Facebook Novice: Why is my long-lost ex contacting me now?
January 6, 2011 8:48 PM   Subscribe

I am just wondering why would an ex ask to befriend you when you haven't spoken in over 10 years? This happened to me today and I am confused.

A little background: This was not just an ex, this was "the one who got away." My first love I guess. I was immature and he moved on and I didn't think I would ever hear from him again. I think I've thought about him everyday for the past 12 years, even as I've moved on and dated other people and yes I know that's unhealthy but I just couldn't get over him. Anyway, just as I'm trying to come to grips with the idea that I will never hear from or see him again (why would I?), that I will never know--and can never know because it's just better for me emotionally if I don't--if he married and had kids and whatnot, I get an e-mail saying he wants to be my friend on Facebook. I honestly figured maybe he had forgotten I even existed. I guess for the average person this kind of thing is par for the course, but for me, just knowing what kind of indebible impression he made on my life, it was like a miracle seeing his name in my e-mail. It just was.

So anyway, I am not a Facebook person, I literally never go on there. I opened an account a while back just because my friends asked me to, but I never check it and don't really get why I should. My inclination is to ignore his request like I've done others', but I'm just trying to reconcile this whole ordeal in my mind. In other words, I'm trying to come up with a possible explanation without having to directly ask him. I just want to know what compels someone to look up and befreind on FB an ex from years ago, especially it that someone has moved on romantically and whatnot? What is the motive? Again, we are not friends, not even acquaintances and we didn't end on the best of terms, so I'm just baffled. Have you ever called up one of your exes just because? What was your aim? What was your angle?

Just curuios. Thanks for any insight.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (37 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
"Hey! Someone I know! *click"

That's how the friending process goes. *Setting up profile: My high school, class of my year* "Ooh, I can click to see who else put down that high school and class!" *friend everyone from high school class*

If there's not a personal message attached it is almost certainly meaningless. Not completely certain; but almost certain.
posted by Lady Li at 8:54 PM on January 6, 2011 [20 favorites]

It doesn't mean anything. Facebook friendships are handed out almost indiscriminately by a lot of people.
posted by chrchr at 8:56 PM on January 6, 2011

Because he had been a significant person in my life and I always have a place in my heart for what that meant. And I want to be open minded enough that people who were significant in my life have a place, even if it's just facebook. If other things arise, then ok, but they may not and that's ok. But that's me. I don't know if that's him. Or you.
posted by kch at 8:56 PM on January 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Keep in mind that he may not even have sent the request personally. Assuming you have the same email as back then, he may have just used the feature that adds everyone in your address book.

At any rate if he didn't even send a personal message with the request I don't think you should feel obligated to respond at all.
posted by drjimmy11 at 8:56 PM on January 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Honestly, I wouldn't read too much just into his adding you. His reasons for friending you could range from just wanting to add people he's been friends with in the past, to wanting to see how you're doing, to being obsessed with you and wanting to see if you're single, etc. Some people seriously add every person they can think of that they used to know, or every single person from their high school class, etc. Obviously he hasn't forgotten about you, but there isn't necessarily some big explanation, either. If you're curious about what he's up to now, then accept his request. If you think it would be too hard to have to get reminders of him all the time, then don't, but don't obsess over this gesture.
posted by elpea at 8:56 PM on January 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

*checks notifications*

"Oh god, my aunt is on here now. ... Hm, I wonder who else is on FaceBook?"

*searches for you, other ex-girlfriends*
posted by carsonb at 8:57 PM on January 6, 2011

I'm friends with a bunch of exes on facebook. And in real life.

You're not really over him, it sounds like. I can't read his mind, or yours, and so can only speak from my own experience.

The thing is, if I liked someone well enough to date them, even if we broke up, those reasons for liking them might still be accurate and present. After a while, once I've really, honestly gotten over the person romantically, why not be friends? Or at least keep in touch in a Christmas-card kind of way (via facebook, I guess, these days).

But I'm also a lesbian, and it's a cultural thing that we keep exes as friends. I live upstairs from one, in fact.

Long story short: you're probably putting more weight on this than he is.
posted by rtha at 8:58 PM on January 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

If you used Facebook regularly you'd see that there is a huge gamut of uses for it. Some people like to have as many people as possible on their friends list, and friend anyone they can think of for that reason. Some people use it as a vehicle for getting in touch with old friends or acquaintances just to see what they're up to and wish each other well -- this is mainly what I use it for, and it's great. I've gotten back in touch with people from elementary and high school, some of whom live in other countries now, and in many cases had joyous reunions with them.

It is also true that lots of people use it to shop for hookups (i.e. see if someone is available, check out the photos and see if they're still cute, lay preparatory flirty groundwork, etc.)

Anyway, his motive could be anywhere from looking up the old love of his life to see if the flame can be reignited, to vaguely remembering your name and wanting another entry in his friends list. Facebook friending is not the same as calling on the phone. Calling requires a specific interest and action. "Friending" is a click of the button and in most cases means nothing at all.
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:00 PM on January 6, 2011

There are 2 kinds of Facebook-frienders:

Some people Facebook-friend people they are friends with already, coworkers, classmates, realtives, etc.

Some people think they need to Facebook-friend EVERYBODY THEY HAVE EVER MET. Seriously. Their 3rd grade teacher's second cousin, the guy they hired to get rid of that opossum that was living in the basement, and that kid with the bad dandruff who was in their English class sophomore year.

Don't get your feelings hurt by thinking that he is really really still cares deeply or something-- he may be a category 2 friender.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 9:00 PM on January 6, 2011 [4 favorites]

Just one data point, so take it for what it's worth, but the last time I "just looked someone up," I ended up leaving my current girlfriend then marrying the girl. I'm not saying that's your guy has in mind. I'm only saying that maybe there's a nostalgia bug going around, and he's caught it.
posted by Gilbert at 9:03 PM on January 6, 2011 [6 favorites]

I have a different experience than Lady Li: I almost never add a message or receive one when friending or being friended on Facebook.

Some extra information that might be useful is what information you have listed in your profile. As Lady Li mentions, if you list your graduating class (high school / college / etc.) or belong to any mass group that he may be able to select all at once, the chances increase that it's random. This is especially true if he'd have a hard time identifying you by your other information.

That said, I have reconnected with people from my past for no particular reason. Personally, I think it can be a beautiful thing... although I can also see how it might be hurtful in cases like this.

Best of luck.
posted by akprasad at 9:03 PM on January 6, 2011

Sorry to burst your bubble, but friending you on facebook means absolutely nothing. Even if he sends you a note on facebook saying "hey how's it going?" I still wouldn't read any more into it than if he ran into you on the street and said hello - respond the same way.
posted by waterandrock at 9:07 PM on January 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Whether or not you in particular should facebook friend this specific ex is a question that I'm not sure anyone other than yourself can answer. As for his motives. I'd wager a guess that he considers you someone from his past who he'd like to get back in touch with, but it's impossible to know his angle without being inside his head. It's always a bad idea to try to figure out someone's probable motivation for doing anything without directly asking them. The possibilities are endless.

That said, I've found the best thing about facebook was that I reconnected with a couple of ex-boyfriends who I never thought I'd speak to again. It has actually been great reestablishing friendships with them. I don't really believe in "closure" because life doesn't work that way, but I hated ending those relationships on a sour note, particularly since I liked those previous partners as people separate from any romantic relationships I had with them. I'm not certain I'd feel so positive about this turn of events if I wasn't in a happy, fulfilling marriage now, but I enjoy seeing pictures of their babies and hearing about their exploits.

If you're still carrying a torch for this person, maybe the best thing you can do is accept his invitation. It's possible that seeing pictures of how he's moved on with his life will help you come to terms with the fact that he wasn't really "the one who got away". Only you can decide whether having access to that kind of information will be healthy for you or will just cause you to obsess more.
posted by stagewhisper at 9:10 PM on January 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

friending ≠ befriend

It may not even have been that he typed your name into facebook and searched for you. You might have shown up as a friend of a friend, or some other connection. He sees your name and wonders how you're doing, so he clicks.

The reason he probably wants to interact with you on facebook is he's curious about you. Curious might be romantic, might be gossipy, or even mean-spirited. No way to tell really, you've got a better hint at his personality than we do.

Facebook is another avenue for social interaction that is more casual and less personal. Whereas trying to find your phone number and calling you wouldn't be appropriate, friending you on facebook is a lot lower pressure for the both of you.
posted by fontophilic at 9:11 PM on January 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

On the other hand, if you're both single and you're interested no reason why you couldn't put the moves on him :). I'd keep it small though.
posted by waterandrock at 9:11 PM on January 6, 2011

I am not a face book person. Don't even have an account. But a few years back, I received an email from a woman I dated 17 years before. It was a short one paragraph email saying hello and hoping all was well with me. After a few back and forth emails with me wondering wtf? why are you writing to me now, I came to find out/realize that this was her way of getting closure. It had not ended well and I think she wanted to have it end better. Maybe she also wanted me to know she was not still the crazed lunatic I thought she was when we broke up. Didn't here from her again after those 3 emails until 3 years later at a reunion of about 20 friends from those days. It certainly made the reunion easier.

I think it would be better to respond in a non committal low key way and see if you cannot find out what he wants if anything. He has already messed up your head by friending you, and if you don't respond you will always wonder. What is the worst thing that could happen? Maybe you will find out he is not what you thought he would be after all these years pining after him and you can move on. Maybe it will rekindle your relationship. Maybe he will tell you he made a big mistake. Maybe he will curse you out, but so what?
posted by AugustWest at 9:19 PM on January 6, 2011

Facebook's business model is about connecting people with information about them, so that information can be sold to marketers. The more connections we have, the more valuable we are to Facebook's customers (marketers, not us; we're the product). Everything it does must be seen through that lens. So Facebook's architects find as many ways as possible to steer us into making those connections. You have friends in common? That's one way. You attended the same school? That's another. You worked at the same company? There's a third. Always steering you towards making that decision to connect your identity with someone else's, so you become more valuable to the company's bottom line.

So maybe he was just manipulated into friending you, because that's what Facebook does. Or maybe he feels the same way you do, that you're the one who got away. Only one way to know for sure. And it's none of us who has the answer to that one.
posted by scalefree at 9:31 PM on January 6, 2011

Here is my criteria for friending someone on Facebook: if I ran into this person in the supermarket, would I say hi to them? Or would I pretend not to notice them/quickly scoot to another aisle? If I would say hi and chat, I'll friend them. If not, I'll click "ignore" or just let the friend request sit so they think I never go on Facebook (hi, old boss!). This approach has served me well so far.

So, that's my angle. My advice to you: if you'd say hi to him in the supermarket (not because you're forced to, but because you're all, "hey! It's [Dude]!", friend him. If you'd run away or ignore, don't friend him. No biggie either way.

There are people from my high school class who I really do not remember who keep trying to friend me because they do a mass import of Class of '96. So maybe he did that? Or maybe he's madly in love with you. No way of knowing without asking. Up to you to decide if you want to know/ask or not. (Honestly though, without a message, I'm thinking it's a "hey, you're someone I know" sort of thing.)
posted by AlisonM at 9:35 PM on January 6, 2011 [6 favorites]

If I were him, this would probably be the explanation: I'm trying to think of everyone who could reasonably be my "friend" on Facebook. Often you don't need to actively think of the person's name; it'll be automatically suggested on the website because the two of you have a mutual friend. For me, the question is: was this person even slightly important in my life? An ex-girlfriend is automatically important enough to add on Facebook. Mefites can go ahead and snark about how some people add everyone they know on Facebook! but to me that's just how the site works. It's a website based on adding lots of people you know, and both of you are on the website; therefore, he added you.

I think you sort of already know this, but you want the excuse to think about the idea of him coming back into your life.
posted by John Cohen at 10:01 PM on January 6, 2011

I love finding exes on Facebook! I especially when it when they haven't locked down their profile so I can see their wall and photos without having to friend them!

But I do have some exes who are friends, like my high school boyfriend. It's been (ahem) 20 years since I graduated from high school, and he and I were in touch by phone maybe two or three times after college. But I was delighted to find him there--he's my FB friend, and I've been happy to learn what he's up to and see nice photos of his wife and kids. I posted prom pictures of us and tagged him in them and made all of our friends happy and giggly to see our early 90s looks.

We even had lunch this summer when I was in his town for a conference. Look, he's balding! Look, I'm a lot heavier now!

But, yeah, all this, there's nothing to do. As long as I don't have weird leftover feelings for people, I'm totally glad to be in touch with them for Facebook, if I genuinely like them. Which is to say: I wouldn't read much into this other than he wondered what you were up to. Feel free to 'ignore' the request if you think you'll keep wondering otherwise.
posted by bluedaisy at 10:45 PM on January 6, 2011

This may be missing the question a bit, but my main question is not what does he want, but what do you want? Do you want "closure" (in tics because like Stagewhisper above I don't believe that life works that way), or do you want to ignite a raging bonfire with that torch you're carrying? Or do you want to keep him in limbo in your mind, as he is now?
posted by labberdasher at 10:52 PM on January 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

People that have friended me on Facebook include
- people I was once at school with when I was 5
- people I have spoken to in a bar for five minutes
- people I see once a year at a conference
- friends of friends that I never actually met
- people I have no connection with and have never met
- long ago ex boyfriends

Some of them I have friended back, mainly the school people, because it's fascinating to see from their pictures how a bunch of five year olds have turned into adults with spouses and kids.

None of these people ever communicate with me at all; presumably their interest is limited to seeing what I look like these days.
posted by emilyw at 11:37 PM on January 6, 2011 [4 favorites]

Sure, sometimes people go on Facebook adding sprees. But if the person you're adding was a significant part of your life at one point, that particular add has a little bit of a pause before the click.

I would accept the add, just so you can have access to messaging him. Wait a day or two (he may message you or write on your wall in that time...people often do that right after the add). If nothing, then I would drop him an email. Something like, "Hi! It was a nice surprise to get your invite. Here's my email address, as I don't use Facebook hardly ever, but didn't want to miss out on the opportunity to say hi after all this time. Hope to chat with you soon! Bye, anon."

If he emails you back, then you will inevitably find out why he's contacted you after 10 years. Underspecify this one though...it's better to keep your expectations super low and be delightfully uplifted by the whole interaction than to put stock in it and be utterly let down. I say this because it sounds like you've thought about him a lot over the last decade and there could be a real cognitive dissonance between your fantasy and his reality. A lot can change in a decade, good and bad.
posted by iamkimiam at 12:08 AM on January 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

What is the motive? Again, we are not friends, not even acquaintances and we didn't end on the best of terms, so I'm just baffled.

On my 8th grade class trip, a couple friends were playing "keep away" in the hotel room with my wallet on the 2nd day of the 10 day trip. At some point, the wallet goes by the room's open door, and everyone's too tired to go get it. A classmate (let's call him Mark) walks by. No one else walks by. A couple minutes later, I get up to go get my wallet, and it's gone. Everyone and their mother knew who took my wallet, even though no one could prove it. I hated that guy growing up.

Yeah, THAT guy friended me on Facebook. Friending someone doesn't mean you want to be actual friends. In some cases it means nothing at all. (Epilogue: I was unfriended later on.)
posted by 23skidoo at 4:59 AM on January 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

You're overthinking this a bit, which is easy to do when he's The One Who Got Away. There could be a million reasons why he friended you, running the whole gamut from absolutely meaningless to hmm, I miss her and wonder if things could ever work out again.

You'll never know unless you try to find out. So why not accept the invite and send a quick mail saying 'I'm never on Facebook, but it's nice to hear from you - how are you?'. Seriously, you're already thinking about him every day. I don't see what you could possibly have to lose, but you have a lot to gain - at the very least, some sort of closure.

It is a bit of a miracle - go with the flow and don't be afraid.
posted by widdershins at 5:45 AM on January 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Around the time I turned 40, I reached a sort of peace with my past. I'm not sure how or why it happened, but all the bad feelings died and I was just left with good ones. I still remember all the hurtful things that happened, but they don't hurt any more.

When that happened, I went from avoiding my past to enjoying it. I am now Facebook friends with almost everyone from my childhood, even kids I didn't like. Some of them were astonished when I actively friended a guy who used to bully me. He was the terror of my childhood. But, strangely, I don't care anymore. He used to beat me up when we were nine. We're both middle-aged now. I'm not in any way saying you should get over stuff from the past. It's not a matter of should. Some people do; some people don't.

To me, my childhood -- even parts of my college years -- seems like a movie about someone else. I remember it in great detail. But i'm detached from it. I think it partly has to do with how many times I've moved. I've had about ten lives, each time totally changing where I was living, my friends, etc. To get at my childhood and even my 20s, I have to reach back through several realities.

Why did I friend the bully? Because I was curious to know how he'd turned out. And, though I hated him as a kind, we have a common background. He and I remember the same town, the same teachers, etc. It's fun to here his memories of Mrs. Key and that big dead tree in the schoolyard.

I've connected with ex-girlfriends, too. I have no desire to date them (I'm married), yell at them, or even to be close friends with them, but I am casually interested in their lives, and it feels good to end my story with them in an upbeat way.

So there's me chatting amiably with a guy who used to beat me up every day in third grade, and, understandably, other people saying, "What the fuck? How can you talk to that guy?." People are just in very, very different places when it comes to this sort of thing. Ten years ago, I would have had no interest in talking to bullies and exes. Now I do.
posted by grumblebee at 6:07 AM on January 7, 2011 [12 favorites]

I might have some perspective on the ex-boyfriend's point of view, having not too long ago Facebook friended a significant ex-girlfriend who I had no contact with for close to a decade (though I doubt she considers me the "one who got away" considering she is now married to a guy who looks like he could probably be a beefcake calender model). I friended her for the same reason I friended any number of old college and high school friends, ex-coworkers, etc., who I had lost contact with over the years: I was curious what she looked like now and what had gone on in her life in the years since we had lost touch. There was no hidden agenda or secret desire on my part to rekindle the lost flames of romance.

You're way overthinking this entirely common Facebook behavior. I would either ignore his request or as best as you can try to manage expectations regarding his motivations.
posted by The Gooch at 6:44 AM on January 7, 2011

There are people who try and friend me on Facebook who bullied me at school. One person - who I didn't even recognise - was someone who wrote in my leaver's book 'well I didn't know you, u alwayz got on my nerves never mind' twelve years ago and hasn't spoken to me since.

I only add people I know or would want to know again, and there are a couple of people I've blocked from it entirely as, despite checking it for five minutes a day or so, I don't want the hassle of potentially talking to them again. Not everybody does. Some see it as a competition to get as many friends as they can - some just don't think too much and add people whenever.
posted by mippy at 7:07 AM on January 7, 2011

why not accept the invite and send a quick mail saying 'I'm never on Facebook, but it's nice to hear from you - how are you?'. Seriously, you're already thinking about him every day. I don't see what you could possibly have to lose, but you have a lot to gain - at the very least, some sort of closure.

Sorry for the repeat commenting, but I'd just like to say I think the above comment really gets to the crux. Admit it, the fact that he added you on Facebook isn't an amazing miracle. This is just a convenient opportunity for you to think about him again and possibly get in touch with him again. The issue isn't, "Why did he friend you on Facebook?" (probably because that's how Facebook works); the issue is, "Should you take the opportunity to get back in touch with him?" (Note: merely accepting his friend request and leaving it at that would not constitute getting back in touch with him.)

Figure out what you want to do, and do that!
posted by John Cohen at 7:14 AM on January 7, 2011

He met you once in his life. That's about it.

I've had three people who bullied me try friending me on Facebook. I ignored all three, but I was sorely tempted to write them back first asking, "you made me eat paste every day for a year and then spent three hours at my best friend's wedding reception spreading a story about how I broke wind once at a slumber party in 1984. Why on earth do you think I'd WANT to hear from you?"
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:21 AM on January 7, 2011

When I opened up a facebook account a few years ago, I friended my highschool ex-boyfriend (1.5 years). We'd had a bad falling out when it ended, and hadn't spoken in a decade. So I had nervously contemplated it for a few days, but then decided it was better to extend an olive branch and let it all be water under the bridge. And it went delightfully - a bit of closure in regret that it didn't end on a better note between us, and then we caught up as old friends. Now he's one of those people where I might not see him very often but if I need to talk to someone he's there for me, and vice versa.
posted by lizbunny at 7:53 AM on January 7, 2011

Ditto grumblebee.

Part of midlife crisis was making peace with my past, including romantic past. Found and friended: The one that got away, the one night stand i never forgot, the girl I almost married, and the girl who cheated on me and broke my heart. All "friended" back, and remarkably I have become great friends with the cheater of all people.

Your one that got away might simply be tidying up his emotional past...Facebook style.
posted by teg4rvn at 7:59 AM on January 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

....Ah. I didn't finish my thought. Sorry.

The three people who bullied me and tried to friend me on Facebook probably didn't put any more thought into it than, "Oh, EC, I remember her. Hey, I can add another Facebook friend to my collection!" and that was it. Some people just like having long lists of Facebook friends.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:00 AM on January 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

People I have never met are constantly friending me on Facebook because they are amused by stuff I post on a mutual friend's wall. Don't beanplate this.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:26 AM on January 7, 2011

Whenever facebook says "friend", what they're really saying is "edge". Seriously - the engineers over there view the entire operation as a very large data graph. It's extremely impersonal, and I think that some of that rubs off on people after using it for a while.

Anyway, there's probably very little thought that went into his decision to friend you. And, it's likely that he has no idea that you're ever even thinking about him. He's probably expecting that you'll look at the friend request, and spend a minute or two trying to remember who the hell he even is.

Now, as to whether you should accept? I have no idea. But, if you do end up talking to him, and it becomes a train wreck for you, then you can always block him.
posted by Citrus at 10:54 AM on January 7, 2011

1. People collect friends like they're Pokemon. The more they get, the more popular they look. Doesn't matter who. EVERYBODY'S ex friends them on Facebook now. EVERYONE (unless you just broke up within the existence period of Facebook).

2. If you friend him, you'll probably say "hi" once apiece and then that will be it, unless he's specifically looking for an auld lang syne fuck. "Friending" is not actual friendship with an ex, it's pretty much like real life in that "let's be friends" = "You don't hate me (still), right?"

3. If you still have any emotional attachment to the guy, don't friend him. It really sounds to me like you would want to get back together with him if you had the opportunity, and having any contact with him would still screw with you if he doesn't feel the same.

I say that, but I don't know why y'all broke up or if it was for unfixable reasons. If it really boiled down to "I was immature," well, that could be a fixable thing these days. Also, check his page to see if he's single or not. If he's not, don't even go there, it'll really screw with your head.
posted by jenfullmoon at 2:53 PM on January 7, 2011

Everyone's already given you a Facebook tutorial. Let me tell you about my experience with the ex I was still hung up on after a decade.
He was my first love, it ended badly, I always blamed myself, I obsessed and pined and yadda yadda. For years. I google-stalked him now and then, even. Finally, one day, I got up the nerve to send him a casual howarya email. And the lame, badly-spelled, small-spirited reply I got back finally allowed me to see I was obsessed with a fantasy. It was utter liberation. I think I met a new boyfriend that very week. I barely remember the ex's name now.
Not saying you will get the same closure getting back in touch - maybe it'll just fuel all your bad tendencies about this guy. But that's what happened to me, anyway.
posted by CunningLinguist at 7:03 PM on January 12, 2011

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