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Swipe This! Do I have to follow my best friend’s annoying girlfriend on Instagram?

What to do to keep your feeds joyful and your friendships intact.

 

Nayomi Reghay

IRL

Published Jul 19, 2017   Updated May 22, 2021, 11:28 pm CDT

Swipe This!” is an advice column about how to navigate human relationships and connections in an age when we depend so heavily on technology. Have a question? Email [email protected]

. . .

Dear Swipe This!

I can’t stand my best friend’s girlfriend. I manage to keep the peace IRL, but what do I do now that she’s following me on Instagram and Tumblr?

My best friend is a guy. We’ve been friends since we sat next to each other on a 10-plus-hour flight to Prague when we were teenagers and spent a month kicking around on a teen tour. As two young people are likely to do, we made out a couple of times over the years, but we never slept together. Eventually, as our hormones subsided, we realized that we were not into each other romantically. There’s just a really intense platonic bond. It’s something we’ve discussed at length and are both on the same page about. 

While I’ve known several people who he’s dated over the years and generally enjoyed them all, his current girlfriend is not exactly my favorite. I wouldn’t choose to be friends with her if I met her myself. However, my friend is very much in love with her and wants to build a future with her and I am going to support him 100 percent because his friendship means the world to me. I will remain welcoming and positive around her, even when she’s being territorial (like rolling her eyes when I asked to speak to my friend privately for a moment when we were all at a party).

Then one day, I noticed that I had a new follower on Tumblr and Instagram who went on a liking spree. Turns out, it’s the girlfriend! I checked out her blogs and found things that I just really do not enjoy, so I didn’t follow her back. My friend brought it up to me the next time I saw him, particularly that it upset his girlfriend that I didn’t follow her back.

Now, I’m someone who uses Tumblr and Instagram for fun, not for followers. I like keeping my feeds full of content that I enjoy. Bottom line is that I don’t enjoy the content she creates or reblogs. It has nothing to do with her personally, that’s just not how I use social media. I found it kind of irritating that she would complain to my friend that I didn’t follow her back. It just seems childish.

My friend and I talked it through. I showed him the things I follow and hers in comparison and explained that it’s just not my taste. He recognized the differences (hers being a collection of pale/nude toned art and images of skinny women in provocative poses, whereas I follow a lot of astronomy and sci-fi based art blogs and news, and generally like a darker color palette), and he didn’t bring it up again.

Since then, I’ve avoided following this girl back. I’ve also noticed tension. I know they had another talk about our friendship and I get a territorial vibe from her whenever we’re all together. She takes lots of pictures of the two of them, hanging off his arm, and kind of pretends I’m not there—at least in terms of what she posts to social media. My friend, on the other hand, very happily engages with her and with the three of us as a unit. For example, we were all at the mermaid parade together, and she took lots of photos of the two of them, whereas he took pictures of the three of us as well as the two of them.

In spite of all this, I’ve tried to be kind. She was having health issues this winter, so I made a giant batch of stew for my friend to bring her and apparently she loved it (according to my friend they fought over the last serving), but never said anything to me about it. It’s weird.

I want my friend to be happy, but is not inserting her into my social media feeds something I should feel bad about? Do I have any kind of social obligation to follow her content, if she follows mine?

Sincerely,

Boyfriend’s Best Friend

. . .

Dear Boyfriend’s Best Friend,

Social media is littered with superficial connections. It is also a place where we gather with the people we value most. Because of this, logging onto Facebook, or scrolling through an Instagram feed, can feel like entering a strange party where our treasured friends mingle with our distant relatives and even more distant acquaintances. Like any party where the music isn’t danceable or the guests don’t quite gel, our little worlds can easily become a place of awkwardness and tension. We may find ourselves frazzled, standing against a wall, or worse, wishing we hadn’t come at all.

As you point out, however, it doesn’t have to be this way. We create these feeds by allowing people into our world. We can select the music. We can choose the color scheme. And perhaps, most importantly, we can curate the guest list with the ruthless precision of a door person at an elite underground nightclub.

But that’s not what most of us do. While there are those who purge their feeds weekly to keep only their nearest and dearest in the loop, most of us are less extreme. We don’t let every passing stranger into our world, but we do let a few people into the party who aren’t our absolute favorites with the common understanding that we’re all just here to have a good time.

You have found someone who you feel you have reason to stop at the door to your party. And while I would never insist that you must let her in, I do wonder why it’s so important to you to keep this person out. If you have truly created this world that delights you as you describe, why do you stand to lose so much by letting her in?

If I had to guess, I’d imagine that, in spite of your deep bond with your friend, there is something about his new partner’s closeness to him that makes you feel a bit smaller, and keeping her out makes you feel a little more powerful. This is, by definition, what we do when we are being petty. We take little things and make them into big things. A Tumblr or Instagram follow is not a big thing in the grand scheme of life, but here, in the tokenism of your friendship, they loom large. And, by withholding your follows, you are, like it or not, sending her a message that she is insignificant to you.

That said, I understand your hesitation. I would be lying if I told you I have never met someone whose humor or taste just didn’t mesh with mine. And I am sure many can identify with that sinking feeling you get when you see a new follower who you’d rather not have following you. At a basic level, you owe this woman very little. She is your friend’s partner, not yours. And you are certainly under no obligation to develop a deep connection to her. But, if you do support your friend as you claim to, I would argue that you owe it to your friend to approach her with an open mind and an open heart.

You seem to be willing to go out of your way to perform an act of care, like preparing and sending a meal when she wasn’t well, and that leads me to believe that you are a generous person. On the other hand, you also seem to be keeping score—observing her eye rolls, her candid photo choices, scanning for moments of coldness—and that leads me to believe there is a part of you that is wary of the motives of others. And that perhaps you want to find reasons to dislike her.

It is not bizarre that she would give you side-eye when you publicly ask her boyfriend to be alone with you. Nor is it strange that she would post pictures of her and her beau even though you were along for the day. It seems to me you have, consciously or not, taken steps to make your friend’s girlfriend feel excluded, yet you want her to bring you in.

This is not how friendship works. Friendship is a continual extending of an open hand. It is not a test of merit or worthiness. When we offer our friendship, we welcome others in. We do not hold a clipboard with a guest list and we certainly do not keep score.

It is totally understandable that your friend’s girlfriend is not your cup of tea. And I cannot advise you to simply change your tastes. But I can advise you to be honest with yourself about what it means to hold this person at a distance. How might that affect the friendship you do hold so dear? What stresses or tensions are you adding to his life by keeping her out, even if it is at a superficial level? Is it worth putting him through that conflict?

As a practical matter, you should know that there is a chrome extension that allows you to “whitelist” and “blacklist” your Tumblr feed. So if you’d like to “make nice” on Tumblr that can be arranged. Unfortunately, Instagram has no “hide” or “mute” feature to speak of.

I don’t think there is a correct answer about whether or not you owe this woman a follow. I do however think you owe it to yourself to engage a bit more the next time you share a space with her. Even if her color palette does not match yours, your friend chose both of you for a reason, and I’m guessing it has more to do with who you are underneath your chosen color schemes.

So what would happen if instead of judging his girlfriend, you became curious about who she is? Can you take a genuine interest in who she might be? I’m willing to bet just that simple gesture would cut the tension between all three of you.

You may, of course, discover that you two still aren’t compatible. But, who knows? You may find you connect in more ways than you’d imagined. And that’s when the party can really get started.

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*First Published: Jul 19, 2017, 5:30 am CDT