5 Lessons from Unfriending Facebook to Help You Improve Your (non-romantic) Relationships

It’s been a little over a year since I deleted my Facebook profile. It was an emotional decision that, like most break-ups, was long in coming.

It wasn’t a stoic move to be more productive or to curb a phone addiction. I didn’t put much thought into the repercussions. I just knew it was a break-up that needed to happen. I knew I had to do it before I chickened out.

I remember the exact moment the decision was made. I was reading an article about Facebook targeting ads at distraught teens, based on when certain words were used in their status updates. Words like “stressed”, “defeated”, “overwhelmed”, “anxious”, “nervous”, “stupid”, and “failure” were some of the targeted words — emotions that most normal teens feel (as we all do). Growing up is hard enough, so I was disgusted that Facebook was using kids’ hard times to strategically make money. This wasn’t the first article that grossed me out, but it certainly was the last straw. So, I deleted my profile.

Shortly after, the onslaught of emails from Facebook started. It was like a stalker ex that wouldn’t leave me alone. The emails were annoying and ridiculous. I stayed away, even as the 30-day campaign continued, giving me the opportunity to reinstate my profile, “just in case you change your mind”. Finally, my profile was successfully deleted, (or so I’m told, though I’m sure Facebook has a copy for themselves somewhere).

This isn’t a post explaining why you should get off Facebook (although it’s not a bad idea) but rather, what I learned from it.

1. People’s reactions to you are about them, not you.

In my urgency to purge Facebook from my life, I failed to prepare my friends. I didn’t share a preemptive post that I was doing this, I just acted before I changed my mind. Afterwards, I reached out to a couple of close friends who are prolific posters. I let them know I’m off and asked them to contact me if anything major happens. I still want to keep up with their major life events and hope they don’t consider it a burden to talk to me directly, even if just in a quick text.

But most people didn’t get a heads-up, not even my mother. I generally received three types of reactions from my Facebook friends that I found interesting.

    • No reaction – they didn’t notice. I assume this is because they’re either busy, not on Facebook much, or just focused on their own lives. I took no offense to friends not noticing and assumed most people wouldn’t. Not even my mother noticed.

 

    • They reached out to ask if I was on Facebook anymore. When someone reached out, it felt good. I was surprised when it wasn’t a close friend. It was even better when the person shared that they missed my posts and enjoyed the pictures and articles. This was definitely a boost to my ego.

 

    • They thought I unfriended them. The possibility of this didn’t occur to me until I ran into someone and they sheepishly brought it up. Then I realized, there are probably others who think this as well. I could tell it was hard for the person to inquire and there was a sense of relief when I shared that I deleted my profile. I was surprised when someone who I consider a real-life friend (not just a Facebook friend), thought I chose to unfriend them. It was a reminder that many people think the worst and usually blame themselves.

 

Generally, the biggest indicator of a person’s reaction was not based on how well the person knew me or how close we were. It had more to do with their overall outlook. If their perspective tended to be downtrodden, they thought I unfriended them. If they have a positive outlook on life, they gave the benefit of the doubt.

2. Don’t outsource your friendships.

Facebook was originally created to help connect people in college (actually it started as a rating game on people’s looks, “Hot” or “Not Hot”, which should have been a clear indicator of the toxicity to come).

For a little while, I think it did connect people. It also made it much easier to find lost connections, like staying in touch with family and long-distant friends.

If I think of Facebook as a high-tech phone book, it’s pretty amazing. It has personal data on 2.3 billon users, easily accessible so you can find your old boyfriend from high school or roommate from college.

The problem is, in our world of maximizing time, constantly trying to be more efficient and life hacking everything, we have outsourced the joyous work of maintaining our friendships to this ineffective tool. I fell into this trap.

I’ve always been a letter writer. I have several friends that I met in Germany during a high school exchange year who are still friends nearly 30-years later due to the dedication of letter writing.

When Facebook became the norm, my letter writing started to dwindle. I got complacent thinking Facebook was enough, especially as life got busier.

Facebook gives us the false belief that we are maintaining friendships. The problem is that most of these friendships are shallow and don’t provide the connection we need as social beings. This is when loneliness and isolation set in, even with a long friend list.

I didn’t realize what I was missing until I removed Facebook from my life.

I rekindled my love for writing. The tactile feel and process of putting pen to paper allows me time to reflect and express gratitude. I’m also learning to be a phone person. This all takes time, but no more time than you currently spend on Facebook. For local friends, I make sure to create space to see them. Both my long-distance and local relationships have gotten stronger and more meaningful, more than I ever could have experienced on Facebook.

3. Be discerning; not everyone matters.

As Facebook grew, so did my friend list. I added but didn’t unfriend. Soon the list included not only actual friends but also old boyfriends, their families, people I met on vacation, and women from networking events that I never actually networked with. It was no longer a friend list.

All these people got the same level of detail about my life and they all had an equal voice.

Not everyone matters enough to get an equal voice about your life.

As Brene Brown explains in Dare to Lead, if we define ourselves by what everyone thinks, it’s hard to have the courage to be ourselves. On the other hand, if we stop caring about what others think, we’re too protected to have an authentic relationship. Brown suggests we care only about what our “Square Squad” thinks — the people whose opinions really matter — names that can fit on a one-inch by one-inch piece of paper.

If the person is not someone who has a meaningful impact in your life or you envision having in your future, then they don’t deserve your energy.

4. Collect your own data or be sure it’s transferable.

Facebook made it so darn easy to rely on it for birthday reminders, anniversaries and as a way to contact someone.

I used to be meticulous about keeping birthdays and other contact details (email, phone, address). The more Facebook grew in my life, the more I relied on it instead of collecting the details myself.

The problem is, Facebook doesn’t have an easy way to export these details to take with you, making us ever more reliant (obviously this is by design). And unfortunately, in my rash decision to delete my profile, I didn’t collect the information.

These details are valuable to me, my lifeline to the people I care about, so I’m becoming diligent again with collecting contact details. This time, I won’t get complacent.

5. Beware of Rebounds – Trust Yourself

Confession time: Like any long relationship that ends, it’s hard to stay completely away. Often there is a rebound, just to make sure the breakup was really the right thing to do. In my experience, my initial decision is the right one, and Facebook proved no different.

After about 6 months of my unfriending, I was convinced by my business coach that I really needed to be on Facebook. She ran a Facebook group and didn’t want me to miss information that could help me. Around the same time, two other people asked me to be in their professional Facebook groups. I initially said no to everyone. My coach can be persuasive, and she convinced me to just create a shell of a profile. I acquiesced.

I made my profile as private as possible, not allowing anyone to make a friend request. I didn’t want to be truly back. I felt like a hypocrite and I tried not to let anyone (except strangers) know I was there. I was embarrassed. It was the same sort of feeling you get if you start dating your ex again but don’t let your best friend know because you know what she’ll say… it wasn’t a good feeling.

After I created the profile, I avoided looking at status updates.

Then the email notifications started showing up in my inbox. First these came daily, then multiple times a day, telling me there was activity in the group and making friend suggestions. I tried turning off the notifications, but I still got some.

The whole thing felt like I was back together with a stalking ex. I felt creepy and remorseful.

My lesson is to trust yourself.

I had a gross feeling as I was creating the new profile. I don’t get much out of the groups because I’m not actively participating, and I turned off all notifications. So, it’s pointless and a waste of energy for me.

I love that social media has made it easier to connect with people. And I hate that social media has, for many, replaced the effort put into real connection.

I think people are realizing there is no replacement for authentic direct connection. The next step is making it a priority.

Regardless, I’m glad I did it. I encourage you to really look at how you connect with people in your life. Do you need to make a shift? Are you spending energy on the people who bring a positive impact to your life? How do you spend most of your connection time? Is it giving you the authentic connection you need? If not, and you need help making a change, I’m here for you.