You Don't Have to Be Friends with the Whole Internet

5 years ago

I've been blogging for 11 years. Friends have come and gone, amicably and not so, over the years. Sometimes the friendship doesn't even end; it's thrown into a hiatus because of offline life happenings. Sometimes people stop blogging. Sometimes you're demoted. Misunderstandings abound on the Internet, straining and ending friendships without the ability to look each other in the eye and apologize, accept forgiveness. The beginning and ending of friendships on the Internet is a given. It happens. We move on.

But what about those people that you don't want to be friends with in the first place?

I know it happens in real life too. It's happened to me a lot since moving to Ohio nine years ago. I go somewhere new, meet a group of new people and can tell, within a few exchanges, whether the person I am speaking with is someone I want to spend more time with -- or not. Last year, I joined a local group for moms and knew in just two meetings that I had made a new super great friend, someone that I wanted in my inner circle of living. We meshed, immediately and deeply. I now consider her to be one of my best friends. On the same note, after one three minute exchange with another member, I knew -- without a doubt -- I wanted nothing to do with her. Ever. We clashed. Hard. Oil and water hard. Three minutes, one conversation, and I knew that I didn't like her.

Don't believe a word of it

Similarly, I can usually tell within a few online exchanges -- tweets, comments on blogs, Facebook discussions -- whether or not I mesh with someone. Honestly, it usually takes a little longer that real-life, face-to-face meetings because the pretenses of how you look, how your facial expressions and body language convey your message are all removed. I only get to go on your words, how you present yourself in 140-characters or less. If you come off as overly combative, if you cuss at me immediately, if you continue to beat a dead horse of a conversation months after it has ended, I'm probably going to shy away from you, to put distance between your Internet footprint and the virtual doorstep of my online home. If you call me out about why I don't like you, why I'm not engaging with you online, I'll simply ignore you. I don't have time for weird power struggles. I'm not even talking about really scary trolls. I'm just talking about people being people, none of whom I am required to like.

I don't have to follow you. I don't have to approve your friend request. I don't have to reply to your comment on my blog or visit your blog. I don't have to be your friend online.

That seems harsh. Crass even. It even rubs against my "people are inherently good and you should give them a chance" type of personality. But the truth is found so perfectly, so succinctly in the words of Kelly at An Angry Girl Who Does Yoga:

Whether you like it or not, I get to pick my friends. I get to choose who I think is cool and interesting and intelligent. I also get to pick who I think is dumb and mean.

It's about choosing community, choosing who we want to cling to in this great cesspool of the Internet.

You don't have to like someone just because you are in the same minority group or because you are both women. You don't have to like someone because you blog in the same niche, your twitter names are similar, or you share the same last name. You don't have to like someone because you share a life event, you're both moms, you're both not moms, or you're both cancer survivors. You don't have to like someone because you're both members of Similarly, you can befriend someone online who has lived an entirely different life than you, who doesn't share your faith, or who has an opposing last name, like the McCoy to my Hatfield.

You get to choose who you like. While you can't necessarily keep them out of your online home -- shy of banning them on Twitter or their IP from visiting your blog, which is probably a different discussion -- you can choose who you invite to dinner in your home, who you connect with on a daily basis, who you turn to when you need support. And yes, who you friend, follow and generally like. Don't let someone tell you otherwise.

What do you do when you feel like you don't really mesh with someone online? Do you politely engage, ask them to go away or just ignore them entirely? How do you know when you don't mesh with someone online?


Family/Moms & Events Section Editor Jenna Hatfield (@FireMom) blogs at Stop, Drop and Blog and The Chronicles of Munchkin Land.

Photo Credit: nicmcphee.

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