I have a hard time accepting that anything is over. I want to imagine that, if I just work hard enough, some things can last forever — especially friendships. Maybe it’s a desire to control, but I find that the concession that a former pinky-swear level friend no longer has any real relation to my life is impossible to make. Even worse, the idea that it’s more than a mere drifting apart and an actual change of character that have rendered us incapable of enjoying one another’s company, seems like the acceptance of pure failure. How could I not make this work?
And Facebook only encourages this false sense of permanence in friendships — in fact, it has taken the very word “friend” behind a poorly-lit convenience store and beaten it into a coma. “Friend” has almost no meaning. I don’t know how many “friends” I have, but I certainly don’t have several hundred. And while, yes, technically I could just shut the thing down — when you move across the world from most of your friends and family, and you know that the Earth will fall off its axis and collide with the sun before they’d get on Skype regularly, it’s hard to just let them all go. Facebook is often the only way to keep in touch with a lot of the people who, when you were in close proximity, you truly loved.
Now, don’t get me wrong, all of those vague acquaintances you met one time and then added in some strange need to solidify the meeting — the Linked In connection of people without business cards — those people can go. Few things are more satisfying than going through your friends list and purging every last person whose relationship with you has been whittled down to a confused “Who the hell is that?” when they show up on your news feed. Those people feel good to get rid of because it reminds us that some connections are worth keeping, that we can quiet the noise in our lives if we need to, and if we take a long look at it, we know who the good ones are. Those that are easy to check off the list and get rid of, they hold no emotional weight. In fact, despite their huge distraction, they’re probably the least problematic thing about Facebook. (Though, speaking of those people, can we all just take a moment to acknowledge that special brand of acquaintance who will re-demand your friendship after what was a clear defriending? How is that not unbearably awkward for them? We already haven’t seen each other since the 6th grade, do you really want to drag this non-relationship into the tortured explanation of why I don’t want to see you clogging up my home page? Ick.)
Anyway, the friendships that really bother me are the ones that I can see rotting before my eyes, courtesy of a social media network. Sure, before the internet, we probably would have just stopped speaking, which isn’t the greatest of outcomes, either. But to see communication become stilted, awkward, even hostile, and the exchanges that used to come so fast and free feel like forced small talk between two strangers — that is downright ugly. To see the person that they are becoming from thousands of miles away, and no longer know how to relate to this person whatsoever, is like watching grains of sand slip through your fingers. The person that you were friends with is no longer here, and just because this profile bears the same name does not mean that you need to remain in contact with them.
But somehow making the move to get rid of someone who really was close, with whom you will still make occasional jabs at talking to, someone you may have even seen recently but who is changing quickly enough in their life now to be light years away from the last time you really spoke, is just too hard to do. It’s not just the deletion of social media fluff, of someone that never had bearing on your life and never will, it’s truly burning a bridge. To stop talking to this person altogether, to admit that even seeing their online presence is an odd combination of uncomfortable and unpleasant, is the stuff of real break-ups. And so we are tempted to keep them around because, well, an awkward non-friendship is better than cutting them out altogether. That would be a real death to the friendship, we might as well keep it on life support in a vegetative state.
I often think about quitting social media, but I remember my family and friends with whom I would otherwise not have the opportunity to often talk to, let alone see. I’m not made of international calling cards, and even if I lived in just a neighboring state, connecting with each others’ schedules can be trying. Facebook allows us to approach and interact with each other on a pace that makes things easy–perhaps too easy. Perhaps the facility of communication tricks us into thinking that someone is still a real friend, just because they’re under that heading on our computer screens.