My drug of choice is writing––writing, art, reading, inspiration, books, creativity, process, craft, blogging, grammar, linguistics, and did I mention writing?

Friday, February 2, 2018

Unfriended (The Renown Margin)

Didn't they make a horror movie out of this?
Image description: Facebook "Unfriended."
The law of big numbers really starts to work against someone who curates and cares about their friends on social media. It can be incredibly helpful to those within the public eye have a public and a private persona.

See, for me public/private has a very literal expression seeing as I have so much of an online presence. I literally have a public account and I have a private account and about 90% of the people in the latter are the folks I would say are included in my "private life" in some way.

But here is the part that isn't about me. Perhaps the most fundamental part of your PUBLIC PERSONA™ is going to have to be a certain level of acceptance that this public facing self has a revolving door on its "friendships."

Me. Oh so very me.
Image description: man chained to a computer monitor
with the Facebook F logo on it.
Folks will sweep into your orbit because of your work or your fame or your mystique or because they like the show you're putting on or just to see what all the fuss is about or even in hopes that it will benefit them somehow, and they will woosh out just as easily.

And if you're going to be in a situation where you have fans, you really have to be able to not let that get to you.

This is true in all of life, of course. Friendships run the gamut from mercurial to stronger than family to Guy-You-Really-Like-But-Really-Only-See-At-Chet's-Annual-"Everyone"-Barbecue. We like chatting with people we hang out with at work at lunch, but most of us don't keep in touch after we quit. These relationships come and go.

Intern: I found a "busy revolving door" gif.
Me: Post it.
Intern: It might not frame your fans in quite the light that you see them or that they would particularly apprec-
Me: Look we're running behind, just post it.
Folks find they don't get on with someone that well and kind of start working around them, only being cordial if they get cornered near the to-die-for shrimp puffs at the annual Arbor Day party having been abandoned by their bestie who went to go sing Weird Al's Spiderman Song with the guy who knows how to play Piano Man on Aunt Gertrude's 1970's organ. ("Oh hey! How's it going? Oh yeah.....I did. I did. Yes. We're so happy. But...you know....I hope you don't feel bad. I had to limit myself to like 600 invites because of the fondue fountain, so....yeah....nothing personal.")

And in a certain respect this dynamic that has been around since the days of yore has only gotten weird with the advent of social media where clicking a button makes everything official. (Does anyone doubt that snidely declaring you are unfollowing someone instead of just doing it is just about the equivalent of "I'm ignoring you now! La La La La!") I mean some friends "break up," but usually the relationship just kind of falls into torpor. Social media has made things strangely officious including the weird high-school-like con-fabs where one person declares they have unfriended [Person X] and then everyone chimes in with why they never really liked them anyway.

And there are apps that send you a notification within seconds. Good luck just trying to slip away and hope no one notices.

Okay, okay. Just bear with me.

I'm not saying that your online friends aren't "real." I'm saying that they they accurately reflect a continuum of meaningful to casual and that if you're pushing in on that "famous" edge, there will be a lot more casual and superficial types––just like your meatspace relationships.

I'm talking about social media here because that creates a very literalized action for what I'm mostly trying to explain on a theoretical level, and not in any way because I'm totally addicted to social media and can't entirely conceive of a world without it.

I'm not. I'm not I'm not I'm not!

For those who have begun to experience fame (or who think they might), and have split their lives into private and public spheres, unless they are a true Salingian misanthrope and have no friends, physical, handwritten, or online, they will have to confront the fact that their "public level friends" will come and go very capriciously. More so than an "average" number of friends or someone might who doesn't have random people really wanting to get near them. It is important artists and entertainers beginning to touch that spark of fame keep themselves protected by not assuming (initially) that those relationships are bear resemblance to true friendships, no matter how much adulation or seeming intimacy pours out from them.

Let me say that again: these are not real friendships. They may BECOME real friendships, but that's not what they are to start.

People will come and go, and that's where it can get tricky–and a little painful–if you're treating those friendships like they are fully reticulated relationships. The going part hurts if you assume all friendships are founded on an equal foundation.

Again....folks, I'm telling you this because Writing About Writing is (among other things) a real-time transparent look into trying to develop the trajectory to a successful writing career. This is one of those things I wish someone had told me. I had to learn it the hard way and there were a lot of tearful nights before I realized that people unfriending wasn't really a rejection of me as a person.

People unfriend me (metaphorically and literally) all the time and for all kinds of reasons. And a very important thing to stress is that is okay–everyone gets to make the decisions for themselves about who they hang around with and what will make them safe and comfortable in this world. Nobody owes anyone else a friendship or even an explanation for walking away from a situation they view as toxic.

Many of these are social media specific, but they would have versions for people who didn't have a strong social media presence as well.

I'm too radical. Some people want to vote Democrat and call it a day on being "liberal enough." I dip my toe into criticism (particularly of our current administration) often enough that they think I'll never say anything more tough to agree with than "Trump is a bucket of unwiped anal sphincters." Then they bring some privilege denying bullshit or straight up maybe-they-deserve-it level bigotry to my wall, I point out that something they're saying is having an impact they probably didn't intend, and they go full SQD on me. Or maybe I defend certain circumstances of punching Nazis. Or point out that the stroke of a lawmaker's pen can be a violent act. Or tell them their favorite book had some pretty non-trivial problematica. Or....

I'm not radical enough. And for some I'm just not radical enough. I don't cheer torture so long as I personally deem someone unworthy of the eighth amendment. I'm not okay with extrajudicial murder so long as it's the "right" sort of people, or of lone agents opening fire on civilians so long as one of the bullets happens to hit a Republican politician. My empathy doesn't end at "those people" even if that would make me fit in a lot better with certain groups. And while I recognize a wide gulf between cheering and "it's really hard to summon much sympathy," sometimes that nuance gets lost when effigies are burning and the takes and blood are hot.

Disagreeable amounts of nuance. I often bring nuance to a situation that someone desperately wants to paint as cut and dry and doesn't feel is as complex as I think it is. Conversely, sometimes I point out that bigotry, top down violence, and systematic discrimination is a fair bit simpler and requires a more direct response than the endless, ever-deeper nuanced framing of privileged narratives and silencing of those harmed.

I'm too political. I obviously post a LOT about social issues, particularly when there's a bee in my bonnet and some people can't deal with that. It's not even always that they disagree with me; they just don't want to have someone on their feed bringing it up every day.

Not political enough.  Some people came for the social justice and did NOT stay for the selfies and nerdery.

The political/apolitical phase. Maybe they cared about politics for a while, but then it really got intense and was hard on their mental health. Or they just decided that Facebook is a place for friends and kitten memes and their done with heavy shit.

Enjoy your echo chamber! Okay, unlike most of the others, these guys really are jerkwads. They make some racist or sexist or transphobic point and then when they experience the slightest push back, they stomp off and invite me to enjoy the "echo chamber" of my wall, which is funny because the political spectrum in here leads to some pretty....robust conversations and you would have to be be very far off to the right to see us as a monolith.

Ironically, they say such things while leaving forever a conversation they don't like.

YOU'RE not my doppelganger!
 Some people really do need everyone around them to agree with them all the time. And when you're an opinionated writer like I am, you find out really quickly where the areas of non-overlap are. And as soon as I disagree on one thing, they're out like trout.

What are these intersections of which you speak? Often when something goes viral about issue [X], I get a lot of people into issue [X] sending me friend requests. Sometimes they get a little shocked when I care just as much about issue [Y], which they either do not or not nearly as much as the issue that first brought me to their attention.

The Wedge Issue. It's important to them that everyone agree with them (perhaps exactly) about one particular issue, and they don't want anyone who doesn't agree in their space. Though true of almost everything on this list, this one is worthy of particular mention that this isn't necessarily unreasonable. Often this issue is people's own experiences of oppression and everyone is absolutely entitled to feel safe in their own spaces.

Done with you. Some people aren't here to give folks they don't know a bunch of chances and if they perceive that I've handled enough situations badly or need more emotional labor than I'm worth to correct me, they no longer consider me safe.

Too much/not enough calling out. I often let things slide when I'm too mentally exhausted to have a fight, assume the best faith, or don't unleash force majeure on folks who are still working on 101 level issues. But I also don't run interference for those who step in it nor will I tone police anyone who would like a word. So people unfriend me because I'm not hard enough about their social issue, or because I "let" them get smacked around when they step in it.

Unhealed trauma. Sometimes people bring their unhealed trauma into a situation and their reactions to things become much more about them than what is going on. Enraged unfriendings are not uncommon.

Meanwhile in the comments. Like pretty much all of online, people bring a spectrum of patience and resilience to my wall.  Many of my friends are mostly strangers to each other, and things can get pretty heated when non-verbal communication and good faith are removed. Not everyone wants a friend whose posts they feel like they're getting into a fight to comment on. As much as I try to avoid topics I know are going to cause fallout between my social justice literate friends and everybody else (like the word "Sapiosexual," Trevor Noah, George Takei,  or whether Seth MacFarlane shows are socially pretty shitty), someone inevitably says "I don't have a problem with that," and then we're off to the fucking races–bring out the steam rollers with spikes. Shoulda stuck to agreeable topics like which way the toilet paper roll goes, pineapple on pizza, and how to say GIF.

Usually I do okay. Some days I don't.

Image description: Tombstone with Chris Brecheen '74-'18
Text: "Well that was more controversial than I thought it would be."

The purity scourges. At this point my friend list has been rocked by at least twenty major fallouts between multiple and shifting alliances of coteries that I can't even keep track of. These range from unapologetic transantagonism and antisemitism and sexual assault survivors not wanting to even have mutuals with a person actively victim blaming them, to a person unfriending everyone who had mutuals with someone starting a call out campaign against them to misinterpreted comments that were Ship of Theseus'ed in the worst possible faith. And people go through and unfriend folks and demand their friends (who maybe don't even know what's going on) make Sophie's choice. And it's all their prerogative of course because everyone is entitled to feel safe, even by proxy. But it does mean I might (and have) get (gotten) purged without even knowing what is (was) actually going on.

SWERF and TERF Every once in a while a trans exclusionary radical feminist or sex worker exclusionary radical feminist manages to slip through the defense grid and get onto my friend lists and one of us realizes what the other is about. It is basically a race to the unfriend button like the beginning of a round of The Family Feud.

The life cycle of many a fan.
  • This guy is great. I'm going to follow him on every social media.
  • This guy is so great. I love everything he writes. He never sells out to anyone demanding he be different. He just does his thing and screw the haters.
  • This guy is so great. I love everything he writes.....except maybe that one thing.
  • Boy I really wish he wouldn't write about that one thing.
  • There's that one thing again. I mean he does other stuff but he does that enough that I can't enjoy it.
  • Man, is he on about that one thing again. I can't stand it anymore!
  • "Dear Chris. As a long time fan, I am entitled to give you feedback about how to shape your creative life more for my personal tastes and desires. Talking about 'The Thing' once a week is far too often for everyone's tastes. You should stop doing it because you're driving all your fans away. I'm totally not projecting my own desires into your entire fanbase. Plz change. Kthxbai."
  • I hate this guy. Get bent. He's no artist--UNFRIENDED!
  • Perhaps some years later: "He's okay. I read most of his stuff....still on about that one thing though."

Do as I say! 
Some people see my outreach and sort of wish it was their outreach. They have a cause or just a timber that they feel is their moral imperative, and the ends justify the means. Soon I'm dealing with people demanding I frame every issue exactly as they would, care about every aspect and facet of an issue with exactly the same amount of force majeure with which they would, and absolutely, positively NEVER use levity or nuance in a way they have deemed inappropriate. Sometimes they even tell me directly what my next post should be. This is how you treat an employee, not a friend, and when I react badly, that's usually not when they reevaluate how pushy they've become, but rather (because the ends justify the means) when they end the friendship.

Nothing to do with me. In the world of social media this might mean someone left the medium (Facebook or whatever). But all kinds of things happen in someone's life that could make them suddenly scarce. They have a new lover, new job, new social life. They want to put their fervor into multi-level marketing. They move to Antarctica. They went to live in a yurt.  Whatever. It doesn't have anything to do with me. Months later I notice they're gone.

The jealous partner. Oh yeah. This is it's whole thing. People flirt with me (sometimes pretty hard) because I'm polyamorous and I fill some validation or something that they're not getting in their lives. Then their possessive jealous partner (usually, but not always, a boyfriend or husband) who I either didn't know about or was told wouldn't care, turns out to care a lot and the person is in less of an "open relationship" than was first advertised. He demands I be unfriended immediately.

The Legions Miscelanea. Recently a friend unfriended me because they made a sweeping statement that they were going to unfriend anyone who took FB quizzes due to the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Having listened to perhaps 50 hours of congressional testimony and breakdown on NPR, I offered up how they were factually inaccurate about how this data mining actually worked. Locked information stays locked on a profile, and Cambridge Analytica involved an ACTUAL political test to get its information. I was very clear in this response that I didn't actually TAKE those quizzes (about which Game of Thrones character I am, or whatever), but if they weren't going to trust FB to be honest about how an outside app would access their information, they shouldn't be trusting Facebook at ALL. BAM unfriended. Ostensibly because I'm a security risk (even though, as I said, I was clear that I didn't take those quizzes), but really it was probably to punish me for being "wrong." I challenged their narrative that a single "What Kind of Burrito are You?" quiz on an entertainment website was infodumping everything about a person's whole friend list to some shady megacorp. (Data mining is scary, but that's not how it works.) They didn't like that.

One guy blocked me when I pointed out that he could have linked and/or credited a tweet instead of copy and pasting it as one of his own. One gal was sure I was the one that left some message on her Saharah that she didn't appreciate. (I never even used Saharah.) I'm pretty sure a couple of people have unfriended me because they'd like to fuck the woman who still drags me from time to time for not choosing her when she defended a sexual assaulter and blamed the victim. I know I've been on the bad side of one of the feuds. One person unfriended me because I wouldn't meet up with her in Salt Lake City later that day–Later. That. DAY.  I mean there are so many stories and the fewer people that see you as a real person and project who you are onto you instead of bothering to get to know you for real, the more they treat you as disposable when things get even slightly weird.

Who even knows? A lot of people just fucking ghost. They talk about me, but not too me. And maybe that's what feels safer and less confrontational to them. I'm certainly not entitled to an explanation. But it also means I never really know. And if I tried, I'd probably just hurt my soul. I thought we were friends, but I guess not so much on their end.

Now imagine....just imagine for a moment....what a quibbling mess I'd be if I let my personal demons tear me apart Every. Single. Time. one of these things happened. I'd never get ANYTHING done. My life would be a miasma of anxiety, self doubt and loathing, abandonment triggers, and the surety that my imposter syndrome was right all along and they just realized I'm faking it*. 

*Well...okay....like more than it already is.

Being written out by friends you love and trust is hard enough that you don't want to sign on for it with folks who have a different "frequency" of friendship with you. That's just asking for trouble. And as I said while not everyone is going to have these dynamics play out so literally as they do on social media, everyone who is starting to find some kind of "fame" around what they do is going to have to deal with the fact that they are going to have "friends" come and go like they are a little bit disposable.

Hopefully if your life is bending that way you separate your public and private life, protect yourself (and them) by managing your expectations, and don't have to learn these lessons the hard way like Chris did.


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    1. I'm glad I got to see this before it went away. I hope you are doing well. <3

  2. Thank you! My story: I was recently chastised as being 'full of hatred' because I commented logically but adversely on an FB friend's political post, he unfriended me immediately when he read my comment yet continued to comment under and talk about what I commented on and several of his friends chimed in lambasting me also. I could see it, but couldn't do a rebuttal thought he must have blocked me. After a couple hours of angst and wallowing in self pity for their total misunderstanding, he posted he had unfriended me. Yes, he had. I found I could still delete my post and wham! all the crap comments under it went away. AHHH. The relief. Then I gave it careful thought and went back in to his page through searching my name and I deleted everything I could find that I had sent him or commented on. (he had made it verbally clear he didn't want 'that kind' of person as a FB friend, a liberal)
    Today I read your blog. Perfectly and humorously gives me closure. Thanks again, more than you will ever know!