It’s felt like a longtime coming, but I finally did it. I finally decided that enough was enough. I’d tried. I’d put in effort and care and time–oh, so much time. But there comes a point at which you have to decide if a relationship is working. And in our world, sometimes there is a point at which you have to decide if hundreds of relationships are working.
For me, they weren’t.
I joined Facebook back in 200…6?…7?…after someone in my graduate program at MSU told me about it. It was fun at first. Actually, it was mostly fun for the first eight or nine years I was on it. And then it became not so fun.
But I stayed engaged, kept accepting friend requests, more and more from people I knew through writing organizations, some I’d never actually met or interacted with but who had mutual friends in the writing community I was involved in. I gathered in people I worked with either in the past or present. I acquired more relatives from my husband’s rather large extended family. I collected some of my relatives’ friends, some brothers and sisters and spouses of people I graduated high school with, some people who read my books and wanted to connect on my personal page rather than my author page.
And it got…difficult. You see, you’d never invite all of these people to the same function in real life. You’d want to connect people who would get along with each other, who would treat each other a certain way. People with similar interests and values. That’s not to say you wouldn’t hang out with everyone in certain contexts, but everyone all at once? Bad idea.
In 2014, Facebook introduced the “unfollow” button. In 2017, it introduced the “snooze” feature. And I used these features liberally in order to tame this list of people I knew, sorta knew, and didn’t know at all, which had grown to more than 1,400.
Now listen, I’m an introvert in a solitary profession who has worked from home since 2005. I do not know 1,400 people. I certainly do not have 1,400 friends. And frankly a lot of those 1,400 people didn’t treat me as a friend would.
A friend–a real friend–knows you. They know your heart. They know that even if you have a different opinion than they do on any given topic, you’re still a decent, intelligent, caring person. They know this because they have actually spent time with you. Real time. In the real world. They’re people you can be honest with and you know that if they disagree they’ll just kind of smile and nod and bite their tongue, then give you a hug and look forward to the next time you see each other.
In the snowballing of my social media accounts, it was those actual friends who seemed to be getting squeezed out on my feed and in comments by “friends” who didn’t know me all that well yet had a lot of opinions about how I should vote, how I should think, and how I should live my life. And social media, while certainly social, wasn’t any fun. And if you don’t have fun with people…why would you spend time with them? Why would you spend time with people who only want to argue or scold or explain how you’re wrong about everything?
Answer: you wouldn’t. No one wants to spend any amount of their leisure time with people like that. And yet we do. All of us do.
It was the summer 2018 that I started yearning for a return to real, offline friendships. That was the year of my 20th high school reunion. That night, I spent time with a few dozen people who, even if some of them weren’t my close friends back in school, even if we had differing opinions on politics or religion or child-rearing, still knew me. In fact, those people I hadn’t seen in 20 years knew me way better than almost anyone I had met since. Because I’m basically the same person as I was back then, though hopefully slightly improved (read: nicer). Many of them had known me since kindergarten. I’d been in real fights with them back when hormones ruled our brains and we’d say anything to get the insult upper hand, and yet I still knew they liked me. I bet none of us could even remember what those fights might have been about.
Not so online, with the arguments that last for days and suck people in from all across the spectrum of your acquaintance. That never resolve, never change anything, never build people up but always manage to knock them down. Day after day on social media, there is instead a steady tearing down, gnawing away. We become afraid to say anything because even though we know it will make this person laugh, it will make that person incensed. The audience is so big you can’t talk to any part of it without stepping in it with another part.
I’ve tried to walk that line for a while. It’s exhausting, disheartening, joy-stealing. But I also didn’t want to unfriend anyone and make them feel bad. I do want to be friendly to people. I don’t want anyone to feel rejected or unwanted. It’s not that I don’t want to talk to them. It’s just that I don’t want to talk to them and everyone else about everything all the time. It just got too big.
Facebook also became a place for me to seek out attention, accolades, likes, comments, and compliments. A place I could puff myself up. A place that fed into my most problematic besetting sin: pride. It feels good to rack up those little hearts and thumbs-ups. And social media companies know that. They know how to keep you coming back for more (watch The Social Dilemma on Netflix if you don’t believe me).
It’s also a place where colossal amounts of my life have been wasted over the past decade plus. And I have far better, more rewarding things to do with my time than scroll. (Read Deep Work if you need some encouragement to rethink how distractions like social media are eating away at your ability to do solid creative work.)
But…I didn’t want to throw the whole thing out. Not yet. I am connected with my writing community through our Facebook groups. I communicate with people coming to the retreat I direct through Facebook. I run my own author page through Facebook. And there are people I’m happy to be able to keep up with through Facebook. I love all the Facebook memories that pop up containing hilarious or sweet things my son has said or done while growing up. I like seeing old photos pop up. And there are some people I connect with on Messenger that I have no other way of contacting at the moment. So I knew I couldn’t quite quit it cold turkey.
What I did do this year was two big waves of unfriending. The first wave, early in 2020, was simply people I realized I didn’t even know. That allowed me to drop 500-600 people from the list. But I still had a list that was too large. What I really wanted was to separate out my personal, professional, and public lives. So I dropped about 750 more people. People I like just fine, but maybe people it was okay to simply see in person once a year and not keep up with the rest of the year. People whom I wish the very best, but am letting go out of my everyday life.
I’m a big believer in white space. Clearing out the stuff you don’t need. Leaving room in the margin. Allowing for empty time in my schedule. Reserving mental space for being creative.
Most of my social media interaction over the past five years can arguably be called clutter. How much of it actually needed to be said? Precious little. How much of it led to unintentionally hurt feelings? Probably more than I know.
So I’m letting it go. Mostly.
If you’re reading this and you were let go, I need you to know that it had everything to do with me and nothing to do with you.
If you’re reading this and wondering how to keep up with me and my newest books, you can follow me any of these places:
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/erinbartelswrites/
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/ErinLBartels
- Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/erinbartels
- Bookbub: https://www.bookbub.com/profile/erin-bartels
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ErinBartelsAuthor
But please don’t be offended if I don’t follow back. It’s not you. It’s me.