Long ago, when I was graduating from high school, I asked demanded my mom give me some deep life advice. As I recall, she was cooking dinner and was somewhat distracted. I don’t remember offering to help or setting the table. I do remember pestering her (something about her sole duty as a mother was to impart wisdom onto me).
She finally stopped chopping vegetables and said, “Here’s a piece of advice: Don’t. Be. An. Asshole.”
That is really good advice.
I tried to follow it in college and the years that followed. When I found myself slipping into less-than-kind behaviors, I remembered Mom’s words (actually, I remembered her pointing her kitchen knife at me and proffering said advice) and tried to hit the pause button.
Alas, life, my personality, my human-ness kicked in and—shocking, I know—there were times I was an asshole.
There still are. Most recently I found myself in the awkward position of explaining to a friend I really like and admire why I had unfriended her on Facebook and asking if she’d let me re-friend her.
The backstory: This friend is a lively and beloved woman, and she has a rich social life. I’d caught wind of an evening out she’d planned and not invited me to, and I immediately pictured a CRAZY girls’ night out, full of margaritas and dancing and temporary amnesia about anything remotely domestic or maternal. Naturally, extrovert that I am, I felt deeply excluded and sorry for myself.
Rather than find out if I actually had missed out on the party of the year or—and I realize this would have been the most mature option—acknowledging to myself that I can’t get invited to everything and be OK with that, I hustled on over to Facebook, called up her page and defriended her.
Ha! That’ll show her.
The thing is, this is not the first time I’ve done something like this. There’s something about defriending someone that makes the action the 21st century equivalent of hanging up the phone. I’ll get the last word in, this rash action says.
Weeks went by and then my friend called and left a sweet message on my voicemail saying it had been far too long since we connected and what was I up to.
I knew I couldn’t return the call without coming clean, so I fessed up. I emailed her to tell what I did and why, and I think I might have even used the word “asshole” in my missive. She wasn’t thrilled. My reaction struck her as really defensive (it was) and unconstructive (true, that). She explained that the BIG night out that had prompted my reaction was actually an intimate dinner with a few friends she’s known for a very long time.
As we were emailing back and forth, I thought of my mom’s advice. Part of not being an asshole is admitting your flaws and taking responsibility when you’ve hurt other people’s feelings. It’s not insisting your way is RIGHT or JUSTIFIED. So I apologized and admitted I’d been immature. I explained that I struggle with rejection (not just with her, but with life in general…I’d much rather REJECT than be rejected, and the Facebook “friend” is a perfect proxy for that). And I told her I didn’t mean it.
Just because I banished her online life from my online life for a month or two did not mean I wanted to end our friendship.
“I’m sorry,” I wrote. “I did have a strong emotional reaction. I’ll own that. It was immature and petty. You are right. The best I can do is be honest about my intention and own it.”
I told her I hoped we could move forward and the ball was in her court. Fortunately, she met me where I was at and we moved on.
We’re back to being friends on Facebook now, and we’re in better touch. I’m very glad about that.
I’m also grateful to have had the experience of having to come out from behind the Facebook curtain and question my actions and motives. The more I think about it, the more I treasure that advice Mom gave me in our kitchen so many years ago. Not being an asshole is the project of a lifetime, one ripe with reflection, acceptance, and humility. I’m glad I have friends who can remind me of this.