Saturday, February 14, 2009

Facebook etiquette

Help me with a minor moral dilemma:

A guy I sang with in high school, but didn't know too well--a guy I haven't thought much about in 20 years--recently offered to friend me on Facebook. I said yes. Why the hell not?

We chatted briefly. He's going through a contentious divorce. He's in a dead-end job he hates, and commutes an hour each way. We chatted a little bit. I tried to commiserate.

Since then, well, all I see of him is his status updates. They are, without fail, breathtakingly angry slams at his soon-to-be-ex-wife or his horrible job or his commute. Not just ordinary ones, either. He suggested we should have never stopped stoning adulterers. He wanted to send dead poisonous flowers to his ex for Valentine's. He thinks his son is partly deaf solely so as not to listen to his mom's awful voice.

The guy's status updates makes me feel like crap.

Okay. As I see it, I have several options.

One is to, quietly and without fanfare, simply unfriend the guy. Positives: it'd keep him and his unrelenting, gut-curdling anger off of my computer every day. Negatives: The dude clearly needs help, and I don't feel good walking away. He has over 100 maybe there's a little bit of a bystander effect going on here...since so many of us are seeing this, we're less likely to help him out.

Another is to sort of ask if he's okay. "Hey, Ed, you sound really, really depressed. Are you getting any kind of help?" Positives: I am doing something to help him out. Negatives: I've spoken to the man literally once since 1988. Isn't it rather presumptuous of me to step in and try to solve his major life problems?

But shouldn't SOMEBODY be saying "Hey, are you getting professional help?" The guy has a son who needs him through the divorce, and based on the strangely-intimate-but-admittedly-incomplete status updates he's giving, he's not emotionally available as a Dad right now.

Option three: send the dude an email, say "hey, I hope you're getting some help, but I'm going to step away from your unrelenting negativity" and then unfriend. Don't care for that option. It feels cowardly, like the way Michael Scott told Andy Bernard about Angela's affair a couple of weeks ago on The Office. would you handle it? I'm leaning somewhat towards option two. I mean, the dude sought me out, after all, not the other way around, so I guess he needs a friend.

But option one would feel far simpler.

Have any of you faced similar dilemmas? How'd you handle them?


Chris Snethen said...

I go with option 1.

Every time.

I understand your dilemma, but honestly life is too short to be inviting others' drama into your life. Especially people you barely know or haven't talked to for twenty years. It's just too much.

I've whacked them as friends and it's been clean each time.

Greg said...

My knee-jerk reaction is option #1 as well. However, that is suspect since my knee-jerk reaction is always to avoid something that might resemble conflict. It's a trait that drives A nuts, especially when dealing with situations like this.

Option #2, while it might be a bit presumptuous, might be an opportunity. Right now you have very little invested and he provided you with the opening. Somebody needs to tell him that sort of hate is unacceptable. You haven't spoken to him in 20 years, so if he gets offended and tells you to go to hell, you're back where things were before he re-initiated contact. Simply un-friend him and walk away with the knowledge that at least you weren't a silent bystander.

georg said...

Why not adjust your feed settings so his status updates don't show up when you log into Facebook?

tommyspoon said...

Option #1 is the best bet, unless you really think that this is the best time in your life to intervene in this person's life.

Sounds like this person is crying out for attention. Let him receive it elsewhere.

Alison said...

Having never un-friended anyone (or, as far as I know, been un-friended), I'm not sure of something: does the person un-friended get notified of their change in status, just like they get notified of every other thing that happens on FB? If you want to avoid, I'd say go with Georg's method. Otherwise, the un-friending could easily go to the top of his list of things that are making him angry.

Melissa said...

To my knowledge, there is no status update or notification when you "unfriend" someone on FB. Although they will be on to you if they ever try to go to your profile and can no longer view it because you're not their friend.

TRP: I agree with tommy. He may be crying out for attention and may in fact need it, but can you take on that responsibility right now? Playing devil's advocate, what will happen when the negativity he has toward everything else in his life gets turned on you? Which it will if you ever so much as suggest something, like therapy, that offends him.

Kate said...

Correct, there is no notification to him if you elect to unfriend him. I had a friend who during the election season was constantly posting these obnoxious political status updates. It got so annoying, and I was so disturbed by his rabid hostility, that I exercised my right to turn off all status updates from him.

That is an easy way out. I'm not sure which option I'd take. He's clearly looking for attention, but might not be looking for advice.