The jury is still out for me as to whether the day the word “friend” became a verb was a good day, or not.

The advent of social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are what brought the verb version of the word into use as we “friended” people right and left, adding them to our collection of folks with which we believe we have some affinity.

But, one of many problems with this collecting habit is that our terms for what defines that affinity changed a bit, and got broader for many of us.

There is a relatively small pool of people that I would call my friends in real life, but I find myself with over 2,000 in the virtual world. I can attribute that number to a number of things, but probably the biggest factor is the fact that when I receive a friend request, if I don’t recognize how we know each other, I will look at how many and which friends we have in common to decide if we “could” be friends or not.

The more people that we have in common, and the more that I like the people that we have in common, the more likely I am to assume that perhaps we have met and I forgot, or perhaps we should meet and merely haven’t yet. “Oh, she’s friends with these 16 people that I think are really cool, so she must be really cool, too.”

How silly is that?

I have been known in certain circumstances to accept random requests with few or no connections, for example, when I was running for a City Commission seat and wanted lots of people to be my “friend.” But that was long ago, and I have continued to grow my pool over those years since.

This column is another reason that I sometimes allow people that I don’t actually know. Perhaps they find me interesting because of these writings and want to know more about me?

Or, perhaps they hate what they are reading and are looking to learn more about my life so they can stalk and one day murder me! Just kidding, I assume, but anything is possible, right?

In light of my thoughts on my overload of friends, I recently decided to start weeding out some folks that I am unsure about how we might know each other. It turns out that the very day that I decided to begin the process was, in fact, National Unfriend Day.

What a funny coincidence!

I’m not sure the day is officially on the national ledger of designated days, apparently Jimmy Kimmel came up with the idea. But, a friend of mine (yes, a real life friend AND virtual friend) saw that it was being celebrated and sent me a message about it, as we had just been discussing the friending conundrum.

It was just the fuel I needed for my burning desire to circle my proverbial wagons, so I went about it with a passion and posted an announcement to my Facebook page.

It is terribly tedious work scrolling through a long list of people to determine if I can remember how each of us knows the other. There are actually a good number of folks that I have never met or haven’t seen in years that I really do want to keep in my collection, but then there are all those gray area folks.

I realized that unfriending someone didn’t necessarily mean that I un-like them, but I am sensitive to the fact that it might feel that way.

The truth is that there are a tremendous number of people in the world that we could probably be really great friends with given the right kismet of circumstances. But we can’t possibly spend meaningful time with the number of folks that we could get along with, and so some potential friends fall by the wayside in the journey of life.

On my post about National Unfriend Day several friends chimed in that they hoped I would keep them, some begging that I might in spite of their “bad behavior.” You see, most of the time when you unfriend someone it is because you have decided that you don’t like them anymore.

One of my former “friends” let me know that they had already taken care of that for me, and while I can see that we have some differences that might have felt like reason enough for them, I never would have considered removing them because I respect and admire them, regardless of our differing perspectives.

As people commented, I ended up clarifying that I was not culling people from my circle because of differences, just because of a lack of recognition. Therefore, my unfriending you doesn’t mean I un-like you, it just means that I don’t know you very well.

The very heated and divisive political climate in which we find ourselves has led to lots of unfriending, and shouting and name-calling, based on differences, and I think that is really sad.

If we only surround ourselves with people who think and sound exactly like us, we end up in an echo chamber that eliminates any chance of learning and growing. It’s more comfortable, sure, but is that really what life is about?

If we can see those differences as assets, as things to appreciate, then maybe we can treat each other more respectfully. If we can see value in other views, we might actually learn some things that transform and grow our own perspectives on life and all of its issues.

If I unfriended you this week, or do so in the future, know that unless you have been a real horse’s patootie, I am probably just continuing to narrow the focus of my circle. I promise to still find you interesting and, should our paths cross in a more traditional fashion, I will look forward to re-friending you down the road.

Monica Sheppard is a freelance graphic designer, beekeeper, mother and community supporter living in Rome.

Recommended for you