I’ve debated whether or not to make this public, but since the original incident happened in public, I’m going with making this post public.
Within my various online communities, it’s not uncommon for one single post by a person to cause a loss of a social network friendship. It’s very common to hear something along the lines of “I had to unfriend that person because of such and such…”. I think we’ve all heard it, and I think many of us have done it. Well, for me, I actually lost a real world friendship over a single share of a link. Why am I writing about this? It’s been on my mind a lot lately, and writing it down will make me feel better. Making it public will perhaps allow some people to give me some advice on how I could have better handled it.
Like many people, I sometimes share links on my social network profiles without commentary. This leaves the reason for sharing up to the imagination of the people who follow me, but I only one time before, did anyone ever question me. That person was my wife, who was surprised by something I shared, but once I explained why, that was the end of that conversation. A short sixty-second conversation.
I have to admit, I don’t often think about what other people might think of why I share stuff. I thought it was generally accepted by most people that sharing does not equal endorsement. I’ve seen miscommunications online all the time, but usually by complete strangers or online-only friendships. I personally have never seen it happen to real or close friends. Well, it happened to me.
A few months back I shared a link to an article on Cracked.com: 5 Annoying Things Parents Say to People Who Don’t Have Kids. Cracked.com is a humor site, and I never thought that a friend of mine would take it serious. The author of the article is a father of three, and as someone who doesn’t want kids, I thought it humorous and interesting, and I shared it, and didn’t pay it much attention. Again, it’s a Cracked.com article.
Well, a few hours later, a friend of mine (who happens to be a parent) left a comment on it, a very long comment. This is a friend from the real world of at least the last seven years. I wish I’d saved the comment, but frankly, I was a little embarrassed at the content. It accused me of being a bigot, of being a bad skeptic, and how he was tired of my attitude about children. It went on for a couple paragraphs with more of this kind of commentary. It ended with a threat: either renounce the story, or we’re no longer friends.
Now I’ve been to enough TAM’s to know what my natural reaction was going to be, but even so, I wasn’t able to avoid a totally human reaction. I simply commented “Well, if you don’t like the links I post, don’t follow”. Perhaps that was more antagonistic than I intended, but I was really feeling insulted and attacked. Soon after I left that comment in response, he responded “Good idea, I’m done with you.” And that was it. All social connections killed within minutes.
The next morning, after thinking it over, I sent him an email with a fuller explanation. I did not apologize for sharing the link, but explained why I shared it. I had gone back and looked and didn’t find much in the way of anti-kids links that I had shared, so I figured it must have been something I said in person, but even that would have had to been over a year before. The email was not a suck-up, let’s be friends again type email. I was just honest about everything. I never heard a response, and it’s been four months.
A couple days later I talked about it with another friend of mine, who also is a parent. About a year before, I had said something off the cuff about children, and this friend took exception to it, and told me so. With this friend, however, we were able to have a conversation about it, no demands were made, and we were past it in a few minutes. It was just a slight misunderstanding, and probably made us slightly better friends for being able to talk about it. I’ve been more careful about my language, and he understands better where I was coming from.
This friend couldn’t understand what my now ex-friend was doing, or why he did it. It didn’t make much sense to him. I felt a little better after talking about it, because I wasn’t imagining the feeling of being attacked. I was attacked.
I haven’t tried much the last four months to reconnect. I sent him a short email congratulating him on something. I think I liked a post or two of his. There has not been a single response. I honestly don’t know what happened, or how anyone could kill a friendship like that over one link share. It’s not something I would ever do. I can’t even imagine it.
He might read this, and may have a completely different take on it. Maybe I was more strident than I can remember or find. I concede that’s a possibility. However, I do know that cutting things off will never solve that. After my last email was ignored, I’m pretty much done with it. Peter Bogossian once tweeted “True friendship is only achieved if parties don’t pretend to know things they don’t know. Pretenders have relationships based on illusion.” I’ve tried to live by that recently, and I think it’s helped. I, wonder though, if my friend and I were ever really good friends to begin with. Seems like there must have been some level of dishonesty between us.
And that is how you lose a friendship with one link share.