Yesterday, someone told me that she’d had a strange man ask her to be a Facebook friend. She accepted the request and then he told her that he was in love with her, would always be true to her, etc. I was quite surprised to hear that she had not unfriended him but had decided to stop responding to him and was convinced that he would get the message.


But that’s not really what this post is about. I started thinking about what it takes for me to “unfriend” someone. I’ve only ever unfriended one person on Facebook. Let’s call him John Doe. He was a very quiet boy in high school. I didn’t really know him. I do remember that although he did not attend my 20th high school reunion, he contributed a write-up to the reunion book. His contribution was written in rather child-like scrawling script. He wrote about his cat and how pretty “Suzy Cheerleader” was in high school. It struck me as being a little stalker-y, but I suspended judgement.

Nine years later, he asked to be a Facebook friend. I gave him the benefit of the doubt. On the same day, we had the following conversation:

JD: “I am John Doe from high school. Do you remember me?”
Me: “Yes, I remember you.”
JD: “Are you single?”
Me: “No, I am very happily married.”
JD: “Do you ever talk to Suzy Cheerleader?”

I opted not to respond and quickly unfriended him.

But I have also had times in my life when I’ve unfriended face-to-face friends. It has been rare but it has happened. The first time was a college friend. Initially, she told me how wonderful I was, how interesting I was, yada, yada, yada. It was a bit much but I thought she was thoughtful, smart, and fun. After a year or so, she became very critical of me. In retrospect, it was likely just because we were young women and because we had become roommates. She had a slow way of moving and speaking. She was large, standing at six feet. I was comparatively small, quick, and intense. She complained that I turned pages too quickly when I read and that I bounded out of bed too happily each morning. The criticisms became more so over time and honestly, I don’t remember them. But I did not like the juxtaposition of being idealized followed by lots of criticism. Neither extreme set well with me. I actually broke up our friendship formally, like one would a romantic relationship. It felt so justified at the time but later I regretted it. A mutual friend called me several years ago to invite me to his wedding at the last minute. My former roommate was officiating at the wedding. I could tell he was trying to get us “back together.” I had a schedule conflict.  We are now Facebook friends but I have not yet reached out to her. I don’t exactly know what is holding me back from doing so, especially.since I think I made a mistake by not trying to work out the friendship. We were just teenagers when we shared a dorm, after all.

I had another friend in grad school. My husband and I were friends with both he and his wife. They divorced. We had planned to stay friends with both of them. But things got a little weird when the husband accused me of thinking and doing things that I had never done TO ANYONE, least of all to him. I understand that he was hurting and feeling judged. But he was pretty nasty to me and I was going through a difficult pregnancy. My husband and I parted company with him. I sometimes wonder what his life is like these days but I do not regret our decision.

A final individual is someone I’ve avoided since 2007 because I am ambivalent about our friendship. We used to work together as researchers. Promises were made about a job opportunity on a grant application on which she was a principal investigator. I left the research group when my own grant application was not funded on my third submission. I increased my private practice. I later heard that my friend’s grant had been funded but no one called. The promises that were made were very concrete and expressed with certainty that they would occur. I figure that it was assumed that since I had a small private practice, which could be expanded, that I wouldn’t want to continue with the research opportunity in the grant. I also figure, although it is highly speculative, that there were thoughts that the money that had been set aside in the grant to pay my salary, might be better spent in another fashion. On top of this, a co-investigator had called a meeting to discuss a paper on which I was first author, without inviting me to the meeting. It was my thinking that my friend should have (1) talked to me about whatever change happened with staffing on the grant and (2) that she should have given me a heads up that there was a meeting on my paper. I had done fine work on the paper and ultimately, I ceded first authorship, but found a home for the paper in a very good journal. All in all, I felt that my friend had been disloyal. I didn’t talk to her about it because it was true that by that time, that I had moved on. I didn’t want to work for a friend. But I wanted to be able to make the decision myself. But what was I going to say? “You promised me you’d offer me that job. I wouldn’t have taken it but I’m angry and hurt, anyway.” I also understood that because of her degree, she can only be a researcher. She doesn’t have the flexibility that I have. But it didn’t feel good and I’ve been on the fence about the friendship, waiting for my attitude to change. I am almost ready to attempt to repair the friendship, but not quite.

I think in 47 years, I’ve been pretty friendly. I don’t like losing friends. My breast cancer experience has been a time of strengthening some of my long-term friendships and a number of new friendships with blogging friends. The nature of blogging friends is unique and unlike any other friendships I’ve experienced. Some day I’ll blog about that, I suspect. But in the meantime, please know that if you are one of my face-to-face or blogging friends, you are precious to me now and I hope in the future, as well.