Hi Jules: I’m a fairly well-known writer in a super niche corner of Twitter, but I’m having a problem with a friend who is completely unconnected to my niche. If one of her tweets comes up in conversation, she expresses great offense to the fact that I see her tweets but don’t engage with them. This happens often — to the point of her posting a whole tweet thread about how “real friends” support each other through likes and a bunch of other things that were clearly about me. But I honestly don’t like 99.9 percent of the things I see on social media.
I confronted her, and it resulted in a thousand-word text about her anxiety and how she thought I didn’t like her. Why would I hang out with someone I didn’t like? Why would I assist with the real life problems of someone I didn’t like? Also, she never likes my tweets (nor do I expect her to — my friends aren’t my publicists), so that detail makes this whole thing extra funny.
We currently aren’t speaking, and she also soft blocked me. I just feel so silly that this happened! While we’ll probably never hang out one-on-one again, we’ll very likely see each other in larger group settings. How should I handle this when this inevitable, in-person interaction occurs?
TwitterLikesGate: By saying you’ll probably never hang out one-on-one again, I assume you don’t want to revive your friendship. If that’s the case, when you cross paths, act as if the online relationship between you two doesn’t exist. Another conversation about the debacle would probably just cause a repeat of your text conversation.
Keep it simple: “Hey — I hope you’re doing well. What have you been up to?” Show that there’s still respect on your end, but remain firm in the belief that this bizarre social media situation is not worth the time or energy of either of you.
I’ve been in similar situations after unfollowing those I no longer talk to regularly. People typically see an unfollow as a sign of animosity, but I’ve always considered it to be more nuanced. Just as with life offline, it should be normal for people you connect with online to come and go. There’s an assumption that certain online interactions can make for uncomfortable in-person interactions — but that’s only if you act like things are uncomfortable. As long as I’ve maintained a “whatever” attitude, the other person reciprocated the same energy. If you do this and your friend reacts with hostility, wish her the best and be on your merry way. Like you said, this is so silly.
I could maybe sympathize with her outlook if we were talking about Instagram in 2015, when it was common to like every post shared by your friends because that’s all your feed was. But it’s 2022, and we’re now confronted with an unfathomable amount of content from a wide range of people every day. That extra step of engagement should never be expected of anyone. If you’ve already communicated your stance to her the same way you did in this letter, there’s no more hand-holding to be done. She’s actively choosing to ignore the realities of today’s digital culture, and at this point, only time and willingness can change her outlook.
If you decide you’d actually like to revive your friendship, it’s possible, but would require you to be on the same page. I maintain relationships with some family and friends where we don’t follow each other on social media, but are still comfortable talking about our lives online. If you decide that separating the online and offline aspects of your relationship is best, it may go over better than you expect.
Online social dynamics are tough to navigate, but for what it’s worth, I’m happy to validate that the “my friends are not my publicists” outlook is a great one. Digital culture is increasingly overwhelming, and it’s unreasonable to expect people to engage with everything you post.