Do you un-friend someone on Facebook, or do you de-friend them? Whichever one it’s called, I did it for the first and only time a few months ago. It felt so powerful, like a permanent scribbling of the eraser over a relationship.
The un-friend in question (I’ll call her Rhonda) has children at my children’s school, and two of her children are classmates with two of my own kids. It’s a tight-knit, small school, so it’s practically impossible for parents not to become close to each other during years of field trips, classroom parties, children’s birthday parties, sporting events, and school meetings.
The reason I un-friended Rhonda is because her Facebook status updates and posts are only ten percent the usual, banal chatter that we expect and enjoy – and ninety percent angry, name-calling, superior, proselytizing rants that hardly anyone ever “likes” or comments on because they’re so abrasive and divisive. Other people call Rhonda a “fanatic”; I just consider her hostile.
I got tired of composing mental retorts that I would never have the guts to actually write, and I eventually decided I was better off not seeing them at all. I have no idea if Rhonda figured out that I “dropped” her on Facebook; I think she has, however, noticed that I’ve been slightly less friendly to her in person.
I’m polite and courteous, of course, but I definitely try to avoid her – after all, who needs that judgmental attitude?
About a month ago, an acquaintance mentioned that he saw Rhonda and her husband Tom out somewhere, and that Tom was yelling at her and calling her names. I participated in the petty gossip about this couple, even commenting that they seemed to deserve each other. I did say, though, albeit without too much conviction, that I felt sorry for her that her husband was such a jerk. The person who saw Rhonda and Tom said, “If he’s that mean to her in public, I can only imagine what goes on behind closed doors.”
Last week, Rhonda called me at home and asked if I could transport her ten-year-old son Mark, who’s on my ten-year-old son’s soccer team, to their game the next day.
“Of course,” I said. “I’m happy to help.” I sounded more enthusiastic than I felt.
“Thanks,” she said, sounding relieved. “I have to go out of town for this class I’m taking, and Tom is coaching our other son’s team at the same time, so I didn’t know what I was going to do about Mark’s game.” She added, “This will really help. Thanks a lot."
“No problem,” I said, and I meant it. I really was happy to help someone else out, and having Mark for a couple hours might be fun for my son, so I thought it was no big deal.
After the boys’ soccer game, I texted Mark’s dad and told him I would pick up lunch and hang on to Mark for a few more hours so the boys could play together.
I soon regretted that decision. Listening to Mark talk and talk and talk during the ride home drove me crazy! It was all me, me, me.
After we got to our house, he took it upon himself to tour our bedrooms without asking. Watching him walk into the kitchen for lunch, I was struck by how much he resembled his father – not in appearance but by the aura of confidence he projected. They both walk, swagger really, with their chests thrust out, shoulders back, nose up slightly, and a slight grin at all times. Confidence personified.
Then Mark had the gall to tell me, “You should call my dad and tell him I can stay all day.” He even said he wanted to invite my son to his birthday party so my son could give him a certain toy that he wants. I thought, “Wow. Not confidence….arrogance.”
During lunch I chatted with the kids. Puttering in the kitchen while they ate, I asked Mark if he knew what kind of class his mom was taking that day.
He scoffed and rolled his eyes. “Going back to college at 47 – can you believe that?”
I froze. If I hadn’t been looking right at him, I would have sworn it was his father’s voice speaking those words. Did a ten-year-old child really just say that?
Composing myself, I smiled brightly and sat down at the table with the kids. My son and daughter kept eating but didn’t say anything, their eyes following me as I focused on Mark.
“That’s great!” I said, leaning forward and looking right into his eyes. I kept my smile big and my voice cheerful, pretending not to notice his antagonism. “You tell your mom I’m so proud of her. You tell her I have a lot of students who are way older than her at my college. What a great thing to do. You’re never too old to get an education!” Mark shrugged and kept eating.
After the children went off to play, I felt a little sick to my stomach. I felt ashamed and sad.
Rhonda has a husband who has publicly berated her. She has a son who is scornful of her. Who knows how she is treated by her other son and her daughter. Who knows how she is treated in the privacy of her own home.
What is it like to be her, to live with constant criticism and negativity from those she loves?
Rhonda may be a “fanatic” but maybe her online rants and activism are ways to take back some control and vent her frustrations. Maybe her ideology gives her something to cling to, something to look forward to every day in a household full of hostility directed her way.
I guess I can’t begrudge her that. Maybe next time I see her I’ll offer a friendlier smile and wave. I still don’t need her judgmental attitude. But she doesn’t need mine either.