Why the ‘unfriend’ hurts like a bee-atch

image: Avery Woodard

The Facebook unfriend is the new social statement if you have decided it’s time to amputate the dead wood from your life. People announce “I’m having a cull, if you see this you made the cut” so there is an “in” crowd even in cyber space. Or maybe one day, you’ve just been kicked to the “socmed” curb.

In my mid-twenties I was dear friends with a pair of sisters. We were inseparable and for a time we were the Three Amigos without the mariachi outfits. Our lives meandered down the river of life and we grew apart somewhat and then our weddings rolled around.

There was friendship discord when I declined being my friend’s bridesmaid as I had a breastfeeding baby and couldn’t attend some of the frivolities and shortly after this the eldest sister “unfriended” me on Facebook.

It burned like a fire ant in my undies. The Facebook unfriend is the ultimate social death and it felt like I was being cut out of the “family”. Was it directly related to the wedding stuff? Had they conferred on the matter? Did they both wish to cut me off??

Nothing was mentioned. We drifted apart and it was only years later that our meandering rivers all joined together and friendships were cautiously reignited once more. There was a discussion about it, but never a real explanation.

Mum of two, Caitlyn Farrelly*, was caught off-guard when a close friend of hers “unfriended” her out of the blue.

“We had been really close before kids, and after kids we hadn’t seen as much of each other, but we often exchanged messages,” tells Caitlyn.

“I didn’t realise until a mutual friend mentioned it, and when I checked Facebook my first thought was that it was a mistake. I was devastated. It sent me into a flat spin, imagining the worst and that no one really liked me.”

Caitlyn approached it head-on by gently calling her friend out.

“I couldn’t let it go, so I sent her a message asking if the unfriending had been a mistake. She explained why she had done it and said that it had been after a very bad day and something I had posted was the last straw. She said she was very sorry and we became Facebook friends again. I’ve felt quite awkward around her since then though, I don’t think of her a close friend anymore,” she tells.

The line between real life and social media has become blurred because we spend such a large portion of our lives online. The sense of rejection felt from an “unfriend” is very real, and as it’s often something we discover we have no opportunity for closure which can make us question our social worth.

“The act of clicking a button online is akin to saying “I don’t like you anymore,” says From the Leftfield’s psychologist, Dr Sasha Lynn. “Added to that, we lose all sense of subtleties and emotional nuances in online actions- we can’t see the other person’s face or hear their emotion, thus it leaves it open for our own interpretation. And we’re often interpreting things in a more negative light than perhaps they were intended.”

We must remember that our social media community is often not our real social circle, but try to think before reacting rashly. Reactively pulling the unfriend trigger when someone posts something you dislike may actually cause a bigger issue than it was worth.

“I think the big thing about unfriending is being sure that whatever you do online is something you’re prepared to do in real life. If you’re prepared to tell someone to their face that you’re perhaps not really friends anymore, or you no longer wish to interact with them, then unfriending is the way to go. I think we get a bit more bravery behind the computer screen, and at times may say or do things we wouldn’t do in real life.”

Social media has been devoured by the world because its success feeds off our unconscious cravings believes digital nutritionist, Jocelyn Brewer.

“Facebook taps into many of our deep psychological desires, to be liked and accepted, to be recognized or praised, to connect and share. The confluence of world events and advances around tech, but also human design and user experience (UX) taps further into these,” says Brewer.

When we are being “liked” we are popular, but when we are being “unfriended” it feels like we are naked on stage with tomatoes aimed at our head.

“When we’re unfriended there is a denial of access to what we have come to expect as a very normative way of viewing people lives and having a window into their existence,” explains Brewer.

“It’s like being cut off from an aspect of a person, and depending on the context that it happens in, might remove the final window into that person’s life you have left; old boyfriend you don’t see, but still benignly stalk or friend might choose to removes you after a fight over online opinions but you still speak in real life.”

Social media is here to stay and the permeation into our lives is likely to get deeper as technology expands but we must remember social media is not real life.

“Facebook ‘friendship’ does not (and probably should not) replace other more deep and authentic ways of experiencing friendships and conversations etc,” says Brewer.

“People need to consider how we are changing and reshaping the “rules” within Facebook. For example, I have “unfollowed” close friends so that I don’t have the sense of “knowing” about their life because I saw stuff on Facebook, gives back that sense that there are new things to share and doesn’t shut down sharing with ‘oh yeah I saw that on <insert socmed platform>.”