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Rosemary Donahue
March 31, 2016 9:43 am

The other day, a notification popped up on my phone. Because I can’t stand those little red badges and have to deal with them immediately, I pressed the Facebook app to see what was up. It was someone’s birthday, yet again. Statistically, because I have 736 Facebook friends at this point, it is always at least one person’s birthday and that day was no different — but that day, the person whose birthday it was was someone I no longer considered a friend. I unfriended him immediately, and went about my day.

This is actually something I do often. It may sound heartless, to unfriend people on their birthday, but I like to think that they won’t notice I’ve done it on a day that other people — presumably, people they’re still in touch with — are showering their timeline with love, affection, and, of course, GIFs. While I know that I could simply unfollow rather than unfriend on Facebook (something that Instagram doesn’t allow, and Twitter allows in the form of muting), I don’t understand the need to keep up digital pretenses. I always groan when I see the all-too-familiar status, “I’m gonna be making a massive friend purge soon, so if you still see me on your list in a week, you’ve made it!” I prefer to leave people’s Internet lives the same way I leave parties: quietly, with no goodbyes, and perhaps with a few snacks in my pocket (okay, maybe that last part doesn’t apply to Facebook).

I’ve made some major changes in the past year. I’ve moved across the country, started my first full-time career job, and have started making some new friends in my new city. It is hard enough juggling all of this while still maintaining close relationships with the friends and family I DO still love back in California. I don’t necessarily want the social media I use, in part, to help me stay in touch with these people, to be cluttered by updates from people I just don’t care about anymore. I don’t mean this as a diss — I promise, I don’t — but I think that we’re all mature enough to acknowledge that as we grow up, sometimes we drift apart from people we were once close with.

It seems like unfollowing and unfriending people on social media is a huge taboo, and I’m not really sure why. Sure, sometimes people do it to be spiteful, or unfollow and then refollow over and over again to get someone to notice them (especially on Twitter — please, please don’t do this), but for the most part, I don’t think there is any ill will in the act. I think that mostly, people just want to curate their timelines to see the people who they feel really add to their lives in the current phase they’re in — we want our social media to reflect who we are, right now — and what’s wrong with that?

As I’ve grown older, I’ve learned to value my time, and learned to not take things like unfollowing or unfriending personally. I’ve also learned that I need to make space in my life for the things I really care about, and that includes digital space (even if the Internet has mostly unlimited space — I get the irony here).

So, yes, it’s true. I haven’t done a big friend purge on Facebook, because I haven’t yet felt the need. But when birthday notifications come up for people I’m no longer emotionally connected to, I often wish them a silent Happy Birthday from an old version of myself, and then I firmly press “unfriend.”

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