona’ has to reflect that. But I guess in the end it’s the public me, not the private me, that makes it to FB. Whether I have 100 friends or 1000.
    Does that make sense?

  12. Hey Sara, just create another profile exclusively for family and close friends. You can drop off the radar slowly without having to stomp on any feelings or do any excessive work clicking and typing for no reason. Also, if you ever decide to jump back in, all of those semi important people will be right there at your disposal without having to find them! 8)

  13. I had a mass clear out not too long ago; I literally sat there and browsed my list working out who I see on a day to day basis, who I wish to stay in contact with and who was family (can’t be deleting family now! :P). I managed to get my friends list down from 800+ to 150 ish today. Shows you how much ‘baggage’ you pick up in life! (I’m 21; can’t imagine how many friends I would have had in 2 or 3 years time!)…

    Really tempted to leave Facebook and join Google+ completely; shame it doesn’t work with Apps accounts yet!…

    (Stumbled across your site about 10 minutes ago by the way; definitely in my “A” rss list for now!)

  14. This FB thing is strange. I have tried to friend people from my past that I was excited to re-connect with and they never confirmed. (one was an old college roommate, the other an old boss) I had great relationships with both and gave them ample time to accept; but nothing. It really affected me. What did I do? Were they mad at me? I even made sure I added my maiden name because that’s how they knew me.

    Another strange thing, I had 3 people from my high school “friend” me. I accepted. None have reached out, commented, or made an attempt to re-kindle the relationship! Why the f**k did they bother? My guess is to be nosey. Check out some pics, career status, etc. I have never friended anyone without a follow up message of some type. To me, it’s basic courtesy. Am I expecting to much? Reading to deep into it? Perhaps it’s that time to do some housekeeping and clean house. They’ve seen what they’ve needed to see.

  15. I recently deleted my FB account, for the same reasons – I realised that I was wasting too much time on people/relationships on FB that were practically non-existent in real life. Deleting FB only had positive effects – I am now much closer to my closest friends, because we speak more often on the phone and, seeing as I’m now living abroad, send each other letters and parcels :) Much more fun than FB pokes ;)

  16. This is so me.. i dislike facebook to a certain extent..It is very impersonal. It is not possible in life to actually have 1000 friends.. You can have 1000 acquaintances…

    I am a very private person when it comes to my personal life..I only have about 85 friends on facebook and i can honestly say only about 10 I am ” really close with”.

    Many of my colleagues are into adding each other and I refuse to join in. I think they were hurt but I don’t care. I think it takes time to get to know people and I would hate to add someone on my facebook only to find out I can’t stand them a few months later.
    I have deleted several people from my facebook in this way and it made me realise that I must be careful about who I friend.

    I only have 2 colleagues on my facebook. I actually would refuse to be facebook friends with someone that has 1000 friends because I think it is just an ego boost to them.. they are not really interested in me but in just boosting their social profile.

    My true and closest friends in life I don’t even communicate with over facebook, we meet in person, we talk on the phone, we email each other. I think facebook reduces alot the meaning of the word friend to alot of people that you have shallow relationships with. You can’t possibly have meaningful relationships with 1000 people in life.

    Life is not a popularity contest. The most popular people in this world often complain of being extremely lonely.

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