Thanks to the Internet, we now have a host of new ways to offend, enrage, misinterpret, creep out, or alienate people. In Tangled Web, we field your questions about how to be a decent human online. Have a question? Ask firstname.lastname@example.org.
There's a person I've known for years but have only socially interacted with in group settings. I don't know if we're friends, "friends" or frienemies. She's really popular and knows a lot of people I know. There was a period when I would invite her to social outings and if she replied at all it was to say how busy she was. I gave up trying and subsequently would only see her at group social events, where now she only talks to me if others are around. This hurts because she's good friends with some friends of mine. They seem to adore her and my inability to win her goodwill feels like a character flaw.
Despite what I see as the utter lack of warmth between us I still find myself posting comments to her Facebook page and tweeting at her sometimes. (Maybe once every other week?) She never responds or replies back to any of my comments/tweets. I swear up and down that nothing I post is weird or catty. It's all along the same vein of stuff other people tweet at/post to her, which usually gets warm, funny replies. I could hide her status updates, but I see when other people post things to her—we're Facebook-connected by probably a dozen people, if not more—many of whom post loving tributes to her all the time on her Facebook wall. The whole interconnectivity of our circles is making me feel like I'm constantly on the outside of the Popular Girl's group.
Do I just need to stop assuming she and I are "friends" and cease all social media contact? Is she secretly rolling her eyes every time I tweet at her? Or am I just possibly imagining all this indifference? I wish I could just ask her, "Hey, do you actually dislike me?" to clear this all up—but I know we're not 5 years old and you can't ask someone to check a box: "Do you like me? Check Yes or No."
If you’re perceiving your friends’ posts as genuinely loving and this person’s posts (we’ll call her Regina George, although you’ll see in a minute that I don’t think she deserves it) as genuinely warm, then it’s a fair bet she’s not rolling her eyes behind your back, or at least not so you’d notice. It’s hardly a universal rule, but for the most part, people with a large stable of strong, sincere friendships don’t get that way by being petty and negative. They get that way by being full-heartedly invested in a lot of people.
And there’s the rub: You can’t be full-heartedly invested in everyone. If you’re trying to do right by a lot of friends, it’s easy and tempting to let acquaintances fall by the wayside. She should be responding to your tweets and comments; she should be emailing you back. That would be kind. But sometimes people do the expedient thing instead of the kind one, and in this case that would be focusing on the people with whom she has more established relationships.
That’s not about you. That’s about the fact that Facebook and Twitter allow us to have a much larger apparent social circle than we can actually maintain. Even on social media, which aren’t constrained by the fact that there are only so many free nights in a week, people still hit a wall of limited time and attention. One of the hardest things to learn in life is that not everyone will like you—but if you can’t come to terms with that yet, don’t worry, because the situation right here is merely that not everyone can prioritize you.
As for your other friends, remember that friendship doesn’t have to be transitive. (See Geek Social Fallacy #4.) If they love you, and they love Regina, that doesn’t mean you and Regina have to be close, or that it’s some kind of reflection on you if you aren’t. The fact that she’s friends with your friends doesn’t mean you’re on the outside of her clique. It means you’re both peripheral to each others’ social circles.
The only way in which this might be plausibly even a little about you: It’s possible that Regina senses some of the social pressure you’re putting on her—the hope that she’ll validate you; the feeling that she’s actively rejecting you if she’s not carving out time for you to hang out one-on-one, even though you’ve never been close; the belief that her friendship with people you know is somehow a reflection on your worth. She may be noticing that and giving it a wide berth. Or she’s not. Either way, it would do you good to stop taking her responses (or non-responses) as a referendum.
If this is a deliberate freeze-out, she’s being a little bit of a jerk (although not a huge jerk—remember that some people prefer to get the message through silence), and it’s too bad all your friends like her. But since all your friends like her, give her the benefit of the doubt that she’s not a jerk but a person with lots of friends and limited emotional energy. You don’t need to stop tweeting at her or commenting on her Facebook if you don’t want to, but you do need to stop taking it personally when she’s not responsive.
Put your efforts towards people who can make you a priority.
An acquaintance on Facebook recently made public her relationship with another acquaintance in our circle by changing her profile picture to a cutesy one of the two of them with their heads smushed together. I'm happy they're dating, since they seem happy. But the picture is freaking me out! It's just so teenagery and they're grown-ups! With jobs! And careers! And they have matching hair! And!!! I know I could hide posts from my stream, and I might have to resort to that, but then I'd miss the useful stuff being posted. And I know other folks are also gawking at the picture. I don't suppose there's any way to say to an adult that their picture is freaky?
It can be tricky when preexisting friends from the same social group get together. It's not always, but it can be. You're liable to feel like you have to start thinking about them both in a different and potentially uncomfortable way, like it's somehow more, “Hello, please think about your friends having sex now!” than if someone brings in a significant other from outside the group. Again, not everyone feels that way about every pair of friends that starts banging, but it's not especially surprising that you're feeling a little skeeved out.
However, you totally cannot police their profile photo! You know this! As frustrating as it may be, you don't even really get to have an opinion on whether they write mushy love notes on each others' timelines, or refer to each other on Facebook exclusively as “snooky wookums.” You can feel free to be mildly appalled, of course. If either one of them is Facebook friends with coworkers or god forbid bosses, you can even be quite appalled. But you can't tell them to change it. Or to change their hair so it doesn't match.
You do have one last resort, though. A plugin called Unbaby.me promises to remove all pictures of babies from your feed and replace them with whatever images you prefer (the default is cats). It's keyword-based, which means that if you tweak it so that it's looking for your friends' names, it just might unbaby (or unsweetie, or unsnookywookums) their profile photos. From my fiddling it looks like you can only make it remove large pictures in your newsfeed, not the little profile pic thumbnails, but desperate times call for desperate measures and maybe you can tweak it to work. At the very least, you can avoid having to look at any new photos until you come to terms with the fact that these two apparently plan to be gross—or until they get a little tired of each other.
Illustration by Jason Reed