Friday, September 04, 2009

Good Advice:
Eek! A FB Friend Request from an Ex

A thirty-something woman lounges on the couch with her laptop. She sips a diet Coke as she cruises through Zappos and checks her e-mail. Partner/live-in boyfriend sits further down the couch with either his laptop or a remote control in hand.

Close-up on her screen. She has opened a message from Facebook. It's a friend request.


From her ex-boyfriend. Her first love. Who broke her heart and to whom she hasn't spoken in fifteen years. She glances furtively over her computer at the guy on the couch, her mouse hovering between "accept" and "ignore."


I fully expect to see this on my television soon, either as an intro to a Dr. Phil segment or an ad for anti-anxiety meds. Because the drama du jour, besides who's really writing celebrity Twitter updates, is What To Do With The Ex on Facebook. Do we ignore and wonder and worry that the ex will think he's won? Do we accept and keep it a secret from our current flames? Do we accept for politeness's sake then de-friend when no one is looking? Do we accept, write "CHEATING ASSHOLE" on his wall, and then de-friend? Do we accept with the knowledge that there's still a little bit of feeling there, and what happens then?

What we do right now, if the people I know are any indication, is let it sit in the in-box and then dish with our girlfriends about it. We talk way too much about what "friend" really means, and motives, and what would I do if I knew my husband were Facebook friends with that hussy he dumped when he met me, ad nauseum. And then we go off and stew a little more.

A few weeks ago, a very wise friend of mine got just such a request. He was a significant person in her life for several years in her early twenties, but it ended in a difficult way. She had always wondered about him and where he'd ended up, but she moved on. She now has a happy family and a successful career and hadn't really thought about him in a while. But still, when she got the friend request, on her wedding anniversary no less, she sent an email to us, her faithful girlfriend sounding board, with Subject: OMG OMG OMG. As one does.

We, her bumbling band of advisors, hemmed and hawed and said wow, that's crazy timing, I wonder what he's doing now, that's so wild! And gave her no useful advice at all. So she took matters into her own hands. And she put on her grown-up shoes (mine are red patent peep-toe heels) and wrote this reply to her ex:

Hey there! I hope you and your family are doing well. Thank you for the
friend request. Unfortunately, I will have to decline. My husband and I
have a deal, no exes. Especially significant ones. I really hope you are
doing well and wish you all the best. Today is my 10yr wedding anniversary
and we have a beautiful 3yo daughter and 17mo old son. I would love a quick
note hearing about how you are doing. And I hope you understand and respect
the decision about the request.

And then, of course, she practically lost her mind as she wondered what he would write back.

Later in the day, she got a reply. It was extremely kind. It included the kind of apology that every person wants from an ex who has broken her heart. It gave her a nutshell description of his life since they were together. And it ended with sincere respect for her choice to honor a promise to her husband.

I'm not sure why I was so surprised at the happy ending here. My friend just did the responsible thing, the thing that most people would do outside Facebook. But for better or worse (better being the fact that I can officially count myself as a fan of Bacon and put up an avatar of Molly Ringwald in memoriam to John Hughes, worse being the "friend-ing" and "de-friending" drama), Facebook pulls some of us into junior high school mentality even though we all swore we would NEVER go back to junior high, given the choice.

So although I can't promise that you'll get as gracious a response as she did, my friend and I both give you permission to cut and paste her message into your Facebook reply box when the ex-boyfriend from 1998 who moved out of your apartment in the middle of the night and who you later saw sucking face with the receptionist from his office tries to friend you.

You're welcome for that memory.

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