FaceBook: Unfriended in Real Life

Dear Bartender and Priestess,

I am a stay-at-home mom, who works from home too, and have generally considered myself friendly and able to maintain good friendships. I have a large group of mutual friends and we occasionally get together for celebrations or girls’ nights. But I have a pretty strong political streak, and I think that and Facebook are impacting my social life.

Because I am home all the time, I tend to hang out on Facebook and of course, everyone in my friends list sees everything I post, and I do post a lot of political things. Anyone I knew who might not have been familiar with my political views knows about them now. I lost some peripheral friends over some things I posted, but that didn’t bother me very much. I mean, you’re not “friends” with everyone you’re friends with on Facebook, right?

Now, it seems like even my close friends are cutting me out of their lives. This morning, a friend wrote a post to another friend, talking about how much fun they all had celebrating her birthday out on the town. I was never even invited. I feel like this is related to my political posting. Sometimes, I try to not post as much but I can’t stop myself from talking about these things. I don’t want my friends to only be the friends who share my political views, but I think that’s what starting to happen. Part of me wants to quit Facebook, but I don’t get to get out much and it gives me some human interaction. Help!

Facebookin Mama

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Dear Facebookin’ Mama,

B: There are two things we don’t discuss in my bar. Or polite company. Or any company, unless you’re determined to upset at least one person in the room. One of those topics is religion. The other is politics. The problem with making statements about things like politics, is that it excites strong feelings in people. You have them yourself, when you say things like, “I can’t help posting about things I care about.”

I have issues with “I can’t help”. I’ll get to that in a minute. IMG_2259P: Your question is a tangle with a bunch of threads to pull. Some of them are fairly straightforward. Terri has some great things to say here, so let’s start with some practical suggestions.

B: So, you can’t help posting things because they generate a strong enough passion in you that you need to declare it to the world. Consequently, your friends can’t help reacting with their own passion at what you post. There are a few things I want to make perfectly clear here.

  • No one can tell you that you have to stop posting anything to your Facebook page (unless, of course, you’re posting things that are illegal). Your first amendment rights protect you in that regard. You can declare your political affiliations to your heart’s content.
  • That is where your first amendment rights end. You can say what you want, but you cannot dictate your friends’ reactions to your statements. They are free to agree, or not, or think you’re over-the-top, or choose not to associate with you, based on what you say.
  • BECAUSE (and I think this is what trips people up), WHEN YOU SAY SOMETHING ON FACEBOOK, YOU’RE ACTUALLY SAYING IT. There’s absolutely no reason why a friend should read a post of yours and think, “Huh, this post from Jane showed up in my newsfeed and it’s like the hundred others she posts, and it’s diametrically opposed to everything I believe in and that’s all she ever posts, but I’m sure she doesn’t mean all of it, or that I won’t take the constant barrage on my deeply help belief system personally.” You may be a deep thinking, multi-faceted, lovely young woman with a lot of love and loyalty to offer a friend, but you’re changing the public perception of you to relentless wonk who only ever talks politics. Do you want to be friends with that person? I don’t want to be friends with that person. Sometimes, friends just want to share cat videos.
  • And finally…you CAN help what you post. Because you can choose to not post things. You can put a filter on your posts. You can self-edit. If you’re talking to someone, do you feel compelled to say everything you think, even if you know it would be totally disagreeable? My bet is, you know well enough to use a filter in real life. If you want to maintain friendships, you need to start doing the same thing on Facebook. You can’t say something and then not expect to be held responsible for saying it. In fact, because you’re online and not in person, you can take the time to consider what you’re posting. Sometimes, in conversation, gaffes tumble out of one’s mouth before you can stop yourself. But you can consider, carefully, in your own time, if something you’re considering posting is a good idea, or not.

P: If you’re really involved with politics, make a separate Facebook page or group for your political posts and start growing some like-minded friends and people you can talk with about things that seem to matter to you. The world needs people who are informed and willing to do things to make a difference. If you’re looking to make a difference, a page might be your best choice. If you’re looking to vent, make a group. And when you’re tired of it, you can dissolve it.

Are you building something constructive with your platform? Are you offering people something to hold on to — a place they can begin to come together? There are certain people whom I follow who do good research and provide me with provocative and interesting posts to read that make my life richer. It’s good to be one of those people. Boredom is a great tool for going deeper into things that matter.

Why are you posting? What do you want to get out of this? Are you looking to become more informed and involved with politics? Do you want to start looking at local politics and see how you can help move things along? Because there are lots of things that stay at home moms can do to help campaigns both political and service. Working with other people can give you new and fun friends who are interested in what you’re interested in. And you’ll be doing something worthwhile. Oh, indeed, being a good citizen is very worthwhile! And not every friend needs to be all things to you, as you’ve said… but are you practicing that?

If, however, you’re turning off lots of people, I wonder a bit about the way you’re posting. Are you reflexively posting/reposting? Or are you building a foundation for your views? I’m always curious what people are interested in, but I have to say I have no time for the those “you people are stupid” posts so many seem to favor. I’m so over inflammatory posts. Yawn. Or Hide. Or Unfriend. People do that on FB and they do it in real time, which you’re sadly discovering. If this is you, is this who you want to be? Because you’re saying that people you care about are moving away.

B: What I’m really concerned with in all of this, though, is that you seem to be starving for adult human interaction. I know how it is. It’s so easy, when you work from home, to fall into dysfunction. It’s no problem to stay in your pajamas and not shower and live inside your computer screen. When I started working from home, the first thing I did was join a gym. I figured at least that would force me to shower, and I would see other people besides my beloved. Who is very nice, but not the only person I ever want to see.

Is there something that’s stopping you from getting out there and joining…something? A book club, a gym, an adult enrichment class? Since you claim to be passionate about politics, why don’t you volunteer one night a week with a local political organization? If you connect with an organization you believe in you can satisfy a passion while having an adult conversation—two birds, the same stone.

P: People’s leaving or distancing means you’re doing something that’s putting people off. That’s hard to hear. When it’s one person you can kinda go, wow, what’s wrong with them? But when it’s a bunch of people, it may not be them — especially since it seems they’re getting together and having fun without you. And if it’s not them… (draw icky conclusions here.). My shrink used say, “No one needs to love you when you walk into a room throwing up.” Facebook is such a room. Is this what you’re doing.

It sounds as if you might want to call together one or two of your most trusted friends, and say, “huh. I saw that everyone got together and realized I wasn’t invited.” The temptation will be to be accusatory… but what you’re looking for is information so you can make things different/better for you. So you want to say, my friendships are important to me, and I seem to be pushing people away, I trust you guys to tell me the truth, what can I do differently?

And then be prepared for the owie stuff, but try to keep listening. These are friendships you value, so your friends will have good things to say. It’ll be awkward, they won’t always do it right, so you may have to say, ok, all I can feel is hurt, can you find another way to say that to me so I can hear you?

And then sit with the info for a while and figure out what you want to do about it. You may want to talk to a therapist, or you may just want to stop and think about how to invite people more deeply into your life (instead of pushing them away with inflammatory posts).

B: Now, as a friend, I want you to be aware of this: most people? Don’t want to have to defend their beliefs. They don’t want to have a political debate. And they particularly don’t want to have a debate on Facebook. You’re not going to engineer any political epiphanies (OH MY GOD! Now that you’ve posted that meme I see the world differently!) by laying down post after post of contrived political meme-ery. It’s irritating, and a really easy way to turn people against you. I know you don’t want to live in an echo chamber of people who only ever share your political view. But here’s the thing: most people? Do.

Most of my friends know where I stand in relation to them on the political spectrum. I don’t need to engage them over our differences. I have friends who hold very different opinions than I do, and of those friends I know which select few I can debate. Privately. In my home, and not on Facebook. And yes, it’s satisfying when it happens. It sharpens the teeth, stokes the passion in the belly, forces one to think, possibly alter our own perceptions. But you won’t have that kind of relationship with everyone. You need to honor the relationships you have and let them exist as they are. As a stay-at-home, work-at-home mom, the dysfunction of isolation is never far away. We can forget what it’s like to have to interact with other people. Get back out into the world in some way, and connect with people. We form communities for a reason. When you satisfy a passion in real life, you won’t have to rely on your virtual life so much.

P: Good luck with this. I think you have a real opportunity to make a difference both in your life with your friendships and with a deepening sense of yourself as a good citizen on FB and in the real world. If in fact you want to. And hooray for you for looking at it. This uncomfortable journey may be a great springboard for a life full of more! bnp facebook napkinPolitical Partini 

2 parts pear flavored vodka
1/4 parts Amaretto liqueur
1/4 parts simple syrup
1/2 part lemon juice
Pear slice for garnish

Pour into cocktail shaker, strain into cocktail glass and garnish.

Thanks to Deb Slade for her Phabulous Photos!

Thanks to the Lewisburg Hotel for location, location, location!

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