You're not even on Facebook friend level
April 22, 2012 9:10 AM   Subscribe

How to respond to out-of-the-blue "reconnecting" attempts from estranged family?

Long story short, I have 2 family members from whom I have been estranged for about 10 years (since I was a teenager) - no contact at all.
Person #1 is estranged because of very specific actions that hurt me and my immediate family, emotionally and financially. I am still angry about this and usually do not want to reconcile, even now. Person #2 is someone that I bear less direct ill will towards, but also just never cultivated a relationship with as a child/teenager and I must admit I have little interest in trying to start one now.

Within the space of 24 hours, I received friend requests on Facebook from both of them. No prior contact - this is the first contact at all I have gotten in over ten years. My Facebook is set so that either of them could message me without being friended first, but neither did. Neither of them know my direct contact information, but they both know my parents' contact info and could have asked about me that way. Since the requests were so back-to-back I am sure they must have communicated about it somehow.

I am mostly angry at Person #1 - I feel really offended that they would just glibly try to friend me as if we could just brush off the past. I don't want to post all the details but this person deeply hurt me and my family. I have a draft of a letter I have written over several years saved, and I feel vindictive, but part of me really wants to send it in response and unload exactly what I think of this person. I could maybe reconcile someday if I thought they were truly sorry for what they did, but the last time we spoke (admittedly ten years ago) they acted much the same - as if we could just start fresh without addressing our MAJOR past issues.

Person #2 I am not so angry at, but still puzzled why their first contact in forever would be a friend request, not even an initial expression of sorrow that we have essentially no relationship.

I don't know how to respond or if I even want to. I guess my options are:

1) Reject the friend requests, complete silence
2) Send them a short message asking why they want to be my 'friend' after all these years, and see what they say;
3) send longer messages to them, telling Person #1 why I am still hurt and angry and need a better discussion than
just a "let's be friends" restart;
4) Give Person #2 very generic info about my life, and tell them I wish them well but have no desire to build a relationship at this time

I worry that I only want to do #2 or 3 out of vindictiveness, but I also feel like this might be my only opportunity to respond to them directly. I've never sent my letter to Person #1 because I felt like it would definitely be vindictive to send out of nowhere, and I didn't want to break the no-contact zone myself.

Please help me decide what to do, if you have had similar experiences. Are there other options? Did it make you feel better to tell your estranged friends/family how angry or hurt you still are? Or is it not worth even speaking until/unless I am ready to forgive and forget?

My goal with Person #1 is not necessarily to just say "I hate you because of all this stuff", but more like "I cannot reconcile at all with you unless I know you are deeply remorseful for your actions, and even then I can't just start over like it didn't happen. I can never guarantee that I will have a happy back-to-normal reconciliation with you so you need to be willing to accept that".
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (27 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I don't think that you're going to feel any better by engaging with them. Before they sent the friend request, how often did you think about them? Given how long it's been since either of them were involved in your life, I think you'd be best off denying the request and blocking both of them. If you really, really want to, you could send a message that says "Please don't contact me."

For people who would hurt you as much as the first person did, explanations will not make a difference. You owe them nothing.

People who have hurt me deeply have contacted me through facebook, and I have never regretted denying, blocking, and moving on. The one time I attempted to work things out, I came out just as hurt as I had been when they initially hurt me.
posted by punchtothehead at 9:17 AM on April 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

Please consider that a quick click on a "Add as friend" button might not be correctly interpreted as a wish to reconnect. Some if not most Facebook users do this out of habit.

It might also only indicate that they don't put the same wheight into the former relation as you do.
posted by oxit at 9:21 AM on April 22, 2012 [6 favorites]

I really don't think that Facebook friend requests, these days, really count as either being someone's real friend, or even actually making any attempt at re-establishing a relationship with somebody you used to know. A lot of people add me who I used to know just out of curiosity about how I'm doing, I expect, since I never thereafter hear a word from them about anything. Some people go through and add everybody they've ever known ever. I think you're potentially reading wayyy more into this than is warranted. Sending a message would have indicated wanting to reconcile. Just adding you is... a thing people do. And the "communication" could be nothing more than either them both seeing a comment you made on a third party's post, or just a casual, "Oh, hey, so-and-so's on Facebook, I added them," kind of thing inspiring the other to do so. Also, if you have mutual friends with both of them, you might have showed up on both of their suggest lists.

I'm generally a fairly private person, but my Facebook friends include my first kiss, who I haven't seen since I was about 14 and exchanged like two messages when we added, several people from my church who I don't actually like, some very distant family friends that I don't really know who other family members told me had vacation pictures that I wanted to see, and a ton of old classmates who I don't even remember speaking to. I just don't add them to the filter who gets to see my private info. But I don't think there's anything wrong with rejecting, either.
posted by gracedissolved at 9:23 AM on April 22, 2012 [4 favorites]

Ignore. Completely. Do not deny the request, do not message with your reasons why. Ignore it.

Ignore was the only way I could in any reasonable way deal with a Facebook friend request from my ex-husband, for example. There is absolutely no reason in the 'verse that his request needs to be met in any way. Ignore.
posted by vers at 9:23 AM on April 22, 2012 [16 favorites]

If it stresses you out this much, just ignore the request. You can even block them if you want. FIAMO.
posted by lizbunny at 9:30 AM on April 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Person #2 I am not so angry at, but still puzzled why their first contact in forever would be a friend request, not even an initial expression of sorrow that we have essentially no relationship.

Your feelings toward this person are valid, but consider that many people use facebook as a way of communicating with their friends on facebook. This person may not know that it is possible to send you a message without first being your friend. Please don't discount the ability of most computer users entirely to fail at seeing what's right in front of them on the screen. Based on what you've said, I wouldn't, from this, act, assume anything about this person.

Some of the same applies to person 1 as well, but since you are angry with this person and have reached an active decision that you'd rather not have them in your life, you are perfectly within your rights to deny their friend request and set a boundary that says "please don't contact me again."

Again, I don't necessarily read the act of person 1 sending a friend request as inherently offensive -- I think it could just as easily be an entré to further contact. A way of reaching out without having to actually write something, so as to test the waters. Since you know, however, that your interactions with this person are going to hit a wall early on, you are welcome to discourage further communication either by ignoring the request, denying it, or even sending a "please don't contact me again" message.

It seems like, from your question, you feel that these facebook friend requests contain some kind of semantic content which you can parse. They don't. They don't necessarily change anything about your relationships with these people.

As to person 2, I do want to add that a relationship has to start somewhere, and that your expectation that they should begin with some kind of apology for not having already had a relationship is likely to go unfulfilled. Your relationship with this person is what it is, and you are welcome to decide that you don't need it to change, but if you would like to begin to have a better relationship with this person, accepting their friend request -- and accepting that they are probably not going to apologize for your existing relationship -- is one of the ways that you may be able to do that.
posted by gauche at 9:31 AM on April 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

My Facebook is set so that either of them could message me without being friended first, but neither did.

If they sincerely wish to reconnect with you, it is incumbent upon them to make a more meaningful, vocal expression of why they wish to reconnect. A mere Facebook friend request is just an effort to add you to their list of Facebook connections, a chance for them to peer into your world (assuming your Facebook account is closed to all but friends), and thus it is cowardly and basically meaningless as an effort to reconnect.

Deny the friend request. If they really value your "friendship" in a way that is meaningful, they will send you a real communication.
posted by jayder at 9:32 AM on April 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

I would say ignore completely, but it seems like even just a small part of you wants to communicate with them. It's not wrong to do either of these things. You experienced a lot of pain.

But, know that if you do send a message then it will open up communication. So, if you have absolutely no desire of communicating with them then do not bother with options 2-4. Instead, ignore completely.

However, if you do want to communicate then I'd suggest letting them briefly know that you are still hurt, but that you would like to try developing a relationship with them, slowly, and possibly even with therapy.
posted by livinglearning at 9:38 AM on April 22, 2012

Honestly, even with people who have not hurt me and with whom I might not mind reconnecting if they made any actual effort, I reject their friend requests if they haven't bothered to reach out to me in some other way. Accepting a friend request means that you're giving someone a way to learn details about your life without communicating with you.

I would reject the requests with no explanation, and if they try to reach out to you after that, you could simply respond with a very brief and impersonal message, like, "Hello. I am fine. Glad to hear you are doing well. [Name]"
posted by chickenmagazine at 9:41 AM on April 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

"I cannot reconcile at all with you unless I know you are deeply remorseful for your actions, and even then I can't just start over like it didn't happen. I can never guarantee that I will have a happy back-to-normal reconciliation with you so you need to be willing to accept that".

They may not want or expect back-to-normal and you can't make anybody be remorseful. I would advise not to send a letter or tell them how angry you are. It probably won't make you feel better. I'm certainly not for sweeping things under the rug but dredging up old wounds is going to make you feel worse. It was ten years ago. You got screwed over. We all have. Instead of being angry and vindictive you may want to practice a little understanding and forgiveness -- for yourself. It sucks staying angry at a person you haven't seen or spoken to in 10 years. You don't have to tell them you forgive (they might not be asking for your forgiveness) and you don't have to speak with them at all. If you have lived merrily without these people in your life by all means, do not engage and do not friend them. I like the vers idea of ignoring and not denying.

You are offended that Person #1 "glibly" contacted you by sending a friend request. They might feel that this friend request is a fairly innocuous way of reaching out. They may be testing the waters. I do agree with jayder that this might be a way for them to "spy" on your life. They haven't been in your life for ten years. You aren't their victim and they don't hold power over you. People are going to hurt you and you are going to (and have) hurt people. You get to choose what to do -- not out of vindictiveness or anger -- but was feels right at this time.
posted by Fairchild at 9:41 AM on April 22, 2012

Facebook "friendship" means nothing. Hell, these days rapists will happily ask to friend their victims on Facebook. Odds are they just send requests to any names they recognize whatsoever and it means nothing. Not that they want to even reconcile or reconnect or apologize with you, but that they're adding another name to their astoundingly long friend list.

Block or ignore.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:47 AM on April 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Some people like a bit of drama and will happily go drama fishing. Don't bite!
posted by meepmeow at 9:50 AM on April 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've been person #2. I love my cousins, but I don't get many opportunities to see them, and when I do, there are dozens of other family members to meet and greet and chat with, and I'm afraid we don't have very deep conversations. But I enjoy seeing them, and I like hearing regular updates on their lives through other family members, so I sent friend requests so as to reduce the number of communication steps between us.

It never would cross my mind to give an "initial expression of sorrow that we have essentially no relationship." That sounds like a power trip to me. I feel no sorrow about the fact that our lives don't intersect very often, in fact, when I'm sending a friend request, I am happy to see their face and looking forward to seeing what's going on in their lives. I will say that I've really enjoyed talking to them more often, but again, I feel no loss over the other times in our lives--it's entirely possible that we wouldn't have gotten along as well then, or in some other medium.

Perhaps your family member #2 is using Facebook in a different way than you. Perhaps the close timing with #1 is what's making you think that you require some groveling before getting a friend request. If you don't want to see them, just deny the friend request.
posted by tchemgrrl at 9:52 AM on April 22, 2012 [7 favorites]

Mod note: From the OP:
I debated about whether to make this clear in the OP, but Person #1 is one of my parents. They are a much closer relationship than just "distant cousin I once had beef with", and they are very aware of the specific actions they did to my immediate family.

Thus, this doesn't make sense to me as just "some people just click to add anyone on Facebook, you're reading too much into it". I think you would have to be totally oblivious to make your first contact with your estranged child in over 10 years be a Facebook friend request with no other explanation.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:56 AM on April 22, 2012

My brother is/was a total dick/fucker/fuckwit/douche... did loads of drugs... acted like a jerk (cerca 1988-2008) We'd never gotten along... always had our problems... lots of "you did this" "well you did that" banter. A few stuff happened. Then, one day- we were chatting on facebook (me in England and he in California) and we argued. And I had ENOUGH. I messaged him and said "we aren't friends in real life, I'm not going to pretend we are on facebook" I deleted him.

2 years went by, and I met Mr. Pony- he suggested I was being a little lame and I should contact my brother via facebook. I did.


I never responded (mr. pony had since decided- upon reading evidence- that my brother was, in fact, a douche)


posted by misspony at 10:17 AM on April 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

There is no requirement in the universe that you be on good terms with your family, including immediate family. There is no rule that says just because they are your blood relatives that you must forgive them the terrible things they did to you. Forgiveness can be beneficial for your own sake, if you can bring yourself to let go of your anger and your resentment, but there is honestly no reason to allow people back into your life, no matter who they are or how many hours they spent in labor with you or whatever.

I can't see any benefit to reopening dialogue with someone you still have a pretty powerful negative feeling towards, tbh. But I think the second one could go either way.
posted by elizardbits at 10:19 AM on April 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

2) Send them a short message asking why they want to be my 'friend' after all these years, and see what they say;

I think this is best.

Back before Facebook, it was a truism that it's tough to assess tone and motivations from online communication (e.g. email and message board postings). It was easy to get that stuff very wrong without the additional cues of real-world communication (body english, facial experssion, tone, etc).

Well, Facebook introduces lots more levels of complexity, and everyone's using the thing slightly differently. There are myriad concepts of what it means to friend someone, etc etc. And don't forget, too, that Facebook may have simply raked through their address book and sent friend requests to everyone therein. So I wouldn't read TOO much into it....and, so, a short reply like the one you suggested seems appropriate.

However, if you're positive the person isn't being clueless, or that the invite wasn't auto-generated, or that this might be one of a gazillion cases of people using Facebook in different ways with different understandings and attitudes, then I'd go with this:

3) send longer messages to them, telling Person #1 why I am still hurt and angry and need a better discussion than
just a "let's be friends" restart;

posted by Quisp Lover at 10:22 AM on April 22, 2012

Those two situations are completely different. I think the fact they happened close together is muddying things. I have no wisdom for you on the parent side, except to say that if there was drama in the past, there's likely to be drama in the future.

For the other relative, I'd not read too much into the manner of contact. People use FB in all sorts of different ways. Do you limit your FB connections to actual friends, or have lots of random contacts and acquaintances? Do you seek out people to connect with, or wait for them to contact you? However you use it, your relative might be different. I'd figure out how they would fit into the way you use FB and respond accordingly.
posted by expialidocious at 10:39 AM on April 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

That it's your estranged parent friending you makes things a little different but not that different. If the parent wanted to apologize to you (I'm assuming from what you've said that what they did really was awful) then they would have written you a real message. Facebook "friending" is too casual a poke to indicate that a heart-to-heart is forthcoming. I would ignore it.
posted by fingersandtoes at 10:56 AM on April 22, 2012

I would ignore the one from your parent (if they want to connect, they can try harder), and I would accept the one from your distant whatever unless you think it's just another line in for your parent. Accepting the latter's friend request is not like building a relationship.
posted by salvia at 11:00 AM on April 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Ignore it. Facebook requests as a detour to avoid having hard conversations are lame. If they can't suck it up and call you or suck it up and write you a big letter, I don't think it's worth even thinking about twice. It's a cowardly way to mend fences.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 11:06 AM on April 22, 2012

Person #1 is one of my parents. They are a much closer relationship than just "distant cousin I once had beef with", and they are very aware of the specific actions they did to my immediate family.

This is a difficult situation. This is your parent so naturally you are angry and naturally you would probably like to have some sort of relationship with them.

You were a teenager and were emotionally and financially wounded by a parent. I'm sorry this happened to you.

I see this Facebook request as a happy occasion -- an opening to have some sort of relationship with your parent. People grow, people change. I have been very angry at a parent. So angry that it nearly destroyed me. I was filled with resentment and anger. What I know now is that it didn't have to be that way. Right now I don't care if my parent ever apologizes. Right now I don't care if he sees it one way and I see it another. I have reached a point where I don't have to be "right" and I don't have to walk around filled with righteous indignation.

My parent never formally apologized. He did some crappy stuff and I was affected deeply but I am an adult now. I spent a lot of time being angry and that was my mistake. Here I was an adult, with my own life, my own house, husband and kids feeling so angry at what happened years and years ago. My parent makes an effort and behaves well. He is human and so I am I. That wasn't enough for me in the past (I yearned for some sort of vindication. I wanted to blame and I wanted everybody to know how I was screwed over. How I could it had it so good, but didn't. If it weren't for him, I could have, would have... Cry me a river.)

There is such freedom in forgiveness. There is freedom in being able to validate yourself and not expect others to validate you. I think I was waiting and waiting for my parent to be someone he wasn't. I was waiting for an apology that was never going to happen and right now I am so grateful. So grateful that I have the maturity to realize that my parent loves me deeply and never intended to hurt me. In the past I didn't want to believe my parent loved me or wanted the best for me because if I believed that I would have had to drop my victim story and I liked my victim story. It used to be my excuse.

I was so accustomed to concentrating on the bad and the negative aspects of my childhood and parent. It was how my brain was wired for a long time. Who knows when it started. It probably started at a young age when my parent did something that I thought a loving parent should never do. With every bad behavior it only solidified my thinking. It got to where I could see nothing good in my parent and there was plenty of good. As a kid you view things in black and white. You can still view things in this way as an adult if you are still holding anger against a parent. We have to see the shades of gray if we wish to live in an adult world. It's important not to view your parent with your teenaged brain. With therapy I was able to stop the negative thinking and stop the hate. Now, I concentrate on the positive. There is always a positive. Sounds trite but it has changed my life for the better.

Since I felt like I was terribly mistreated by this parent, and still maintained contact, I felt like a "fool" for hanging out with this parent and for maintaining contact. I had this attitude of: If I were smart, and had any kind of backbone, I would cut him off...He is so lucky that I talk to him...etc. You are not a fool if your parent never acknowledges the error of his ways. You are not a fool if you talk to him. You were a kid, you were hurt, and it sucked, but that was that. Another kid being hurt by their parent. You weren't the first and you won't be the last. There is peace when you practice grace: You hurt me but I won't hurt you. You never apologized but I can still enjoy your company.

Your parent may have matured, he may have not. He might think he did nothing wrong. He might be remorseful but doesn't know how to say he is sorry. You have to do some soul-searching and think about how this is going to sit with you and how you might react. You have the option of taking him in bits in pieces. You don't have to live with him, or her, but you can have some sort of contact and see where it goes. You are waiting for him to reach out further but you aren't a fool if you are the one to reach out.

Before you accept the friend request you could send him a message and ask what's up in a kind and honest way. "Hi dad (or mom), I was surprised to see this friend request this morning. How are you? See what happens. Be kind to yourself. Take it easy and take it slowly.
posted by Fairchild at 11:56 AM on April 22, 2012 [6 favorites]

"Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible." --14th Dalai Lama.

I really don't see how shooting off a vindictive letter is going to help. You could just ignore them, but this whole thing seems to be eating at you. Either figure out a way to forgive them -- the only real way of moving on -- or be kind in telling them that you're not ready to deal with the past and that you need more time [until you're ready to forgive them].

Whatever you decide, you don't have to like either relative, but there's nothing wrong with being polite. Even if you can't bear having any kind of relationship with them, you might even consider thanking them for taking the time to think of you.

Forgiving cruel or hateful people is one of the hardest things we do as people, but it's one of the most important, too. You might try looking into the Truth and Reconciliation Commission for inspiration.
posted by GnomeChompsky at 12:53 PM on April 22, 2012 [4 favorites]

The real question you have to ask is: Are you happier without them?

A few things to keep in mind:

#1: You cannot change another person. You can only change yourself. If you're hoping they've changed or might change, odds are high that they haven't and won't, which means that you have to accept them for what they are if you choose to reconnect.

#2: Most people aren't going to be able to relate to the decision you made to walk away from your family. And there's nothing you can do about that. They can't relate because they're lucky enough to not know what it's like.

#3: Happiness is a choice. If something or someone brings you more pain than joy, CHOOSE not to make that a part of your life.

#4: Forgiveness is a choice as well, but don't mistake forgiveness for a reason to reconnect. You only live once. Don't waste it on anything or anyone who isn't worthy of being part of what little time you have. Maybe you'll live another 70 years. Maybe you'll die next week. Life is precious. Don't waste it.

Best of luck!

And now, a big long P.S. I go through this in one form or another every five years. I'm the middle of five children and it's been between 12 years since I've seen any of them in person (18 years in some cases). My family has so many unresolved issues and all they want to do is fight. Like I said, once every five years or so, one of the four reaches out to me in some way to reconnect. It always (and I do mean ALWAYS) ends the same way: First, there's a bit of catching up, then a brief period of friendly fluff talk (on facebook, for example, I'll start seeing lots of compliments on my photography). And then comes some sort of reverse olive-branch where the family member tries to pull me into a stuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuupid family squabble. If I gracefully avoid the topic, the family squabble becomes about me taking the wrong side by not taking a side at all. It's all so unbelievably predictable and silly. Life is too short for that garbage. Happiness is a choice. I'm not saying one can simply choose to be happy, but one can absofrigginglutely choose to distance oneself from that which brings more negativity than positivity. Life is too short for that garbage.
posted by 2oh1 at 12:59 PM on April 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

As per your update...

I don't have a relationship with my parents for very valid reasons.

The advice is the same whether it is a distant cousin or an estranged parent -- ignore, delete, and block future requests.

PS. - That you feel the burning need to tell your parent off, it tells me you don't have any real peace yet about what happened. It's hard. I know.

I read recently that forgiveness is "giving up the hope for a better past." So in this scenario, your parent is still a POS (or however you feel about them), but by "giving up the hope for a better past" you can drop some of the anger and move forward.

You don't have to find what your parent did 10 years ago acceptable, just accept that you can't change what's already done.
posted by jbenben at 6:24 PM on April 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

Facebook friend requests aren't really about friendship much at all, more about a way to find out about someone, and share with them things about you. It doesn't necessarily mean they want to reconnect, but they may just be curious as to how you are doing.

My thought on what you should do comes down to this question: If they were contacting you to tell you that they were dying of cancer, and only had 6 months to live, and wanted to let you know, would you then want to have contact with them? If so, than you should accept their request, and then ask them why after so long they want to connect with you. Don't accuse them of anything, but give them an opportunity to communicate why they are trying to reconnect.

If the answer to the previous question is no, than ignore them. If finding out they are deathly ill is not reason for you to want to reach out to them, than they just aren't important to your life, and you shouldn't stress about it.

The main point I guess I'm trying to get across is that if you are going to regret not having contact with these people when they are no longer around, than you should try to fix that sooner rather than later.
posted by markblasco at 11:05 PM on April 22, 2012

In my experience, Fairchild is spot on. My relationships with members of my nuclear family have all suffered extensive estrangement at one time or another, and regardless of justification or fault, familial estrangement is hard and leaves a unique hole. People have varying concepts of truth and memory tends to serve its own interests. Although I highly value sincere honesty and trust, I’ve found that it takes so much less emotional energy to maintain a simple sort of relationship, even a casual “how’s the weather” type with those people I care for who simply can't, for whatever reason, understand or maintain what I'd consider to be an authentic relationship.

You don’t have to invest more of yourself than you are comfortable and just a tiny little bit is okay. This way, at least you won’t be flat out not speaking and spending your energy maintaining avoidance. It’s easier; it’s kinder and in the long run it may be better for everyone. Of course, it is painfully awkward at first, but it’s better to maintain contact on your own terms than to be caught by surprise in a situation that you aren’t emotionally prepared.
posted by blista at 10:47 AM on April 23, 2012

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