Questioning Actions and Maintaining Friendships

by Ginger on June 15, 2011

in Blogging & Social Media, Random

Can you question what someone is doing and still like them?

Can you express displeasure with what someone is doing and still like them?

Can you do those things and expect them to still like YOU?

What about online?

I know in real life, for me, what the answer is. I believe you can sit with a friend and say “I’m not sure about this, but I still love you.” You can talk to your husband and say “I don’t think you’re making the best choice, but I’m still here for you.” I think you can even say, “This is a horrible thing you’re doing, but it’s only one aspect of you.” (I also believe that you can absolutely have a line in the sand about things, a point where you do walk away, but that’s another discussion for another day.) And I believe that most people, in real life, will listen/silently ignore your questioning and displeasure but still know you are connected. (Not always, but lots). So, in real life, I think the answer to the above questions can be YES.

But online? I don’t know.

I think the vagaries of the Internet make it harder to separate the person and the action. I think it’s hard to differentiate tone, which means it’s easy to mis-“read” someone’s intent on either side of the equation. I think it’s easier to feel attacked by someone else online by what they do, and say, even if that’s not the intent. I also think it’s hard to maintain good feelings, unless you’ve moved beyond a superficial online friendship, when you’re being questioned or when you feel the need to question.

But that’s one of the strange things about the Internet. We open our lives up to other people. Which means we open at least some of our decisions to other people–if nothing else to view. But online, how do you go from asking people for input on everything up until someone questions it? Is that fair?

In most cases, I think people online just…move on. If they don’t like someone’s decisions or path, they stop associating/interacting/cavorting with that person. But is that always the end result? In real life, you probably wouldn’t throw away a friendship for that…but what about online?

P.S. I’m super honored that someone submitted my post A Moment for BlogHer’s Voice of the Year. If you liked it, I’d be thrilled if you voted for it (you have to be a BlogHer member to vote)! And check out the other amazing VOTY submissions–there’s some amazing writing up over there!

HipMamaB June 15, 2011 at 4:11 pm

The issue is that the lines between “real life” and the internet are blurring… for many these days the internet IS real life.

Ginger June 15, 2011 at 4:38 pm

I definitely think the lines are blurring, but I guess for me that makes the question even more interesting (and let me be clear, I’m entirely talking theoretically for myself. I have had no such issues, but have watched LOTS of relationships online go through this scenario. Internet voyeurism at it’s worst/best).

Because like I said, I know what my answer is in “real life”. I *think* I know MY answer for this online (not so different than real life, but some). But if that line starts to truly blur, then what?

Lisa June 15, 2011 at 5:35 pm

Oh, this is a toughie. On the one hand, I think the ability to let a friendship fizzle is one of the nice things about *some* internet relationships. There are some people that are just drain you and the complicated ties of real life can make you feel obligated to work maintaining those friendships, whereas online you can just stop following them.

You know…there are those people whose blog is obviously not open to dissenting opinions. But do those people ever really form online friendships (as opposed to just having followers)? Is that combo of good news and bad news, the tough love, necessary for a real friendship (online or real life)?

Ginger June 21, 2011 at 10:25 pm

See, I kind of think that REAL friendships need to have at least an element of being able to say “Girl, I love you, but maybe this isn’t the greatest.” Of course, I’m the most passive, peace-keeping person ever, so the chances of me doing this much are pretty slim. But it’s been known to happen.

But maybe the point is that very few “friendships” online really get all the way from acquaintance to true friendship?

Michelle June 15, 2011 at 8:59 pm

These are great things to think about. I really appreciate all of my “online” friends, and I cherish the support and advice and whatnot that I’ve received through blogging and twitter, especially. But I am guilty of just eliminating some from my feeds without abandon, but it’s usually when I find myself getting more anger from what they’re saying than I feel I gain in positivity. But that’s exactly how I would react in “real life”. And I don’t consider that ability a gift or blessing at all. It’s just me retreating from anything that doesn’t bring me happiness or enriches my life.

Also, I’m constantly worried that I’m sending the wrong message about myself online, and it’s something that I’m really trying to work on. I’m really an easy-going, laid back sort of person. I spend way too much time in my own head, and I think I get THAT point across 🙂 haha, but I don’t think there’s enough of who I am out there.

Ok, tangent over. Thanks for bringing these things up, things I need to think about.

Ginger June 21, 2011 at 10:28 pm

I worry all the time about my online persona. In real life, I’m actually kind of silly and giggly–that doesn’t really come through on my blog often. (but maybe on Twitter? Maybe?).

That makes me wonder if the persona someone has online influences this question–even if you call someone a “friend” online, if they have a particular persona, does that change how you react to them?

Nilsa @ SoMi Speaks June 16, 2011 at 9:11 am

Interesting question. I don’t think I differentiate the IRL vs. online friendships quite the way you do. I think in great friendships, no matter where they originate, it’s easier to separate actions from a person’s character … because you know so much more about person to know that action isn’t inline with their overall character. But, when the friendship is new or more superficial, you know less about the person and are more likely to make a character judgement based on that one action.

Ginger June 21, 2011 at 10:31 pm

But I guess my real question is, if you have an idea of their overall character and you see them doing something that feels off to you, do you say something? In a real friendship, IRL or online, I would hope that you could say something–again, because you see and know their character.

Tina Roggenkamp June 16, 2011 at 12:35 pm

It depends, for me, if the friendship exists offline too. If we are only friends online and it won’t extend beyond that, I’m likely to unfollow/unfriend when it gets to a point where you are annoying me too much. Sort of like what Michelle said. Know what I mean?

Ginger June 21, 2011 at 10:33 pm

I think that’s probably the most realistic threshold. It makes the most sense to me!

Perpetual Breadcrumbs June 16, 2011 at 12:49 pm

I think a lot of it depends on how close you feel to the person, how long you’ve known each other, etc. This isn’t exactly what you’re talking about, but it reminds me of how I was feeling when everyone’s kids started talking and mine didn’t. I pretty much had to say, “I feel jealous. I feel envious. But also: your kid is amazing and I’m proud of you guys.” I felt like it had to be said because, well, everyone knew we were struggling with speech, and I knew I was probably in the back of some peoples’ minds when they were writing about speech milestones. So it was better to just acknowledge it and bring it out of internet silence. Otherwise I’d just have sat on it and felt weepy, which isn’t good.

The bottom line for me is that I value the connections I’ve made with you guys, so if there’s something weird or upsetting, I think it’s worth acknowledging. But most of the internet is like the guy you see on the elevator at work but never say hello to. In those cases, I just ignore/stop reading.

And, long comment is done. 🙂

Ginger June 21, 2011 at 10:35 pm

You know, this brings up a great point that I didn’t address very well in the post. Which is that, of course this wouldn’t be a question that I apply to the whole internet at large. There are people you connect with and have community with (either on your blog or theirs), and consider friends not just bloggers you read. THOSE are the people I’m talking about.

In which case, yes, the majority of the internet is the elevator guy. He can just disappear quietly without any real loss. It’s the community where this becomes a real question.

lemon gloria June 16, 2011 at 5:26 pm

It would really depend on the nature of our friendship. If it were all online but we’d had very intense email exchanges and I really felt a kinship, then yes, I would say something. But when a blogger that I’ve read for a long time starts irritating me, I just stop reading.

clara June 17, 2011 at 2:44 pm

It is always amazing to me how I can unfollow someone on twitter, then forget about their blog, and then totally forget they exist. I have never forgotten a single human being that I have met; whether we were friends or just acquaintances, or whether I sold them cheese 15 years ago, but with the ‘net, it’s like you just shut a door and they’re gone.

Which is good, in a way, because there isn’t much time to be wasting on people who annoy/offend you. I wouldn’t do that with a ‘real’ friend, but then I don’t have any ‘real’ friends who are in my face, updating me on their latest lunch. My off-line friendships are deeper and by now, at my age, I know who I want to know more about and who I don’t.

Then there are the people I follow / talk to IRL who are just fascinating material for a story I might write someday.

Ginger June 21, 2011 at 10:39 pm

Oooh, now I want to know about those IRL people!

I definitely think it’s easy to let people disappear from your consciousness online. ESPECIALLY if they upset/anger/annoy you. But what about if you’re more concerned about what they’re doing for THEIR sake?

Sheila June 17, 2011 at 6:57 pm

When a friend does something I completely disagree with, I generally do one of two things: I tell them what I really think, or I find myself drifting away from them. Generally if it’s a “real” friend, someone I really know and like, I speak my mind. But to casual friends, I don’t bother — I know I’m not close enough to criticize, but that issue between us just makes it not worth the trouble of maintaining our superficial friendship.

Online, if someone does something I can’t stand, I’m way more likely to unsubscribe than to comment about it. I’m aware that most people don’t want criticism on their blogs, and I have very few online friends that I trust enough to a) listen and accept what I have to say and b) be close enough that it’s worth the trouble. I mean, most “internet friendships” I have aren’t close at all, so it’s no big loss to either of us if it dies out.

Sometimes I make a misjudgment, though. I feel close enough to someone to criticize or disagree with them, but they don’t feel close enough to accept hearing it from me. I criticized one of my best friends a couple of years ago — because we really did have the sort of friendship where we considered it important to be brutally honest with each other — and after a week of not speaking to me, she “forgave” me but our friendship has never been the same. She’s openly snubbed me and turned various friends against me. No matter what they say, no one really wants to be told they’re making the wrong choices in their relationships! Learned that the hard way.

Or the blogger I disagreed with a few days ago. She wrote an opinion piece and asked at the end, “What do you think?” I said I disagreed, and after a few back-and-forths which I thought were civil, she put up a post blasting me as a terrible attacker and blocked me from her blog. Predictably, all the comments on the post were about how great she was and how awful I am… because THEY knew what I didn’t know, that most people would rather be agreed with!

I think, in future, I’ll be faster to choose the “let friendship die away because of a lack of openness” option rather than the “risk horrible meltdown by giving my opinion” option. With close friends, though, I still do speak my mind. I have only had that backfire on me that one time, and perhaps it’s because I wasn’t careful enough in choosing my friends.

Ginger June 21, 2011 at 10:42 pm

See, I hate seeing that. I mean, there’s a difference between arguing and disagreeing. I think polite disagreement is something we as people need to know how to handle! I mean, it’s not like IRL we always 100% agree with everything everyone around us does. Right?

But your experience is, I’m sad to say, more normal than I would hope it would be.

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