Time to Unfriend

Virtual unfriending is as easy as clicking a button, and it usually leaves little emotional impact. How unfriending in real life, though challenging and upsetting, could be better for both of you in the long run.

by Amy Postma

The term “unfriending” did not exist the way we think of it now prior to the explosion of online social media and its effect on how we connect and create relationships. But the concept of unfriending has always been real, just with dramatically different consequences. We want the people in our lives that add meaning, encouragement, and happiness; people that stimulate us and leave us free of judgement. If only it were as easy as clicking a button to eliminate a harmful or complicated relationship from our real lives instead of going through the emotional whirlwind of figuring out how to best deal with the conflict.

photo by Amy Postma, Toronto, 2011.

Nancy* went through an extensive and messy fallout with her best friend at a time in her life when she was making big decisions that would dictate her career and her love life. Formerly inseparable, the two friends suddenly found it to be hard work relating to each other in their post-university lives. “I craved premade plans instead of last minute hangouts, and sophisticated dinner parties instead of intoxicated poker games,” Nancy says. While it made her sad to remember the fun memories she had had with her friend, deciding to let go of the friendship turned out to be a relief. The act of unfriending “made my life feel lighter and happier,” Nancy remarks, noting that while it also affected the wider circle of friends they knew together, she was still able to cultivate great one-on-one relationships with those people. “Now, years later, I can smile when I hear she had a baby or got a new job and I hope she feels the same about me,” she says, adding with a smile, “I just hope I don’t get a friend request on Facebook.”

Psychology writer Sophia Dembling writes, in an article on the topic of unfriending, that sometimes friendships “explode in a blaze of fury; sometimes they fade away from benign neglect….But then, eventually, we think about reconnecting with the person and consciously decide not to. We let go.” As we age and let less important things in our lives fade away, we cannot help but re-evaluate the relationships we have. And sometimes it is simply healthier for all parties to step away and realize that people change and even the best relationships cannot withstand this, such as in Nancy’s case.

When you have known someone for a long time and have felt emotionally connected to them through important chapters in your life, it is devastating to lose that connection. Instead of becoming emotionally tattered and strung out salvaging a speck of a relationship that is mostly just work, it could be liberating to just break free from it, whether through an explosion of fury or simply letting it fade silently. As Dembling writes, “sometimes we have to let go of the past to make room for the present….It frees us to focus on the important things in life. And that enhances our happiness.”

*Name has been changed


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