Here’s how to deal when your lifelong friend unfollows you on Instagram
Last summer, I noticed something on Instagram that was pretty upsetting: My friend of 24 years, let’s call her “Judy,” had unfollowed me.
I remember it vividly. I was happily looking at/liking a photo that Judy had recently posted and thought, “Funny, I haven’t seen her name pop up when I post something in a while…” and boom — I checked her following list and saw that my name was missing. My heart dropped to the floor. “What?” I thought. “This has to be some kind of mistake.”
Judy and I met and became friends in the fourth grade. We called each other almost every day after school, in middle school and high school, to talk about boys, school gossip, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and, of course, to go through the dELiA*s catalog to decide what we wanted to buy (but almost never actually did).
After we graduated high school, we were still super close since we went to colleges within an hour of each other. After college, we both lived in New York City and basically reverted right back to our high school days by emailing each other all day long while at work, then commiserating about our crappy jobs over drinks and some really fun late nights out.
I just couldn’t believe that Judy would unfollow me. It felt like a slap in the face that signified she didn’t care about me or what went on in my life.
At first, I just tried to ignore it and tell myself, “It’s fine. She’s obviously having a really hard time and can’t deal with other people’s success and happiness.” But after a few weeks, it slowly started to eat away at me. I would see her “likes” pop up on other friends’ photos, and I knew I had to confront her about it.
I wrote her an email. I know a lot of people would say that a phone call is a better idea for these types of situations, but I wanted to make sure that I could get across all the hurt I was feeling, and I also knew that Judy wasn’t a confrontational person and I didn’t want her to feel like she was being ambushed on the phone.
After about 1,400 revisions, taking out parts that sounded too harsh and adding others to express how truly and deeply sad her actions made me, I sent it off. Days went by with no response (though I did tell her that I didn’t expect a reply). And then about a week later, she wrote me back.
There was no “Dude, I’m sorry — I was having an awful week and your photo just triggered me.” There was no “Oh my god, I’m so sorry Jamie. I love you and I messed up.” There was not even a “Dude, I can’t stand looking at all your Friday lipstick photos so I had to unfollow you, but I still love you and support you!” (For the record: that would’ve been totally fine by me if she had just admitted it and apologized.)
There WAS “I’m not going to fall in line and follow you on Instagram because you’ve decided that that is now a requirement in our friendship.” And there WAS “I stopped following you a while ago because what you posted did not interest me. It sucks that you feel hurt by this, but I certainly didn’t do it to hurt you.”
It was honestly just so cold and didn’t feel like the Judy I had been friends with for 24 years. I was so, so sad. I had looked at her like a sister-friend.
Like I told Judy in my first email, I’m fully aware of how a non-millennial would read this story. “Good lord, who cares if she follows you on social media? It’s social media.” But to me, it was a passive-aggressive way of saying, “Meh, I’m so over you.” Not to mention the fact that building my Instagram has been a really important part of my career, a career I’ve worked my butt off for over the past decade-plus, and Judy knows this. And yet, she still did what she did.
I know that I’m a good friend. And I know that she is very clearly going through something, and my perceived “success” or “happiness” on Instagram triggered her emotions in an unhealthy way. And if that’s the case, then I’m happy she unfollowed me. Because #SelfCare, right?
In fact, Abby Thompson, a licensed psychotherapist who works primarily with millennials, explained to me,
“I encourage clients to ‘unfollow’ friends pretty liberally. When scrolling through Facebook or Instagram, people often find themselves in a weird feeling soup that can be kind of overwhelming. If you're jealous of something going on in a friend's life, or frustrated about something they're doing, it can reinforce a feeling of helplessness scrolling past it over and over. I consider [unfollowing friends] good self-care!
So it’s normal. But what do you do when you realize a long-time/really good friend has unfollowed you?
You never know — it could be an honest mistake. Haven’t you ever had a fat finger moment and pressed the wrong button on your iPhone? “You may not get a response or one that makes sense, but you reach out because your heart is concerned about the relationship, not the follow,” explained Diana Elizabeth, who wrote this amazing article on this very topic.
2Recognize the hard truth.
A true friend will come to you directly if she is upset about something you said or did. But, said David Bennett, certified counselor, life coach, and author, “a friend who ends the friendship by unfollowing you on Instagram wasn’t a very good friend to begin with,”
3Try, I repeat, TRY not to take it personally (I’m still working on this).
Desiree Wiercyski, a life coach for career-focused millennial women, told HelloGiggles that it’s important to recognize that your friend’s decision to unfollow you might not be about you at all.
“Navigating friendships on social media is hard, because we feel like we have front-row seats to everyone’s life, but that’s rarely actually the case and there’s a lot more going on behind the scenes. In reality, it’s likely a friend didn’t unfollow you because of anything you did, but they’re probably doing some personal work on themselves.”
4Let yourself grieve the friendship (no, seriously, you’re allowed to be sad).
We’ve all seen the research: social media can have negative psychological effects. As psychotherapist Aliza Tropper explains, Instagram and other platforms can increase anxiety and depression, and lower self-esteem. So your friend might have decided to unfollow you because your posts are making her anxious, or triggering some internal trauma.
“If this ends up causing you to end your relationship with your friend, then you might experience some grief, which is completely normal,” said Tropper. “You will experience a range of emotions, such as anger and sadness. Let yourself grieve over the friendship. Think about the memories you had with this person, good and tough times.”
Some final thoughts:
Diana Elizabeth wants us all to remember that as humans, we’re messy. “Some people struggle with envy,” she said. “Some are depressed. Some are having a hard time with life in general. Some are in a weak moment and can’t celebrate you, while others are able to. Just understand this and allow this to be a possible answer. And then read this article on how to not take it personally, even if they mean it personally. As for you, choose to celebrate others, it will keep your mind healthy.”