Saturday, April 2, 2011

When A Facebook Friend Isn't Really A Friend After All

121...125...123...125...128...125.

Six numbers. I don't know what to make of them. Those six numbers, in the order they are listed above, have consumed me over the last six weeks. I haven't been able to think about anything other than those six numbers. They represent the answer to a problem I cannot make sense of.

Those six numbers represent the total number of Facebook friends I've had since mid-February.

Confusing, I know. I had 121 friends. The total then increased by four. Then it dropped by two. And it has fluctuated ever since.

I know who's added me as a friend, because I receive an email from Facebook whenever someone either accepts my request or sends me a request. But who is dropping me? And why?

Regarding the first question: the quick answer is, I have no idea. And believe me, I've tried to get to the bottom of it. I've stared at my friends list for hours in a futile attempt to remember which names are missing. It's not easy -- and that's with only 120+ friends. I have no idea how someone with 1,000 friends can manage this. (According to Facebook, the average user has 130 friends, meaning I'm a slightly below-average friend to everyone else.)

You know the old expression, "You can never have too many friends?" It doesn't always ring true on Facebook. There are two schools of thought when it comes to adding friends on Facebook: You should either add everyone you've ever met in your life, or you should be really selective. There is no in between.

The people who fall into the latter category are not secretive about the fact that they have no room for distant Facebook friends in their lives. Even if they add you as a friend, it's on a probationary basis. They reserve the right to drop you at any moment. You'll know if it's coming, because they'll make an announcement in your News Feed: "Time to clean out my friends list!" It seems like an awfully cruel way to handle it. Whenever I see this sort of status update, I un-tag the person in all my old pictures, refuse to wish them a happy birthday, that sort of thing. Hit 'em where it hurts. Let them know that I'm in charge, not them.

But sometimes I'm dropped without warning; I'll have missed the announcement. So I stare at my friends list. And I shed a tear or two. Because it hurts to lose a friend. It's painful to know that someone thinks you're not worthy to read their links to New York Times articles, watch their favorite YouTube videos, or look at the latest pictures of them in public.

My feeling: If you're going to drop me as a Facebook friend, do it in person. I know chances are good that we've barely spoken with each other or seen each other in 10 years, but still, do it in person. I deserve an explanation, face to face. Not only is it the right thing to do, but it would save me the trouble of having to stare at my friends list.