The Art of Unfriending

Sometimes you just gotta say no.
Sometimes you just gotta say no. // Flickr

We all have those friends on Facebook — he’s the boy you met that one summer when you did that one activity together; she’s the girl you met during Bulldog Days, but she chose another school and you two haven’t spoken since. Do you remember these people? Neither do I.

For many of us, spring break was a time to return home and reunite with old friends. As a freshman, I always believed that this year’s breaks in particular were the most crucial. As much as we love our new friends and our new home, there’s nothing quite like the feeling of returning to a familiar place with familiar faces. Like any other group of wide-eyed, optimistic freshman students, my high school friends and I promised to keep in touch while we were away at our respective colleges. But between the distance, the academics and the exciting (but overwhelming) number of new people in our lives, it’s been immensely difficult to keep this promise. I always justified my inability to keep in touch with them by telling myself that, as we all converged in New York for winter and spring breaks, it would be as if the distance did nothing but make us closer and more eager to see one another.

Unfortunately for me, I was out of town during spring break and spent no time with old friends. I often felt like the closest I got to them was by Facebook stalking them, monitoring my newsfeed for any updates on what they were all doing back at home. Yet as I watched my newsfeed unfold before me, I was frustrated to find that the friends I actually wanted to hear from were buried under a plethora of people whose names and faces I barely recognized.

I started thinking about the nature of my relationships with these so-called Facebook “friends” — while some remain dear to me, most others have become distant memories. I decided it was time for a massive overhaul of my Facebook profile. For the first week of break, I furiously went through my list of Facebook friends and “unfriended” nearly half of the people on that list. Gone were the kids I haven’t seen since seventh grade, the kids who were the “cool seniors” while I was a freshman in high school, or the friends of friends who felt obligated to request me on Facebook after one cursory encounter at a party. Once I had gone through my list a few more times, I felt like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders.

Whereas I found my systematic unfriending process to be therapeutic, liberating and refreshing, others might find it trivial, unnecessary and maybe even a little petty. After all, what was the harm in having a few more acquaintances online? For me, there’s more harm than you might think. According to its mission page, Facebook is meant to be a tool used “to stay connected with friends and family, to discover what’s going on in the world, and to share and express what matters to them.” Somewhere along the way, I lost sight of this mission. Instead, Facebook became a social barometer that measured my popularity and self-worth based on the number of friends I was connected to or the number of pictures I was tagged in. And as the Yale Class of 2018 starts to receive their acceptances, they’re undoubtedly feeling this too — I remember vividly the exciting feeling when old acquaintances, those I hadn’t seen in years, began posting a slew of “Congratulations!” on my wall.

But is this really a good thing? There’s nothing wrong with celebrating achievements on Facebook, but these congratulatory words almost seemed meaningless unless they came from someone I cared about, or from someone who cared about me. While I appreciated people’s encouraging remarks, I also questioned why someone I’d never spoken to in person would take the time to write on my wall with no follow-up or expectation of a response that went further than a “Thank You!” from me. In the end, these interactions, while well intentioned, led nowhere. And that’s the opposite of what I want my Facebook experience to be.

The very notion of labeling connections on Facebook as “friends” suggests a certain level of intimacy that I often forget about. It’s quite easy to add people to your Facebook friend list and stockpile a slew of followers at the click of a button; it is much harder to realize the many implications that come along with it. Once upon a time, there was nothing quite like receiving social validation through the number of likes I received on my posts or through my pretty artificial friend count. More recently, I’ve started to remind myself that Facebook is an outlet I should be using to feel more connected to my friends back home. When I look at my newsfeed now, I can confidently say the term “friend” is no longer a misnomer.

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