You have to be careful of what you say to friends these days -- you might lose them. Sensitivities come to the fore in particular on the popular social network, Facebook. Trust me, I've learned the hard way to avoid getting too personal with Facebook "friends" and, above all, to stay away from humor like it was a plague.
A few months ago for instance, a "friend" who was very much into Internet marketing and advertising, ran a promotional item on his Facebook page extolling the virtues of a particular body rejuvenation course and product. He had the nerve (I thought) to include a 40-year-old head and shoulders photograph of himself when he was in his 20s. I could not resist dashing off a tongue-in-cheek reply to him questioning the use of a misleading fountain-of-youth photo (it actually was quite complimentary) and suggesting that people might think that he had actually taken the course he was advertising, "and had failed". He was not at all pleased and removed my comment from his site because among other things, I was giving his client a "bloody nose." Not true at all, but that was his perception. I was hitting a little too close to home for his liking.
Another time I had an exchange with the same guy over an offensive, poor-taste reference by another individual on his site. My then friend, defended the uncalled-for comment contending that it was harmless and reflective of the other friend's "unique wit". I shot back with my impression of the unique wit suggestion: "...to me it was a demonstration of a half-wit."
My friend promptly deleted me from his list of friends and followed up cutting off his nose to spite his face by removing himself from Facebook altogether. I got even by removing him from my email contacts. That ought to show him!...How childish. Right? Sadly, we started out our Facebook relationship as members of a mutual admiration society and look what happened.
Several others on Facebook made it a practise of running famous unattributed quotes on their sites to the point that I couldn't take it any more. In what I felt was a tactful and sensitive approach, I requested that in the future they properly attribute the sayings, maybe adding a brief explanation in their own words if they wanted to share in the credit of those utterances of wisdom. Obviously lacking originality and perhaps embarrassed by the exposure, neither party has been seen or heard from on Facebook since.
Likewise, one chap who I ill-advisedly added to my friends list (at his request) became so annoyed by me that he finally suggested that if I didn't like what he was doing, I knew what I could do. By means of quick explanation, within a two-month period this guy had gone from a couple dozen Facebook friends to over 600 and counting, including a few ladies of obviously questionable business intentions. I asked him where he was getting all the friends and he responded that he would be retiring soon and that he wanted to have as many Internet friends as possible by then. I suggested by return that he must be planning a heck of a retirement party and that at the rate he was going he'd better reserve the Air Canada Centre in Toronto to accommodate us all. "There's got to be something in this for your friends," I joked..."I anxiously await your invitation!", to which he responded: "You're starting to piss me off!"
Now, I ask you, is that any way to talk to a friend?
A week later, Mr. Ulterior Motive's Facebook friends list exceeded the 800 mark and it was now obvious that he was aggressively amassing names and email addresses for future marketing purposes. Like so many others, he was using the social network for none other than personal gain. Genuine friendship was the furthest from his mind. I acted on his off-handed recommendation and removed him from my list of friends.
There have been other examples too where my good intentions were misinterpreted by suspecting minds. Take one middle-aged woman for instance who originally accepted my friendship due to a mutual interest. We also happened to share the same place of birth. For weeks she had constantly complained about the work she was doing and how much she looked forward to Fridays of each week. On Mondays and Tuesdays she was already wishing that Friday would "hurry up and come". Several of her friends were supportively "liking" her posts.
I decided to play the wise counsellor role by commenting: "You guys are wishing your lives away. Surely I don't have to remind you that every minute of every day is precious -- cling to it and make the most of it." My lady friend removed my comment from her site but posted a follow up message saying that she might accept my sentiment after she retired, and reminded me of how difficult it was to keep your "nose to the grindstone" when doing a job that you really do not enjoy. The next day she posted another comment: "Regardless of what some people may say, Friday still looks pretty good!"
I was instantly lured by the bait in those few words. "At least you've given it a new twist," I told her, adding that I hoped she would enjoy her weekend after five days of "grinding" at her job.
Once again, she replaced my comment on her site with one of her own. "I find it odd, Dick, that you feel compelled to continually comment when I really do not know you. I will have a good weekend, not because of what you say but because of what I go through each week, none of which you know about."
At that point I realized the futility of dragging out the exchange. She neither wanted nor deserved my friendly concern. She was suspicious, I think, of my motives. I, in turn, was disappointed and offended by her terse reaction. My immediate impulse was to click the delete icon next to her name in my computer, but not before I announced my intention to "unfriend" her with an explanation and offer of regrets. As easy as that, another Internet friendship was dashed with the click of a keyboard button.
The reality of my Facebook experiences? You win some and you lose some. It's much like real life in that respect.
When you lose a friend over a minor disagreement, misunderstanding or heaven help us -- a joke -- the message is clear. That person was never a true friend in the first place.
Life goes on, but I reiterate: You've got to watch what you say -- and how you say it. They're touchy, touchy out there!