What Do We Owe Our Facebook Friends?

I have a hard time with boundaries, rejection, and balancing my desire to be liked with my desire to be myself. When I notice that I’m censoring, editing, and polishing a post to perfection — a post for my friends to read, no less — it’s a surefire sign that I’m putting too much energy into being likable instead of trusting myself to just say what’s on my mind and move on. Especially in times where social media is effectively a means to streamline our input of horrible news stories.

Some days I miss the simplicity of poking.

There’s an extra layer of difficulty when you’re someone who has a presence online for work. I use social media to sell my book, courses, memberships, coaching offers… I could theoretically run my business without social media, but I (mostly) like it. I like seeing other people’s stuff. I like sharing my thoughts and making pretty images. There are great things about social.

And there are also so many pressures.

There’s the pressure to be put together, to share the good stuff, to not share too much of the bad stuff, to “create content,” to apologize for the messy background (which is almost never actually messy). There’s the pressure to be authentic, but also to be hyper-aware and never say anything harmful.

I am all for a call-in if I’ve stepped in it. And I have stepped in it many times. My Facebook memories are not always a fun trip down memory lane — I’ve said ableist slurs, I’ve made really ignorant judgments about parenting, I’ve shown racial prejudices I wasn’t even aware of until they were pointed out to me.

And I know better and do better, as much as I can, because of people who educated me and because I chose to learn. People learn. I have to hold that hope for most others as I have seen it in myself. (Abusive people and bullies notwithstanding).

Sometimes I mess up and hurt someone, and I apologize, and we work through it.

But I’ve also been jumped on and dogpiled, held to impossible standards, and gaslit. By my “friends.”

As a result, I’ve spent a lot of time scrutinizing my own behavior looking for the evidence that they’re right and I fucked up. Because surely if I did the best I could, I would be liked and people would be nice to me. But sometimes that evidence is not there because people are upset about something that has nothing to do with me.

I really want to be liked. I’ve spent my life hoping to be liked, to be loved. And the loneliness of being disliked, even by someone I don’t even know, has a history of making me abandon myself to try and be what they wanted me to be.

I can no longer abandon myself in order to be more palatable for others.

Give and Take

In 2018, I left an abusive marriage. And many of my Facebook friends were there for me. They were supportive, and they listened, and they encouraged me, and they were crucial to my survival. In 2019, I published my first book. And many of my Facebook friends pre-ordered it, and left reviews, and asked their libraries to stock it, and they were instrumental in my success as an author.

But leaving supportive comments and buying a book does not actually constitute a friendship, and this truth smacked me in the face when the following happened.

An argument broke out on a friend’s post, and I remember thinking that she was behaving really badly toward someone else. I saw bullying, and meanness, and cruelty in her disagreements with another of her friends. This was the second time I had felt uncomfortable seeing one of her posts.

So I decided to unfriend her. Because boundaries, right? If someone makes me uncomfortable I am not obligated to stick around.

From her perspective, she had supported me through my divorce, she had bought my book, and I unfriended her. I was accused of using her for my own needs and discarding her.

Which brings me to the title of this post: What do we owe our Facebook friends?

Rethinking Social Media

Another friend of mine, who does call me out when I’m stepping in crap, and who also regularly shakes me and reminds me of who the fuck I am when I’m twisting myself into a guilt pretzel over things I can’t control, told me the ingenious way they think about social media.

A public comment on a public post is like going to the town square and engaging in a public discussion. You’ll likely find an argument. You might meet some people you vibe with. You get what you get.

Joining a group is like attending a book club or local meetup. You’ll likely get along with most members due to your shared interests, but you still need to read the room, follow the group rules, and you’ll still probably run into disagreements sometimes. But when you find a great community you connect with, it can be a huge support system.

Public posts on your own account are like your front yard. People can see what you’re up to, and you can decide how much to engage with them. Some will stick around and want to come back the next time you’re in your front yard. These are social media followers.

Your friends list, or a private account, is your living room. You have control over who enters, how long they stay, and what behavior you’ll tolerate. If you don’t feel comfortable, that’s all the reason you need to not keep them in your living room.

With this reframe, I thought about my Facebook friends list in a whole new way.

How many friends is too many friends?

I had no idea, but there’s actually research on how many meaningful relationships we can maintain. It’s around 150.

Considering my friends list of 450+ people, how many did I really actually know? How many do I really meaningfully connect with? Using my friend’s metaphor of my living room, I asked myself if I would invite these people to hang out at my house. I asked myself why we were connected online.

Some friends were fellow coaches — and I had been considering unfriending/unfollowing most of them for a while because it was causing a lot of comparison of my offers to their offers, my messaging to their messaging, my clients to their clients.

Some were partners of friends, and I didn’t even really talk to them, so I realized they didn’t need access to me.

Some were old friends who I used to be close with, but we had grown apart, and I decided it was okay to not see their updates.

Some were from a local group I was no longer local to, and who reminded me of an abusive ex partner, so I let them go and wished them peace.

Some were from college, some were from high school, some were people I couldn’t remember meeting.

I removed over 100 Facebook friends and it feels a little safer to be my whole, weird, sweary, off-the-cuff self to those who remain.

Basic boundaries for the friends list

Throughout the past couple of years, I’ve developed the following basic boundaries for my friends list. Especially considering the living room analogy, these are how I choose to move forward in curating a positive experience when I open the Facebook app.

  • At least one positive vibe. You do not have to always be cheerful, in fact I would be suspicious if you were. I am not a “positive vibes only” person. But if your only interactions with me are negative or argumentative… I don’t want you in my living room.
  • No dogpiling/bullying. I expect respectful treatment of everyone on my list. If someone has an opinion or says something unintentionally harmful, call them in about it but don’t be a dick.
  • You should KNOW me. If you respond to me in a way that shows me you don’t actually know me (and don’t want to), I will unfriend you. I am very outspoken about my beliefs and experiences, and if you’re not aware of my morals, ethics, triggers, then like… what are we doing here?
  • No clients who aren’t already friends. This is a huge new boundary for me. I love working with my clients but I want to establish a relationship with them as a client first, not necessarily invite them to my house right away.
  • Unfriending doesn’t mean I hate you. Also a huge new boundary for me. I feel BAD when I unfriend someone! It doesn’t mean I don’t like you, or that I never want to talk to you. It means I don’t want you in my house. And coming to terms with the fact that that’s not a cruelty on my part is some heavy emotional lifting.

How do you approach your friends list? Do you have any rules or boundaries around it?

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