The Art of Unfriending

This article was published in the September 2017 issue of UTSC’s The Underground.


For most people, making friends is a relatively easy task: you meet someone, get to know them, bond over commonalities and experiences, stay in contact, and keep their well-being in consideration. High school is a prime-time for making friends, as you see the same people day after day, and your friendships become a part of your daily routine. Sounds simple, but how can one reverse the process? How do we unfriend?

First, I must make a distinction between an instance of unfriending, and a case in which two people stop being friends. People stop being friends with each other because bonds weaken over time if they’re not maintained. For example, if a person moves to another city or country, it is likely that their current friendships will suffer because of the literal and metaphorical distance. In this case, and others like it, people stop being friends not by choice, but because of circumstance. People stop being friends when the things that define a friendship—bonding, talking, hanging out—no longer happen or don’t happen as often.

Unfriending is a deliberate act: it’s when a person consciously chooses noto be friends with an individual for a specific reason. Usually the reason for unfriending is clear and explicitly stated, much like the declaration that the people are no longer friends is. When you unfriend someone, you no longer consider that person your friend and you don’t treat them as you used to. But when you stop being friends with someone, you no longer maintain the same kind of relationship with that person. You don’t treat them the same way as you had before, even though your relationship may still be amicable.

Imagine that friendship is like following someone on Instagram: when things start out or are going well, you actively like and comment on each other’s posts and you genuinely enjoy seeing them. As you stop being friends, the likes and comments dwindle–you may even see less posts from them altogether, despite the fact that you are still following them: it just happens. Unfriending, or according to this Instagram analogy, ‘unfollowing’, doesn’t just happen: it takes one or both people involved making a clear statement that they don’t want to be a part of each other’s lives anymore. When the situation is more severe, unfollowing becomes blocking, which is akin to cutting someone off and out of your life completely.

The main methods used for unfriending are ghosting, fights/disagreements, and drifting. Drifting is when people grow further and further apart to the point where they are only friends in reference. Going to different schools, developing different interests, a heavy workload/schedule and making new friends are some of the common causes for drifting. Although it can be sad to realize you’re not as close to someone as you once were, drifting is the least painful way to lose a friend.

Ghosting is similar to drifting except it tends to be more one-sided. When someone ghosts somebody else, they typically ignore their messages, posts, invitations, and ultimately their feelings. Ghosting is like telling somebody you don’t want to be their friend anymore without actually saying anything. It may seem cold-hearted, but according to a friend from UTSC, Quinn Cascuccio, “I think it depends on how close you were,” she explains. ” If you weren’t close to begin with and you ghost them, it doesn’t matter as much, but (personally, I’d desire that) if we were close, I’d want to let them know and tell them why we’re no longer friends.”

Fights and disagreements are the break-ups of friendship. People have fights that end friendships over everything from politics to gas money. Fights and disagreements usually involve heated conversations in which people assert that what the other person has done isn’t okay. These fights are usually about a single issue or incident, but often involve grievances that have been bubbling beneath the surface long before they have manifested.

Recent McMaster graduate, Victorino Noldalo, experienced a situation in which he had to unfriend not just any friend but his best friend: “I went through a dark period, and I realized I had to put myself first. I had to cut the friendship off because it was a source of negativity,” he says.  “I think about it sometimes even a year later. I wonder: did I make the right decision? We were best friends for a long time, but do I regret it? No.” he adds.

For UTSC student and SCSU VP of Operations Deena Hassan, being a friend means more than having a good time with someone: “What I look for in a friend is loyalty and support,” she states. “A friend is someone who supports you no matter what you do and drives you towards your goals and to do your best.”

Friendship is not the same as proximity. Just because you’ve known someone for a long time, see them often, or hang out in similar friend-groups it doesn’t make you friends. That is a valuable pearl of wisdom that I learned from my best friend and former UTSC student who passed away, Nebyu Tadesse. Like the courses you take in your upper years of university, the friendships you make and keep should reflect your personality, goals and interests. Pick the ones you enjoy the most and the ones that are most beneficial to your happiness in the long run.