July 13, 2012

Can You Be Friends With An Ex On Facebook?

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What is the issue?

The bonds that hold couples together are often tenuous. Shared interests, mutual loneliness, insatiable sexual desire and fear of death are the most common. A need for a work visa or green card is maybe one of the lesser rationales. Sheer boredom is somewhere in the top 10. The destruction of those bonds via a romantic separation is messy and painful. Most clear-headed, lucid individuals prefer a clean break. Accept that the arrangement has reached its natural conclusion and shove off for the open sea of casual dating. The sooner you put Old Yeller down, the less strained barking he will engage in. The sad, old dog appreciates the bit of mercy.

It’s far more complicated in a world where everyone in your social circle is constantly connected via the internet. Social networking has hatched a whole new set of miserable scenarios that play out during a separation. We fret over whether or not to remove someone from Facebook or Twitter that has deserted us. We ponder the possibility that they will say or do something to puncture our thinly veiled membrane of self-esteem. The clean break requires a social networking purge to work. You don’t want to drag Old Yeller’s corpse out of the grave and parade him around the town square. You want to leave him resting comfortably in the ground. Dead relationships, just like dead dogs, belong in the ground to rest.

There’s always that one ex that thinks they can rekindle your connection. They get some wild notion to request your friendship on Facebook or start following you on Tumblr again. The purpose behind this is rarely transparent. Perhaps they like creating drama? It could be that they are so paranoid that they must keep tabs on your progress in getting over the relationship trauma. They could also just want to say passive-aggressive things about your weight when they get drunk. Whatever the motive, the end result is rarely positive. The conundrum that comes into play is that to deny a friend request, especially one from a person you have been intimate with, is a potent insult. Our society has actually come up with a way to make it explicit when you don’t want to be someone’s ‘friend.’ No longer can you subtly ignore a person’s attempts at friendship. All it takes is a click of a button to understand where you fit into another individual’s affairs.

I recently experienced this phenomenon and it took me a great deal of introspection to come to a conclusion on how to approach the situation. I’m generally a magnanimous guy. I appreciate people and want to help them lead happier lives. I don’t want to be a source of misery for anyone. A rejected friend request could lead to the declined questioning their self-worth or wallowing in depression. Simultaneously, I am not a masochist. I take no pleasure from squeezing myself into a series of unsavory interactions, anymore than I would want to perpetrate that on another person.

An online friendship with an ex invites a myriad of potential hiccups, which makes it rarely seem worth it. The new relationship, life-altering move, promotion, wild party or significantly improved figure can all plunge me into a whirling sea of misery. I don’t want to be petty, and I try to manage my baser instincts, but moments of weakness abound in my history. I am a pragmatist when it comes to my behavior. I am far less prone to engaging in anti-social behavior than I used to be, but I can assure you that those personality traits will crop up again, with grotesque results.

This is why a post-separation friend request ideally should come years after the messy business has concluded. Everyone needs time to transcend a painful moment, be it an unexpected death, a lost job or a breakup. It’s damn near impossible to simply pretend none of it happened. When my father died in 2006, I felt strongly that I had to spend one week at home grieving and no more. Grief is a vacuum cleaner indiscriminately sucking up your will to live. I did not want to be consumed. I went back to my college and finished my degree. Six years later, I can reflect on what transpired and coexist with tragedy.

If you really love someone with anything resembling sincerity, when they leave you, it’s not unlike a death. My last relationship represented all I had ever wanted, and it was unceremoniously taken from me eight months ago. The burden of that loss is one that I cannot yet carry. If it took me six years to come to terms with the loss of my father, it will take me at least one year to accept that the woman I love unconditionally does not love me.

If my ex somehow reads this, understand that your friend request will remain pending for the time being. I don’t necessarily want to be your friend, because I still want to be so much more. Take that as a compliment. One day, I will learn to live inside the world you made for me.

Not now. TC mark

Dave Schilling

Dave Schilling is Associate News Editor for VICE. His work has been featured on the Huffington Post, Hipster Runoff …

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