Facebook Boundaries?

16 Jul

Whether I like it or not, Facebook is now a part of my daily life and it is the main way in which I interact with my friends. This is the medium in which I find out people are pregnant, engaged, newly single, moving, getting a promotion, or other life-changing experiences. For me, it is a free and easy way to keep tabs on my friends as I grew up overseas and the majority of those friends live in different countries. For me, Facebook is just that – a way to keep in touch with my friends. It’s a place where I can vent, bitch, moan and be happy without being perpetually judged by strangers. But for others, it’s a space where a relationship is managed and measured by not only their “In a relationship with…” status, but also by the amount of communication, including public comments made on walls, pictures & videos. For yet others, it is a good way to keep tabs on someone – and the people with whom they speak – to  make sure no funny business is going on. And since we found out that 20% of divorces are initiated because of Facebook, I’d say that’s a pretty valid reason.

Facebook is a world with no boundaries, real etiquette rules, or laws by which to abide. It’s the wild-wild-west for relationships, friendships and casual acquaintances and everyone is free to do as they please – at least until they are deleted or blocked. But should there be boundaries? Should there be expectations placed on your Facebook friends in regards to relationships, comments, etiquette and more? Or do expectations just hinder the idea of having a free and open place to share your life with the people who matter to you most, as frequently or infrequently as you please?

A man posted on BrokenHeartedGirl.com a few months ago that one of the primary reasons he broke up with his girlfriend is because she didn’t ever look at his Facebook page. He said he felt like she didn’t care about him as much as she should because she never commented on his wall, or on his pictures and didn’t keep up with his posts as much as he did with hers. She claimed that she wanted to get to know him in person rather than on his wall, but to him, this just meant that she wasn’t interested enough in what he was doing when they were not together.

He, being a person in touch with his feelings, actually brought this up to her and shared that it made him feel  hurt that she didn’t go through his photos, or comment on his status when he knew she was on Facebook. But, again, she just said she’d rather deal with him in real life. That was one of her boundaries.

And so, he changed his status from, “In a relationship with…” to “Single” and has tried really hard not to look back, because sharing publicly is well within his boundary line. They just didn’t see eye-to-eye on that one.  

 It seems like an asinine thing to say, “The frequency and context of Facebook comments matter!” But, to those of us on Facebook, they do: I remember a conversation I had with a group of friends a few weeks ago. One friend said to another, “I really like him. I just don’t know how he feels about me.” Another friend said to her, “Well, he is always commenting on your Facebook wall. He must at least care about you to do that!”

And I thought, “Wow, what a silly thing to say!” But, as I started to think about it, I thought that her idea really did have some merit. I always notice when people comment on my wall. And I always notice when people don’t. Those little comments can really boost or hinder your self-esteem if the people who comment are important to you – and if the comments you’ve made are important to you. For example, if I write, “I’m having a bad day!” and the guy I love comments back with, “I’m sorry. I’ll bring you a bottle of wine after work,” I think that’d make me pretty giddy. But if I wrote that and didn’t hear anything from him about it, nor receive a phone call later that day – if I knew he was on Facebook – I’d be pretty disappointed. It may be silly, but it’s still true.

Just as everyone has a different personality and comfort zone in real life, everyone has their own Facebook comfort zones. For me, one of the boundaries I created for myself is that I won’t become FB friends with anyone I’m casually dating. I just don’t see the good that can come out of it, unless you’re already in a committed relationship. Here’s why:

I was seeing a guy for a time who I thought was really great. And we weren’t “In a relationship with…” on Facebook, but we were definitely spending quite a bit of time together in real life. I was really excited when we took pictures together a few months into seeing each other and I asked him point blank, “Can I tag you in these?”  He said, “Sure.” And so, a few days later, when I did tag him in the pictures, he not only untagged them immediately, but he changed all of his photo settings so nobody can tag him in any pictures. My immediate reaction was one of hurt (I cried) and then it was anger, because his action begged the question: “What do I do now?” I sincerely stink at relationships and I didn’t know the proper etiquette for un-tagging. So I didn’t do anything and just let it sink in my stomach. And eventually, one day, someone commented on something he wrote and I saw that her profile picture was of the two of them.  And eventually he admitted to me that he was in love with her – and not with me – and that ended pretty badly.

And so now I’m not friends with anyone I’m casually dating on Facebook. That one lesson was so poignant that I’ll never forget it.

But there are also boundaries that people create, even with those people they aren’t dating; strangers, who are friends by-proxy, for example:

There have been times in my Facebook world where people I don’t actually know in real life have invited me to be “friends” simply because I commented on something in a sports forum, or Tweeted about something I thought was funny. In those cases, if I have already had extensive conversations with those people and they send me a Facebook friend request, I’ll definitely add them to my list. But then, what happens when one of their friends – someone I don’t know – friend requests me? It may be a guy who thinks I am cute and wants to ask me on a date? Or someone who heard about my book who wants to ask me a question? Luckily, I have a fan page and a website for those fans, but with people I don’t actually know, I do have considerations to make: Who is this person? Do I want them to know everything about me? If I decline, what can I say so that they don’t think I’m the biggest jerk in the world? What’s the proper etiquette? I don’t want to feel uncomfortable in my Facebook world, but I don’t want to upset anyone either.  I am still working on that on a case-by-case basis and discovering my boundaries as I go.

On one weekend about 2 months ago, I received 4 Facebook requests from complete strangers who had absolutely no connection to me whatsoever.  I had just changed my Facebook photo from a particularly normal one to a picture that featured me in this skimpy black dress. I complained about this to one of my male friends who told me, “You can’t have it both ways, MJ. When you put a picture like that up, you’re inviting people to look at you.” And he was right. The type of pictures I choose to put on my profile are also something to consider when thinking about boundaries. Of course, I didn’t accept any of those friend-requests and didn’t feel badly about it either, because one of the only hard & fast rules of Facebook is that you don’t have to be friends with people you don’t know.

So, what are your Facebook boundaries? How do you filter in your friend requests? Do you Facebook friend people you’re casually dating? How seriously do you take Facebook comments? Let me know!

2 Responses to “Facebook Boundaries?”

  1. Jared July 16, 2011 at 7:03 PM #

    Smartly written. You have to use common sense out there. I never post my relationship status on Facebook, whether I’m in a relationship or not. The people who need to know that I’m in a relationship (family, close friends, the person I’m in a relationship with, etc.) know. I never felt a need to broadcast it to the world, not because I’m ashamed of the person I’m with, but mostly because I don’t see it as anyone’s business beyond those with whom I’m sharing it.

    I think I’d wait about three or so dates with someone (as a general rule, but it all depends on circumstances) before sending them a request. Some people have a lot of information on their pages, and unless you’re ready to divulge a lot about yourself or learn a lot about someone else all at once, I’d rather that they learn about me, and I them, in normal conversation, rather than reading up on them, or having them read up on me.

  2. Rollercoastess August 22, 2011 at 3:40 PM #

    My (very recently) former boyfriend and I dated for five years and never had a Facebook relationship, save for the one time he commented on a photo of mine and the two times I posted on his wall (sometime early on). That’s it. We never declared our relationship status on Facebook, and now I’m really happy that we didn’t, because I don’t want to provide voyeurs with the pleasure of seeing that our relationship status recently changed.

    I also deleted Facebook the day we broke up. Instead, I started a blog about it. Hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoy yours: http://projectbreakingupwards.blogspot.com/.

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