In college, I’d spend hours on Facebook — chatting with friends, sharing hilarious videos, and even doing study sessions in group chats. This was before it was common to get news through one’s Facebook newsfeed or to be “advertised at” through Messenger. Social media has come a long and incredibly efficient way at connecting people, but not all of this “connection” is good for my mental wellness.
Over the last decade, my Facebook became a crowded, noisy place, and trying to connect to friends there was often more stressful than fun. I couldn’t just log in and easily see the people I love; instead I had to wade through dozens of posts reminding me about climate change, corruption, injustices of all kinds, requests for donations, and the same viral posts circulating on a loop. It was often emotionally taxing and depressing, and, yet, I knew I’d had a hand in making it that way. I’ve never been great at saying no. As a writer, I’m often asked to share posts, to “like” pages, and join groups. Never wanting to offend people, I’d always say yes, but over time all those yesses began to translate into a social media experience that had become so disjointed that I no longer recognized what it was about Facebook that I even enjoyed anymore.
That’s when I decided that it was time to buckle down and purge my Facebook friends list in order to find the personalized, meaningful experience I wanted. I didn’t want to see politics in my feed, I wanted to see my peoples’ posts, like when my nephew made the local news because of his charity work, or cute videos of my best friend’s baby. I didn’t want to be asked to donate to charities twice a day, I wanted to see the cool, creative projects my writer friends were working on. As it was, the things I wanted were being swallowed up by the cacophony of things that other people – and brands – wanted from me. And I’d had enough of that.
So one afternoon, I sat down to cull my friends list. I didn’t take the task lightly. It would mean saying no to people, some of whom I really like. I posted a public note on my Facebook profile:
Hey, friends and family! One of my goals for 2020 is to get control of my social media. I’m going to unlike hundreds of pages and groups and unfriend people who I don’t know well or do not regularly interact with. Please know this is absolutely not personal!
I still didn’t enjoy unfriending more than 400 people, especially those whom I did know IRL, those I’d worked with, those with whom I occasionally socialize. I had to remind myself that I wasn’t trying to be exclusive, but rather needed to create a social space that could feel authentic and personal to me. I nervously cut off former teachers and classmates and colleagues, relatives who only posted political rants, and neighbors.
Then I waited. I was so sure that my slashing of friends would upset people. But a curious thing happened: Most people weren’t mad. I even received a few messages from friends and family — including some who didn’t make the “cut” — who said they were inspired to whittle down their own social media communities.
One woman who I unfriended wrote and asked why I was angry with her. Her tone — as much as you can read tone on text — felt accusatory. Immediately I had a twisted knot in my stomach. “What did I do to piss you off, Sarah LOL?” she asked. I wrote her back and explained that I was reining in my Facebook and limiting my contact with people on that platform but I’d be happy to follow her on Twitter or Instagram. It felt good to be honest and straightforward. She seemed to understand.
Now when I log on to Facebook I’m delighted to see that I know everyone in my feed. More than that, I’m genuinely happy to see them there. Learning how to say no in order to honor my own boundaries doesn’t make me a bad person, and, surprisingly, it doesn’t make people angry with me either. (Well, that I know of anyway.) In a world where moms and women in general are so frequently under pressure to always say yes, I’m finding some freedom and joy in saying no.