When I discovered Facebook for myself about seven years ago, I also discovered that I could inadvertently offend old friends and acquaintances through this novel medium. Hello, strange new world!
Once I realized that all of the old faces from high school were now only a click away, I started clicking and then clicked some more. I became fast “friends” with both people who had loved me and with those who had scorned me in years gone by. I became friends with people I used to speak with often and with people whom I’d never really talked to at all. I even became friends with people I didn’t know at all, just because Mark Zuckerberg suggested that we all might want to hook up in this new playground he’d built. This was around 2009, and my social (media) circle was growing daily. It was an exciting time indeed.
Overwhelmed by the way I was now “connected” to so many remnants of my past and new contacts, I commented profusely and instant-messaged at will.
“You were in a dream I had last night,” I messaged a girl whom I’d known in high school. This girl wasn’t an ex-flame or anything, but she and I had run in some of the same circles as youngsters and it felt good to reestablish contact with a familiar face.
“Really?” the girl replied. “Hope it wasn’t anything too weird.”
Facebook is so cool, I thought, and then I messaged back something like: “No, not unless you consider whips and chains and whipped cream weird.”
The laughter in my head soon gave way to the louder silence coming from my Facebook messages tab. Maybe something about my joke had gotten lost in social-media translation, because the message thread involving that girl remained silent.
Some time later, I noticed that “whips and chains” girl was no longer a part of my newly constructed Facebook Circle of Friends.
Did she “defriend” me? I found myself wondering. Or was the term “unfriend”? Who would do such a thing, and what had I done to deserve it? Had she really been offended by my lame attempt at a joke? Unfortunately, I would never know the reasons for my Facebook falling out with that old friend (if there had been a falling out), because with Facebook, there isn’t always a morning after to talk about things: the line can just go dead.
Social media isn’t all fun and games.
A more recent episode of social-media awkwardness involves another girl I was friendly with in high school, a girl we’ll call Deb.
Deb was someone who stuck out in my mind as one of the “good ones” during those sometimes cruel high school years—someone who would go out of her way to smile at a newbie and make sure to never insult an underdog—and I wanted to tell her that. Instead, I ended up telling Deb that I found it nearly impossible to fathom the reasons behind her true passion in life.
As is the way of the Facebook world, I followed the developments in Deb’s adult life without actually talking to her in person. Over the years, Deb had changed careers, moved cities, struggled with health issues, and apparently struggled with body image and shyness issues (amazing what we can glean, or at least infer, from Facebook posts). However, through it all, Deb persevered, and she eventually found her stride as a professional bodybuilder.
Deb’s attitude was one of grit and upbeat determination, and since I was going through my own health issues, as well as grappling with making the difficult decision to change careers, I decided to finally let Deb know how much I admired her courage in the face of struggles that appeared similar to mine.
“I just want you to know that I remember how nice of a person you always were,” I wrote to Deb, and then she wrote me a nice message back. After preliminary contact had been made, I think I sent another message that read something like: “I really admire your attitude, and although our ambitions in life are different (I can’t begin to pretend that I understand female bodybuilding), I really admire your—”
Wait a minute. Did I just tell Deb, by means of a flippant parenthetical add-on, that I found the notion of a girl (such as her) building muscles for a living incomprehensible?
My comments must have sounded insulting to Deb, because I never heard from her again. In my anxious haste to find a connecting thread between my writing ambitions and her bodybuilding career, I must have ended up offending her.
The more I wondered about the reasons why Deb never responded to my last Facebook message to her, the more I became convinced that she had read my comments as follows: Oh, I think you’re great, Deb, but what in the F is up with that strange female bodybuilding world you inhabit? I heard that dirty old men put up Craigslist ads paying girls like you to wrestle them. I think I saw an HBO Real Sports special about you people once. Anyway, love your determination.
Although Deb didn’t defriend/unfriend me (because, as I said, she’s just a really nice person), she has continued her Facebook silence towards me to this day—no messages, no comment likes or post shares. So once again, I’m left wondering, Is it me?
Apparently my social stumbling knows no bounds. Sure, most everyone gets tongue-tied in certain situations, such as being forced to make sober small talk with in-laws or running into an ex-sweetheart at the grocery store, but my awkwardness isn’t limited to situations where I’m physically present. While many people might become flustered upon encountering someone they haven’t seen in a while, I don’t have to actually encounter such a person to fumble things. I might manage to “say” the wrong thing to such a person even through the protective layers of distance provided by Facebook.
Or did I even say the wrong things to Deb and to my “whipped cream” friend? Maybe social media had twisted communication and human interaction so profoundly that I simply imagined snubs and missteps in a couple of cyber-relationships that never really existed in real life? Maybe Deb simply thought our conversation via messaging was over, and maybe “whips and chains” girl just cleaned up her Facebook to include only close friends and family (I’ve heard of people tightening their circles this way—real greaseball stuff).
In the end, maybe no one but me really notices when someone disappears from their friend list or fails to respond to an online message. Maybe I’m the only one that picks up on such things and turns them over and over mentally. However, I have a feeling that’s not the case. I have a feeling I’m not alone in this social-media mayhem.
So thank you, Facebook, for adding a dozen layers of additional awkwardness to a world where social interaction was already confusing. You’ve created a brand new web of neuroses that we can all enjoy. I can’t wait to see what you have in mind for the next generation.