How to handle awkward questions like “Why did you unfriend me?”

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By: jocke66 – CC BY 2.0
By: jocke66CC BY 2.0
I’m planning a Facebook-friend cull of the people in my friends list whom I don’t feel especially close to. The thing that’s making me put off the cull is the fear of being asked “Why did you unfriend me?” as this has happened during previous culls.

The honest answers range between, “I don’t know you well enough to feel comfortable having you look at all my photos and statuses,” and “I just don’t feel close enough to you.” But do I owe these people (none of whom are close friends) an explanation?

What do fellow Homies do in this situation? Do you ignore the messages? Have blanket statements prepared? Tell them the hard truth? -Natalie

GREAT question, because, sadly, this is a pretty universal problem now. So unfrienders and the unfriended: How do YOU handle this awkward social situation?

Comments on How to handle awkward questions like “Why did you unfriend me?”

  1. I have to admit, I got around this by being chicken! I used to do facebook culls all the time, but now I’ve discovered ‘unfollow’ I don’t do it as often as I used to. When you unfollow people, you’re still friends and they can see all your stuff, but you don’t get anything of theirs clogging up your newsfeed.

    If you’re uncomfortable with them seeing your things, you can be even more cowardly and just change your own privacy settings so they can’t see anything you post. A tip for the super-cowardly!!

    I’ve only ever been surprised by someone unfriending me a couple of times – once was actually someone who had been a good friend in the past and I still considered us friends, even if we were distant. I didn’t write to her, though, I just took the hint..

    Nobody has ever written to me to ask why I unfriended them, which I guess means they haven’t noticed or weren’t too bothered, and I’m pretty sure I haven’t unfriended anyone who still considered us friends. But I think if someone had, I’d have been flattered they noticed, and perhaps re-considered being facebook friends with them after all! In which case I’d say something like:

    “Wow, I have to admit I didn’t think we were particularly close any more, and had thought by now you wouldn’t be too bothered about not hearing from me again. I’m obviously wrong, and I’m sorry about that! Tell me how you’re doing, and what’s going on in life with you right now?”

    • I use the “unfollow” a lot too – but then I get the awkward question of, “didn’t you see my facebook post?” Then I act surprised and say, “No!! How did I miss this?!??!!”

      If anyone has caught on they haven’t said anything…and it makes my life much easier. I don’t post enough that I’m worried about people seeing my stuff…

    • The only time this has ever gotten weird is recently when someone who had unfriended me on Facebook then told my parents that I was invited to her wedding. Are you sure? I asked my mom. Did she say the whole family is invited and did she specifically say me? We are still not sure and I am not sure if I should attend because obviously she felt there was a reason to unfriend me, but feels that I am close enough (I have known her since she was 8) to invite me to a wedding.

      • My childhood best friend once unfriended me. No big deal, no hard feelings, we just hadn’t seen each other in ten years and had very different lives. A few months later, she friended me again, seemingly for the sole purpose of inviting me to her baby shower. I declined, but several years later she is still on my newsfeed. Weird, I guess, but no big deal.

      • I could see this happening in a couple of ways.

        One, you’re part of a group of people that she cares about. If your families are close, or she’s inviting many old friends, this would make sense. In this case, if she’s inviting other people you’d like to hang out with, and it’s at a location that’s fairly convenient for you, you’d probably have a good time going.

        Two – You two have a lot in common when you talk in person, but not when you talk online. Maybe she’s obsessed with chia pets and angels, and you’re into kittens and politics. Maybe she uses facebook for Candy Crush and she’s hurt that you keep on declining her invites. People use facebook in weird ways, and they often aren’t compatible.
        However, to stay friends after separating online, the friendship needs to be renewed in the real world, and she should probably be the one to make a first move there. Inviting you to her party may be her way of stepping up.

        Three – Her guest list is half written by her mother.

    • I go through a system, essentially with friend groups with different access levels. Top level is seeing all of my photos and posts and statuses (The ‘Statusers’) who are people I like and am actively in contact with, like close friends and family.

      Down from there is ‘Somebody I Used to Know’ – people I was once close with, but have drifted away from, like high school friends. I still see their statuses and such, but they don’t get access to everything, as I exclude them from more personal things I put on facebook.

      Then I have ‘Extended Family’ and ‘Once Removed’. Essentially these are people I have on facebook so that I can contact them if needed, but I don’t particularly care to see their stuff or have them see mine. My crazy, racist aunt is on there, so I don’t have to see her particular crazy, but can still contact her when family functions happen. My sister-in-law’s mother is also on here, because she’s nice and I’ve gotten a recipe from her, but… really, I don’t know her so she doesn’t get to be up to date on my personal feelings.

      And finally, I have my ‘Quarantine’ list. This is a list where, for all intents and purposes, I’ve already unfriended them, but, if I really want, I can still creep their statuses and such, to see if they noticed me disappearing from their feed. If someone makes it down the lists and spends time in quarantine without noticing or commenting, I then quietly unfriend them, drama free. And if someone gets unfriended without the slow die process, then it means I had a good reason, and I can then either tell them it, or just ignore them. If someone notices during the process, I can then re-assess what access I want to give them, or if i want to unfriend them anyway. It means the cull process takes more work, going through each list and choosing if people get downgraded or not, but it means when I get to the quarantine list, there are no bad feelings about the unfriending.

  2. I have been in this situation and I just shoot for diplomatic honesty. “We had grown apart and our differences had become an obstacle for me.” “I decided I did not have 500 people I truly considered friends and made a deliberate choice to narrow my circle to those I am close to.” “It’s easily been five years since either of us has interacted on here; I’m honestly surprised you noticed.” “I grew tired of your regular passive-aggressive replies to my posts.” “Your constant gym check-ins and hashtag overuse drove me bonkers.” Okay, maybe I didn’t actually say that last one. But I certainly thought it.

  3. I’ve a few friends who do a big grandstand announcement telling everyone they’re about to cull.

    Others, like myself,just cull, I don’t tend to have many people to cull anyway, and it’s usually after a drunken night out that I add more “friends” so I don’t really have much guilt in getting rid of them. Especially since my children are on there as well.

    I’ve never had the awkward question about why I have culled, but I did have to deal with why a friend culled a mutual friend. Awkward mainly because I had no idea it had happened, or why, especially since they were friends on another social network site still.

    Not real sure I’ve been any help… Sorry.

    • I have a friend that will make a big to-do over cutting people and why. Honestly I don’t know at the end of the day if she really cuts people or not. Her reason is people she does not really know (she is blind and belongs to a lot of online groups for blind and visually impaired people and I think she makes “Friends” with them online. My option is keep the people you actually “know” in person. I don’t have any friends on Facebook I don’t personally know (barring fan based stuff like George Takai)).

  4. It’s an awkward one for sure. One thing I did last time was set a status to public for a few weeks afterwards, which briefly mentioned that I had cleaned up my Facebook friend list, limiting it to close friends and family only. It wasn’t anything overly flashy. I just made it clear that the cull wasn’t due to a personal grudge or anything like that, but rather, it was just that we didn’t see/talk to each other that much/if at all anymore. I think a lot of the time, these post-deletion messages come from a fear of rejection and also that they’ve upset you in some way, rather than anything else. If you were closer, you wouldn’t be considering deleting them anyway.

    I guess because of the way social media has become so central in so many people’s lives, people forget that friends drift into acquaintances, and we don’t necessarily want to share intimate details of our lives with everyone. I don’t know if we should have to apologise for drifting apart from people, it’s only natural, but I think explanations can sometimes be good.

  5. I have defriended people. Mainly ex-c0-workers or people I knew growing up that I “knew” when I was 10/13 years old, but when moved away and go back in touch I had nothing in common with our 40+ year old self. In the case of the ex-co-workers, it was not because they were ex-c0-workers and I don’t work at the company at more (trust me I still have ex-co-workers as friends), but the only reason I friended them was because I was “friends” with at work, but when realizing that I really did not have anything in common with them anymore (compared to the ex-co-workers in which I do, past work ad actually still have somewhat of a relationship), then I did not feel bad defriending them.
    I do have a couple friends that go through phases were they get mad at everyone at defriend them or shut down Facebook or re-friend them again. But I know they do that. But luckily I have never had a family member or friend defriend me without telling me why (the couple that have was because they just wanted off Facebook, it was nothing personal).

  6. I would treat it like wedding invites – “sorry, I like to keep my numbers down so I don’t miss anything from close friends and family. I wish you all the best!”

  7. I’ve used a few variations, when dealing with this or “hey, I sent you a friend request and we’re not friends yet.”

    I tend to stick with the excuse that facebook’s ever changing terms of service make me concerned for my privacy, and so my friends are strictly family and close personal friends, not work/social group/old school chum people.

    I also have a daughter, so I find that bringing up her privacy helps support the argument.

  8. I regularly cut down my friends list on Facebook because I like to keep my friends list under 100. I must have gotten lucky over the years, though, because nobody’s ever come back at me asking why I unfriended them. I have unfollowed a lot of extended family members, where the drop would probably be noticed and cause unneccessary drama within the family (no, I don’t need to see what your kid did in the potty this morning, or what you made for lunch, or get spammed with your most recent pyramid scheme product). By unfollowing, we’re still on each others’ friends list, but I can’t see any of their updates unless I actively check out their profile.

    I have one unfriend redemption story. I unfriended a girl I went to high school with several years ago because her statuses were unnecessarily aggressive and full of profanity and I just didn’t need to see that every day. A few years later, she re-sent me a friend request and I was pleasantly surprised to see that she had significantly toned down her online persona.

    I also had the ex-boyfriend that would re-send me friend requests a day or two after I unfriended him. This happened 3 times over the course of two or three years. We didn’t speak, and he would never answer my attempts at messaging him, but he was obviously still paying attention to my profile. I defriended him for the last time a couple weeks after I got married and he must have gotten the message after that 🙂

  9. I’ve just made an entirely new account and added the people I wanted on there. Then just deactivate the other one or ignore it. If someone asks you what’s up, just say you quit Facebook or don’t have time for it anymore

  10. I have never culled friends, because I am a Facebook extrovert BUT I have been culled myself by others, and honestly, it makes me think about whether I should have put more effort into staying in touch with that person so that this didn’t happen. If I find that the answer is yes, I make an effort outside of Facebook; if the answer is no, no great loss. Either way, no fault on the part of the culler.

  11. In all honestly, people are unlikely to come back and ask why you’re not friends anymore, especially if you’ve grown apart as friends or if they’re a former coworker or acquaintance. The only exception I’ve come across is toxic friendships or exes that needs to be cut loose. Block them on all social media avenues you’re connected to including phone and email and you avoid confrontation and any cut off any potential for them to weasel their way back into your life. I had initially only blocked this sort of person on social media, then had to deal with shitty emails and texts demanding that I owed them an answer (in one case, it took someone 2 years to realize we were no longer FB friends and they wouldn’t stop calling/texting/emailing after that). The truth is you don’t owe anyone an answer unless you choose to give one. When it comes to cleaning up unhealthy relationships in your life, your priority is to yourself. I feel like I’ve read something either on OBH or OBB that said that you don’t need to qualify a rejection with an explanation as it can give the impression that your decision is open to negotiation and they will try to counter your answer. That just opens up an unnecessary avenue for drama.

  12. You can change the status of your friends to be “acquaintances” on facebook and then set your default to post everything to friends excluding acquaintances. I have some folks on my facebook that are part of my real life social network, but that I’m not close enough to that I want them to see my mini-work rant or a picture of me in a costume at a con or whatever. I set them to acquaintance and then if we become closer friends I can always adjust their setting.

    For people that I used to be friends with but when I see them on my newsfeed I legit cannot remember how I know them without going to their profile, I just unfriend them from the get go. I’ve never had someone come back and ask me why they unfriended me.

  13. Every single time I’ve done this, absolutely NO ONE has commented or seemingly noticed.
    I started getting a lot of friend requests from people I went to high school with as our 10-year reunion neared, so I just changed my cover photo to this. I think alternate wording might be “Hi, I’m using Facebook mainly for [x] so I’m limiting who sees my feed. If you want to follow me and see the FUN stuff, visit [public social network url]!”

  14. I’m not sure you need to worry. I don’t defriend often (I just unsubscribe, and will put them on a list of people who see almost nothing I post), but when I have, nobody has ever asked me why. I once ran into a guy who defriended me on the high speed rail (yeah, I don’t live in the USA) and I had noticed, and had wondered why as although we were not close friends and probably never would be, we were solid professional connections to each other and there were no grudges etc. that I knew of.

    I tried to sort of avoid him, feeling like, “he defriended me, I don’t really want to talk to him”, hoping I could get around without being seen (I wouldn’t just ignore someone openly that I didn’t dislike or hate). But, I was not successful and he spotted me. I let him pretend he saw me before I saw him. He seemed happy to see me and was all insistent that we sit next to each other on the train as trains at that time of night never fill up (nobody would be asking for their seat back) and we had a nice chat all the way back to Taipei.

    The whole time I thought “you defriended me…you defriended me…this is totally fake…yeah…you defriended me”.

    But I never said anything. He gave me his card, we said our goodbyes and I have not talked to him since.

  15. The couple times I’ve done a Facebook culling, I did one of those big “I’m going to be doing some friends list clean up. I’m going to be doing it for x, y or z reasons. I wanted to let you all know so there’s no surprises.”

    I’ve never had someone reach out to me personally afterward with a “why did you unfriend me?” message. If I did get one, I’d be honest.

    The vast majority of the time it’s people I’ve not spoken to or interacted with in some time and, while I hold nothing personal, I thought it was a smart idea since we had moved apart not only in person but also on Facebook. I would also include that if we grow closer again, I’d be happy to friend them on again.

  16. So I defriended the people who had been my closest friends through school and college. Although we all went different directions in terms of degrees and employments and where we lived, certain members of the group kept up the best friends status and I wasn’t in that group. C’est la vie, social groups change.

    For a while I had them hidden on facebook so I didn’t see their stuff although I think they could see mine. I reached a point where I thought sod it, why pretend to be friends anymore? So I unfriended them.

    Only one of them took it badly to my knowledge. I rather promptly received a message detailing her latest news of miscarrying twins who had different dads and she didn’t need my betrayal or all this shit.

    Whether this was true or not, I dont know (my gut says no). However, if it was attention seeking tantrum behaviour, responding would only feed it further. If it was true, even to an extent, she clearly had much closer friends than me to be supporting her.

    I guess I’m saying just don’t interact with them. I did it and nobody died

  17. I’ve only had one person directly ask me why I unfriended them (albeit in a passive-aggressive way from what I can recall)–and this was at least six or seven years ago. I told her the truth: we didn’t talk anymore and I had no interest in keeping her friended offline or online. That was the end of that.
    Since then, everyone I’ve unfriended never asked me why. Considering how you can hide people’s posts and if you have a lot of active posters it’s also likely that they didn’t even notice until way after the fact.

  18. I did a mass unfriending of 300+ people and not once have I heard anything about it. And actually a good 50 of them were people that had deactivated their pages and I hadn’t noticed. I figured if I hadn’t noticed that you were gone, maybe we shouldn’t be friends.

    I did not write a post about it. No one needs to know where they are in the hierarchy of my friends and family. I also don’t post anything about deactivating my Facebook when I do that. If people have questions, they can contact me. No one has.

    And if people re-friend me, I always add them back. Unless I unfriended them for being creepy. If someone makes the effort to press the friend button, I can make the effort to press accept.

  19. No one has EVER asked me why I unfriended them.

    Out of the people that I KNOW unfriended me, I pretty much know why, except for one. But I can guess, and quite frankly, good riddance.

    I think you may be stressing over this for no reason. If they get butthurt about it, that’s their problem.

    If they ask, be honest. I mean, you don’t have to be rude about it, but say “we’re not that close anymore, I’m cleaning up my feed” or “I’m limiting things for privacy reasons.” If they don’t understand that, they might not be people that you need up in your business anyway.

  20. I try to keep my friends down to around 150 people at any given time, which sometimes means shuffling people off my list on the regular OR being pre-emptive in not adding them arbitrarily. I let people know when I meet them that a) I don’t friend coworkers until we no longer work together (I might make a work facebook page, since I’m an adjunct community college faculty instructor and it might benefit me to have one for coworkers and some students), b) I add people easily, but also delete easily as well. My husband as even told people when he meets them ‘don’t be offended when she unfriends you, it has nothing to do with how she actually feels about you in real life. and if you want to be back on her fb feed, just add her again. c) cut family first. Family is forever, so I delete family members more easily than friends. My sister wasn’t on my friends list for 2 years because of that.

    I also get rid of people that I only used to facebook stalk their shiny life. So people from elementary school who I don’t actually care about meeting up with again, but liked looking at their cool beer pictures, I unfriend. Sometimes it feels painful in the minute it happens because *gasp* I won’t feel comfortable adding them back, it makes it a lot better in the long run. And if people de-activate their account, I unfriend them (and will friend them again when they’re done with their technology detox).

    I like the unfollow button, but it still doesn’t get rid of the fact that at any given time 500 people could b e reading my stuff. That’s why I keep it low.

  21. May I suggest altering the way you think of this question? Because I see “Why did you unfriend me?” as meaning, “I look at your Facebook profile or look forward to your comments on my page enough that I noticed when you were gone.” I recommend a response like, “I’ve been making some changes in my social media, but I would love to stay in touch with you. Here’s my email address/phone number so that we can continue to talk. Please feel free to email/text/call me anytime.” That puts the ball in their court and allows them to reach out to you if, in fact, you underestimated how important you are to them. Of course, this approach should only be used for people you aren’t actively avoiding. In that case, just ignore them.

  22. Once I unfriended 20 people or so (can’t remember who they were) two of them sent me friend requests almost immediately (old highschool aqcuantances). Another person sent me a message asking me why, so I told her that I didn’t knew that it was that important to her so I friended her again, she was a girl from another country who I did not know in person. Finally, she once made a very racist comment (“Hail white europe”), comment that I responded to, very offended. So I deleted her again, no explanations, no questions, I guess I should have left her unfriended in the first place.

    You can aleays say:
    *We barely interact, or, we barely know eachother, or -this one is applicable to Mexico- “for personal safety reasons I prefer to mantain my facebook friends only to people whom I’m very close to”.
    *Didn’t you change accounts? or *I must have been confused with another person. (it’s coward but sometimes you just don’t have anything else to say, when they are family, for example).
    *Or simply just be bold about it: I’m sick of pseudo relationships on facebook, we are not that close… or something like that.

  23. This really shouldn’t be a problem bec. these days, you don’t get a notification when you’ve been unfriended on Facebook. A person has to hunt around to find out that they are not mutually friended on Facebook — such as by going to the former friend’s page & now seeing it’s restricted (only if you, the former friend, have your page set to display some things to friends-only & some things to public) & seeing a “do you know PersonName? Send friend request.” at the top. Very few people go to other people’s pages; mostly, people interact with their news feed & maybe with groups. So the main way someone might notice you’ve unfriended them is that they won’t see your content in their newsfeed — and with Facebook changing the display algorithm all the time, who knows why things are displayed when anyway! If someone sees you IRL & asks ‘hey haven’t seen you on Facebook recently,” it’s easy enough to say, “oh, I’ve been busy & trying to limit my social media time.” Which is honest.

  24. I make a public announcement before I cull, informing everybody that I’m trying to reduce my friends list to the people I’m closest with, and to please not take it personally if they’ve been removed. And then, if they feel like it’s really in error, they should send me a message and we can talk about it.

    Usually, the people around me are as glad to have one less person on their list as I am to have 50 fewer. But if somebody did message me, I’d discuss it with them. “We’ve never actually met in real life, though, and while I’d like to get to know you better, I’d rather do that offline, instead of through facebook.” -This is usually the case with people I cull. “I understand that we’re related, but since we’ve never met and live several states apart, I figure it’s enough to just post on the family facebook page every now and again.” -The other main case. :/ I have the bad habit of adding people on facebook I’ve not actually met, but would like to meet. And sometimes, we do, and sometimes, it’s great! But sometimes, I realize that I have 150 facebook friends and I only really know like, 40 of them.

  25. I did have someone ask why I unfriended him–he emailed me to point out I’d disappeared from his friends list, and he wanted to know if he’d done something to offend me. The honest answer was that we’d dated for a bit and when it didn’t work out, I wanted a clean break. But I chickened out and said I’d been tinkering with the FB language settings and goofed and unfriended some people, including him. So I re-friended him and then quietly undid it again recently. If I could do it again, I’d tell him the diplomatic truth, that we weren’t close anymore and I try to keep my friends list to family and close friends.

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