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In 2009, the word ‘unfriend’ was announced as the Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the year: as Facebook hit saturation point, the first generation of students who’d used it were making their way in the real world as graduates, and no longer had a use (if there ever was one) for 500-strong friend lists peopled with ‘the boy I met at that poetry night’ and ‘Hannah’s friend’s sister who visited that time in second year.’ Basically, a hell of a lot of unfriending happened.
But this story isn’t about the great digital culls that took place once we all realised nobody actually has 1000 friends. This story is about two very different unfriendings I’ve effected in my actual, real life, and the lesson I learnt from it: don’t ever, ever unfriend someone to their face.
The first was in my third year at uni in Manchester. Me and L had a union welded in the sweaty darkness, gurning our faces off at a Justice DJ set and walking home at 6am, half deaf and bug-eyed and “I love you! Friends forever!”
It was fun with L, of course it was. We’d go to house parties and get all messy together before the police arrived to shut it down. We’d get ready at each others’ houses beforehand, smearing neon eyeliner on each other and experimenting with ironic spectacles. Hey, it’s OK, we knew nu-rave was a joke...
Things went swimmingly for, ooooh, about three months. January hit and with it my 21st birthday. We went for a nice meal, and then on to an electro night. Except L couldn’t afford to come clubbing, so she took her leave. No harm no foul. Until another friend, V, told me a month or so later that L actually had gone out to a different club. On my birthday. My 21st birthday.
Nowadays, I’d be more chilled out about it, but back then, I was furious. I ignored her texts, her Facebook messages. I said I was too busy to hang out. It was needlessly awkward, but I guess I was just awful to her in the hope our friendship would finally die.
Later that year, I was at a festival with my boyfriend and my real friends (who never really ‘got’ L because they didn’t take drugs or pretentious self-photos) when L appeared. “Becca! Oh my god! It’s been ages! I’ve missed you!”
Drunk with power and cheap horrid lager, I stood up straight and said “L, I have been avoiding you because I do not want to be your friend anymore.” I don’t know what I expected, I certainly didn’t expect her to instantly burst into tears. But that’s what she did.
I mumbled something about “birthday...betrayal....V told me...bye...” and wandered off. The whole day, THE WHOLE DAY, I kept catching glimpses of her on the phone to V, or standing by the festival fencing (you know, where boys go to do wees when they can’t be arsed to queue) or consulting heatedly with her boyfriend. All the time crying. And texting me all like “WHY?”
I genuinely hadn’t known our friendship was so important to her. I mean, I’d been kind of a douche, too, cancelling plans at the last minute, plotting to get my housemate together with the boy L said she loved, borrowing £40 which I took ages to pay back (and at uni, that’s like a grand). But she seemed genuinely upset.
Of course, there were repercussions, the main one being that I felt truly, awfully guilty - both about the whole unfriending thing and about the fact that I ruined her day. Nobody wants to stand in pissy mud, crying, when they're supposed to be having a big fun time at a festival.
However, I still believe that you should cut people you really can’t stand out of your life. The difference now, is that I have adopted a different approach: do nothing. Let the friendship die as you steadfastly avoid whoever it is you can't stand to be around.
Which brings us to P, an unfriending that I had to undertake last month. In fact, I am probably still undertaking it because P does not know she has been unfriended.
I met P last year and thought “fuck me, this girl is fabulous!” because she has all these stories about her exciting life. Unfortunately, in time, it became pretty damn clear that P is dangerously self-obsessed.
During a three hour lunch with P, she talked and talked and talked about her recent break-up (fair dos, I know) and then, basically when we were getting the bill, she threw in “so, how’s your life?”
Considering I had just quit my job, moved to London, got a new job, done a hellish house hunt and gotten over a bout of anxiety-laden depression, I kind of expected her to at least pretend to give a shit. But P never wants to talk about you; P only wants to talk about herself. In the very short time I knew her; I learned every small detail about all of P’s past relationships, past haircuts and family dramas and blah blah blah.
She talks about herself incessantly - there’s no stopping her because she lacks so much self-awareness that I genuinely don’t think she realises that all she ever says is “me me me”.
The final straw came when, while discussing some detail or other about her latest break-up, she looked me square in the eye and said “men just have a habit of falling in love with me.” It was like a steel door closed inside me.
So I ignored her. I ignored her texts, her Tweets and her comments on my Instagram. And you know what, that whole thing about ignoring problems not being a solution? Total bullshit: P is out of my life, and she’s so self-obsessed she probably hasn’t noticed.
And, most importantly, I haven’t had to utter the words “I do not want to be your friend any more” because I’m never, ever doing that again.
For more pro unfriending tips, follow Becca on Twitter @becca_dp.