I’ll be the first to admit that every now and again, when the scrolling of my *enter any social media platform here* feed becomes aimless and automatic, rather than actually interesting, I’ll have a clear-out.
Much like the annual clear-out of my underwear drawer, sometimes an online clear-out is just necessary. As the years go on you realise that you’re not actually bothered about what the girl-who-you-sat-next-to-in-Maths-in-Year-7-then-never-spoke-to-you-again is getting up to now, and you can’t actually deal with any more tweets about football from the boy-you-met-at-a-friend’s-party-once-and-followed-because-he-was-a-bit-fit anymore. So you unfriend/unfollow them. Done. Sorted. Easy.
But, what happens when you want to unfriend someone in real life? Like, an actual friend you speak to and hang out with? There’s no button for that. No easy way out. But it can be done…
Is it ok to unfriend someone, or am I instantly a bad person?
No, you’re not instantly a bad person. Sometimes friendships just fizzle out, and people change or want different things. Suddenly they’re into house music and you’re still pining for a Girls Aloud reunion, or they deleted their Pokémon Go app and you are 100% not ready to stop catching ‘em all. And that’s ok. In that case, you’ll probably both drift away from each other naturally with no hard feelings.
But sometimes the feeling isn’t mutual. I spoke to Irene S. Levine, a psychologist and writer on friendships, and she said to remember that, “Friendships are voluntary relationships and should be mutually satisfying.” Irene is so right. You shouldn’t have to force yourself through a friendship if you’re not feeling it. That’s not fair on either of you.
How do I unfriend someone who’s horrible to me, and I’m a bit scared of them?
If someone is intentionally nasty to you, either publicly or privately, then you are totally justified to unfriend them.
Irene suggests that taking control and being direct with this person about your feelings and wishes may be best, but if you’re worried about being physically or verbally threatened then speak to a trusted adult about the situation first. If you definitely don’t want to be direct with this friend, then you can try to quietly distance yourself from them by hanging out with others. Irene emphasises that “you don’t owe that person a lengthy explanation” – and you really don’t. It’s ok to put your safety and feelings first.
How do I unfriend someone if there’s nothing wrong with them, but I just don’t really want to hang around with them anymore?
Have you started putting your bag next to you on the bench when you see them walking over? Or hear yourself wince when their name appears on your phone? Yeah, it might be a sign that this friendship isn’t all rainbows and smiles, and it’s best to nip it in the bud before you start being out-and-out horrible to them or act like you’re swatting away a fly.
Irene says, “Sometimes it’s best to gradually spend less time with the other person or see them for briefer periods or see them as part of a group. It’s also perfectly fine to tell a friend that you want to expand your circle of friends.”
You could get all hippy and ‘I want to find myself’ on them before running off to Thailand*, or continue to politely decline their invitations of hanging out until they get bored of asking (or you run out of excuses). Whether you’re direct or not, there isn’t really a nice way around it. Just remember that it’s healthy in the long run.
You might even find that by spending a little less time with them, you’re happy and don’t need to cut ties. Sometimes we all need a break from people. We have those friends we could be with 24/7, and other friends who are maybe a bit full on and your head can only deal with a few hours. And that’s fine!
*ok, the other side of the school
Are you sure I won’t hurt their feelings?
There’s no guarantee it’ll be plain sailing, but hopefully they’ll understand that friendships change and you’re not to blame. Then they’ll use a photo of your face as a dartboard.
If they do take it really badly, then maybe it’s a sign that this was the right thing to do. But it’ll likely be fine and any awkwardness will settle. You’ll both hang out with other friends and, who knows, you might even be on the same path in a few years and be best buddies again.
Hold on, I’VE been unfriended. Why?! What did I do?!
“If you know you said or did something wrong, apologise as soon as possible,” Irene says. “Or, perhaps, it was something you didn’t do or say that you should have!” Basically, the best thing is to just ask. It might be easier said than done, but if you’re hurt and confused then you have a right to ask what’s going on. Hopefully you can have a good conversation about it, but if not then it may be best to just let it lie, at least for the time being.
And remember, people change. Try not to not jump to the easy conclusion of: OMG WHAT DID I DO, WHAT DID I SAY, AM I AWFUL?! Reflecting on Irene’s advice is great if you’re on either side of this often uncomfortable and awkward situation.
(I’m still holding out for that Girls Aloud reunion…)
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Image: Manjit Thapp