Unfriending: A sign of immaturity or of growth?

Brian Rea — The New York Times

So in the end, almost a year and a half after the demise of our once loving, once thrilling and intimate relationship, I unfriended him.

I unfriended him on Facebook and on Snapchat. I unfollowed his almost defunct Twitter account. I unfollowed his unbearable trap-music ridden Spotify profile. (I admittedly kept the LinkedIn connection for future networking purposes.)

No longer would I see photos of his groomed designer dog, videos of Blue Apron meals simmering on his stove, his business trips to Asia. Reminders of a life I was decidedly and explicitly not a part of. Facebook hopefully would know now not to show me “Memories” from three years ago, us smiling and windswept at the seashore or over an anniversary dinner.

Friends had urged the purge for months, yet I had passively let it be. A true procrastinator. A putter-offer of unpleasant things. A sentimental fool with a penchant for reminiscing.

In truth, I felt I had no cards left. It was dead. There had been several conversations that ended with him saying “I don’t love you,” and me going home tearfully in an Uber. Unfriending him seemed a way to exercise the shred of agency I had left in the situation. It felt like an act of power in a situation where we do not have an ounce of control: the feelings of someone else.

I suppose it felt childish, and certainly he might see it that way were he ever to notice. But not only was the social media purge symbolic, it was necessary. A side effect of our turbulent and technologically advanced times: the connections we have through our online presence allow ghosts of the past to haunt us, taunt us and hold us back.

It comes down to an essential question: who do we want to be, and how do we get there? Should we collect our old lovers like novelty glass figurines and arrange them nicely on a shelf in our living room, or should we throw them out, sell them to a weird enthusiast on Craigslist and never look back? Do we have to keep in touch with everyone who has been important to us? Or is it OK to let go of the past in order to explore the future? Did unfriending on Facebook somehow lessen the significance of our relationship? Did it erase the proof, the digital footprint, that showed we had in fact been the best of friends at one point? The internet connection that yielded birthday wishes, drunk sorority formal photos, inside jokes posted on each other’s walls, after all, was now severed.

Questions like this plagued me in the weeks following. I’m a sucker for nostalgia, and I never let go of anything. I’ve kept most, if not all, of my elementary, middle and high school friendships. I make an effort to see everyone I can when I go home to Dallas on holidays. Even teachers! I was going to be invited to more weddings than anyone I knew. I had a large box under my bed in my childhood home which housed keepsakes from 7th grade sleep-away camp, faded love notes from my high school boyfriend that he wrote to me in first period pre-calculus, poignant birthday cards. I revisited this box when I felt unsure of myself, or where I came from, or the things I had been through. I viewed these relationships and mementos as so special, monumental and character shaping, it seemed nonsensical, like inflicting a wound on myself, to let them go.

I had never fully understood friends of mine who boasted of cutting their exes completely out of their lives. How was it that they could just snap that connection and never talk to their former lovers again, like stoically hacking off a limb — a limb that was gangrene and infected, yes, but one that nonetheless was part of so many great memories!

When so much of our life is documented on social media, it can be hard to disentangle our online identities and presence from our flesh and blood selves. I have 1,624 friends on Facebook. I care for maybe 80 tops. But I created my Facebook in 2008, and in a way it was a very detailed archive of most every personal connection I had ever made since I was 13.

A “friendship” on Facebook is an acknowledgement that, no matter how far away we are from each other, or what walk of life we are in, at some point we met, had conversations, shared memories, were friends, kissed in a frat, basement, etc. Conventional wisdom would say that nothing can take away the significance of those who have meant something to us. We are constantly evolving creatures, collecting memories and experiences, weaving them into our story. This all sounded good and well, but I wondered if we needed a material, or digital, reminder that they had existed as well.

Metaphysical musings aside, life took a slight yet swift and positive turn for me when I made the decision to unfollow and unfriend. I no longer posted for anyone else, only for myself. I did not have to make my life seem more interesting, more beautiful or more successful for the sake of proving anything to my ex. I didn’t needlessly have to feel wistful when I saw a picture of him. They didn’t appear to me any more. They existed in another universe. We had been real once, more than a Facebook friendship could reveal. And unfriending was not a irreversible decision — on social media or in real life. Yet for now, there was a place for reminiscing, for nostalgia, and it was in a box underneath my childhood bed.

(I am large. I contain multitudes)