I've been e-slighted on Facebook!

I thought these people were my friends, but they're not acting like friends online

Published October 31, 2010 11:01PM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

I'm looking for advice over something I've deemed -- for lack of a better word -- the "e-slight." That is, rude behavior over the Internet -- namely Facebook.

Here's my particular dilemma: A few years back I worked at a very small prep school -- the upper school faculty alone was numbered only in the 20s. As such, we were a part of a learning "community" that was expected to go above and beyond -- chaperoning countless extracurricular events, giving up evenings and weekends for the greater good. As a newly single gal in her late 20s (whose friends were coupling up at an alarming rate), I took to my extra duties with relish. If I didn't have a date on a Friday night, why not put in time at my job? And the thing was, it didn't even feel like a job. I actually enjoyed being a part of something -- anything -- that kept me busy and distracted. I believe many other faculty members -- whatever their reasons -- felt the same way. So, I got to know these people a little better than the average co-worker. In fact, I even socialized outside of work regularly with much of the faculty. At times, it even felt a bit like a family. On a professional level, I believe that while employed at this school, I was a high-impact teacher who did a good job. Period.

Fast-forward three years -- I decide that while I love my job, I hate my personal life. In fact, I'm miserable and I'm not getting nearly everything I need from this somewhat codependent situation. On a whim I accept a position some 1,600 miles away and at the end of the year, pick up and move. And when I leave, I believe it's on good terms. Over the next few years, I get married and start a family. I also join Facebook and begin reconnecting with people back home. Only, when it comes to former co-workers, many seem uninterested in reconnecting with me. Don't get me wrong -- some people were great! But some "friended" me and then never responded to my messages or wall posts (in particular was a woman who had also left the school, whom I once considered a good friend -- in fact, we had traveled together. She was great with responding to other former co-workers -- but just not me). What's more, a few people even rejected my friend requests -- including the head of school who was friends with everyone else who worked there -- both current and former.

This was a horrible revelation -- what on earth had I done? Had I misread years of personal interaction? Or had something happened after I left that tarnished my reputation? There was one woman in particular -- the classic "frenemy" type -- who during my tenure had tried on numerous occasions to get others fired. In fact, she had taken over my classes; was she responsible for people not wanting to be my friend?

I realize that there is no answer to what happened. I'll probably never know. But I can't seem to get over this hurt as well as the idea that I held people in esteem who didn't feel the same way about me. It's left me angry, confused and worse -- hating a job in retrospect that in reality I actually loved. Cary, how do I let this one go? Is there any lesson I can take away from this situation?


Dear E-Slighted,

How do you get over this? You get in touch with the people who matter to you and try to have the relationship that you want to have with them.

Forget about Facebook. This is about face-to-face relationships with actual people you know.

Are there people you miss talking to? Call them up.

This will force you to define what relationship you actually want to have. It will also clarify what relationship you are actually going to have. In some cases, you're not going to have the relationship you want. That's OK. That's the way it is with social life.

In other cases, you may get great and sustaining friendships. They will be actual friendships.

Facebook is a remarkable technical achievement. But it isn't society. It's software. It mimics certain aspects of society but it isn't society. It's software.

Me, I don't like Facebook. It's nothing personal. But I was here first. I don't have to like Facebook. Facebook has to do something for me that I like in order for me to like it. Right now, it doesn't do that. It just bothers me and makes me feel guilty.

I don't like Facebook but I joined Facebook. By joining Facebook, I created expectations.

Now I'm letting people down.

It's one big guilt trip.

I'm feeling all guilty about the people I haven't befriended yet and the wall posts I haven't responded to and all that.

Life could be simpler. I could not be on Facebook. But then people would say, Wow, you really should be on Facebook. It's so good for marketing.

What am I, Amway?

As it is, now I'm just letting people down. So to all the folks out there on Facebook, Hi, how ya doing. Love ya. Wish you were here.

Actually do wish you were here. Wish you were living next door. Then we could sit on our porches and send Facebook things back and forth.

The whole thing makes me want to bang my head against the wall.

The problem is with Facebook. It's not with your friends. The problem is that as a population we have asymmetrically embraced Facebook. We haven't had time to form and learn to practice a uniform code of Facebook behavior.

I am not a bad person. I love my friends and family. I love all the readers I've never met personally whom I'm friends with. I just don't love Facebook.

My assumption is that most reasonable people understand that Facebook is a flawed social medium. It is new and incompletely distributed among the population. It is growing and changing. Members of different age groups and social strata have different expectations. This leads to misunderstandings.

Like e-mail, communication on Facebook lacks the rich information of face-to-face and voice. We're just not adept enough yet, and we don't have enough of a shared Facebook language. It will take time.

Meanwhile, people's feelings get hurt.

I wonder if we'll see a backlash soon. That would be interesting. After the novelty wears off, maybe we'll see lots of people deciding it's just not worth it.

Or maybe Facebook will win and we'll all have to spend more time updating our status.

Wow. It hurts to even think about that.

The SYA eBook is here!

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By Cary Tennis

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