2 min read

Why Won't We Unfriend Strangers on Facebook?

Our friends lists are filled with people we haven't spoken to in years. Why do we find it so hard to let go?
Why Won't We Unfriend Strangers on Facebook?

I've got them. You've got them.

They're the people we knew a decade ago or longer: an ex-girlfriend from high school, a kid from youth group who we really only met twice but sent us a friend request we felt too bad to decline.

I prune my social media following every few months, and I stumble upon these people every time. Not quite friends. Not quite acquaintances.

Some are easy to cut. Others make you to hesitate on the unfriend button for a second. I may see them at a coffeeshop some time...they post cool pictures...their memes are funny.

But, there's others who you can just never let go of.

They're still strangers. People you maybe met once or twice. But, there's something there—a very specific memory or experience that's imprinted itself onto your brain, which you can't shake.

They come with a story.

I stumbled onto one of these people the other day. She and I knew each other more than a decade ago in New Jersey. We went to church together. We got married around the same time. I think we attended the same small group once or twice. The only thing I can vividly tell you about her was that once at a worship team practice she mentioned she was just a southern girl from Missouri, which made me raise an eyebrow. Missouri's as much the South as Florida is, I told her. That got our guitar player, a Jacksonville native, all fired up. We went back and forth, he told me the Allman Brothers rolled around in their graves every time I spoke, and the conversation ended. Eventually, she and I both moved away and never spoke again. She got divorced. I was curious why. I knew her husband; he led one of the men's groups. Did he cheat? I got divorced. She'd pop up in my timeline every couple of months or years. I got remarried. So did she. I saw the other day, she had a baby. I have a baby too. There is no realistic chance we will ever see or speak to each again.

Yet, there we are: Facebook friends.

I don't think I'm exceptional in this regard. I think we've all got someone like this—probably multiple people.

It's a wonderfully curious thing about being human. We connect with people and with their stories. They stay with us—shards of past memories or experiences or questions we wish we'd have answered but likely never will. We hold onto them. It's the incongruity of having maybe a dozen good friends in real life and having 1,457 friends on Facebook.

And, even though it's weird when our first girlfriend or boyfriend's mom from when we were 15 likes pictures of our kid, or we get a request from a kid we went to middle school with then never saw again, it's pretty cool too.