Politics ignited your season of unfriending, the number 888 ignited mine. I had 888 Facebook friends; odd considering I’ve spoken to maybe 90 people in my whole life. Granted, that excludes exchanges such as, “No, just the check please.” Or, “Can you just move down one seat?” Or, “Take the cash, just let me keep the wallet.” But still, there was a suddenly vital mission: I had to dump 100 Facebook friends.
In these raging nowadays, purging people because you hate their politics is lovely, but my motivation was primitive: A two-legged mammal of any discernment, especially an aspiring agoraphobic, cannot have 888 friends.
Anyway, I started out by cutting Meryl Streep.
Let me explain. Even though unfriended friends get no notification of dismissal, I’d gotten responses in the past saying, “I hope something I wrote didn’t cause you to . . .” “Or, “I’m at a loss as to why you saw fit to . . . ” or “You were aloof in 1983 and clearly . . . ” So, thinking they’d be less (or not at all) offended, my first downsizing focused on people I friended without really knowing them.
Oddly, Ms. Streep didn’t seek me out. I didn’t know her, never met her, but for some demented reason, Facebook suggested we could be friends and for another demented reason, she accepted. Even though I’ve worked with well-known actors, I imagined actual friends gasping: He’s friends with Meryl Streep?!? But inside a year, three people asked me to “contact your friend Meryl” about hosting charity events. Plus, Meryl never IM-ed me or “liked” one of my posts. So I broke it off with her. She’s the best actor in the history of the world. She’d get over it.
And if she got over it, so would Rosanna Arquette.
Next was Burt Ward. A year or so ago, Facebook’s algorithm sensed I was a fan of the 1960s “Batman” series and suggested I friend Mr. Ward. But as happens with so much of faux-nostalgia, Robin and I never connected on any deeper level.
Riding the same wave, I dropped cartoonist Garry Trudeau, movie producer Robert Evans, authors Diane Ackerman and Mark Leyner, and journalists Pete Hamill, E.J. Dionne, Gail Collins and Jeffrey Gettleman.
It was tough love, but really, when did admiration from afar become so pitifully not enough? I was down to 877 Facebook friends. (The exact fluctuations are estimates, by the way.) Then, along with everyone else who ever worked in comedy, I was friended by Carl Reiner.
I was up to 878 Facebook friends.
Cruising the elite 878, I did boot two total strangers who wanted to make America great. Seeing as I can’t even stand listening to people I agree with anymore, those two were guilt-free cuts.
Then came four stranger-friends whose profile photos regularly scared me to death and nine longtime friends who were dead.
Down to 863 friends, the next ax fell on friends with whom I’m mutual friends with friends I didn’t know. You think the election indicated a sick society? Try this: You can now have more mutual friends than actual friends.
And yet, pitfalls arose. People you don’t know can be mutual friends of people you don’t know who are mutual friends of people you do know. Exhibit A, sent by a friend I know: “Hey bud. My friend in Philly is bummed you unfriended him. Huge ‘Seinfeld’ fan.”
A continent away, some rerun freak now hates my guts. In social media, it’s all who you don’t know.
I cut them anyway. 862 Facebook friends.
And while we’re talking sitcoms, two Facebook friends with quasi-vaunted Hollywood careers who took me to lunch and gushed about wanting to work with me before vanishing from the planet . . .
. . . 860 Facebook friends.
Of the other 80-ish show business friends, 35 or so were total strangers. Dumping them was tempting, but you never know when a Facebook post will lead to a million-dollar option.
Actually, you do know. But Facebook is the place for lies worth believing.
I dumped one producer of a celluloid crime against humanity and another whose prosperity is a mystery comparable to the extinction of dinosaurs. That’s it.
Oh no. Carl Reiner friended a guy who I knew for a fact was the biggest hack sitcom writer ever, a viciously competitive category.
Bye Carl. 857 Facebook friends.
The Facebook dump was starting to feel like general-managing an NFL team, each roster move baggy with doubts.
Following some twisted edict of affirmative inaction, I gave all black, Asian and Latino American friends automatic exemptions. It came up shy of marching in Selma, but it felt pretty good, so I went international. Years ago, two Facebook-sters from Arab nations had friended me. After years without a drizzle of communication, they could go, right?
One was smiling, but the other? I cut the smiling friend. He could handle it better.
856 Facebook friends.
Somehow, I’d amassed a crew of Australian friends who are all so funny and so profane and so drunk, what’s not to love? All right, one of them posted semi-serious polemics and was a little tight with the likes.
Three sub-Saharan Africans occasionally instant-messaged me with adorable questions like, “What is cool in you, friend?” Totally un-cut-able.
Years after a seminar in Tel Aviv, not one Israeli friend ever sent me a spec script. They all stayed on the payroll.
After a disappointing international cut, the only big category left was college friends. Something about college makes people overrate the past you barely shared together. Enter Facebook, the revisionist history capital of the world.
One college friend I remembered only by his nickname. (Turns out his last name has a bumper crop of syllables.) One insists we got into a car accident on campus. (I got my first car after graduation.) One claims I was the fourth guy she’d made out with. (I remember cheating off her test paper but . . . the fourth guy?)
I didn’t cut any college people. None. Their faces thickened by decades, they were still bravely muscling through life. However filmy the memories, there was the bond of sheer survival.
In a final perusal of my Facebook list, I went fully random: The wife of a compulsive liar; a financier with 3,855 friends; a guy who beat me up in summer camp; a woman fixated on rhinos; a dog walker four years after Izzy died; a divorced couple for whom I never got a wedding gift; a woman who fled L.A. like a refugee . . .
Then I was tagged in a 1993 photo at a Mexican restaurant in Studio City with a bunch of comedy people, including the recently deceased Kevin Meaney. That was a fun night. The food didn’t really . . .
Heartburn aside, making these assessments of people in suburbs and exurbs of my life suddenly felt like an especially boring and stressful game show. Luckily, it only took a few convenient rationalizations to stop: As long as you know Facebook is the heavy petting of friendship, it’s harmless. So what if you have more friends than a new lottery winner? Even if you’ve never heard of them, they’re still your friends.
All 856 (and rising) of them.
Peter Mehlman is a novelist and former writer for “Seinfeld,” where he originated such phrases as “sponge-worthy,” “shrinkage,” “double-dip” and “yada yada.” He graduated from the University of Maryland and used to work for The Washington Post.