When to Unfriend on Facebook

When to Unfriend on Facebook

When do you unfriend on Facebook? If you’ve done it, did you have any regrets? We’re still in new territory when it comes to friendship boundaries online and all opinions are welcome here. Let us know what you would do in the same situation.


when to unfriend on Facebook

Do you have a question for Nina? Use our anonymous form. You can read Nina’s answers to past questions here.

Dear Nina,

Five years ago my best friend of thirteen years and I had a falling out. It took me five years to get over the tragic loss of this relationship and especially the lack of civility in our parting. I sent her a sappy email several times over the years. I even left a note at her house once, but she never acknowledged receiving it. That was the turning point when I forced myself to stop trying. I realized that she didn’t care, which helped me move on even though I missed the friendship.

Then out of nowhere, she called. She left me a voicemail and all at once I felt validated. “She does care,” I thought. “She doesn’t hate me. She misses me!”

Quickly though, I felt fear. After all, I had just gotten to a point where I really didn’t care if we ever talked again and it felt freeing and healthy. That said, I didn’t want to give up the opportunity to have a conversation that could lead to some closure. If calling her back meant that I would have resolution and that maybe we could be the kind of friends who send a Christmas card or just say “Hi,” every few years or so, then that would feel like a better way to honor the good years we had together. I didn’t want things to be so black and white.

I got up the nerve to call her back. I was so nervous, but I threw caution to the wind and left my shaky, awkward voicemail and then waited. She didn’t call me back. I felt as raw as when it had first happened five years earlier. How could she come back into my life and then disappear again?

Three months later I was coming off a huge project, I was on my way out of the country for a big trip, and I was on a great high from life. She texted me: “I think about you a lot and I hope that you and your family are doing great.” I almost texted right back in all my happy elation from the events and the text.

But then I stopped myself. How would I feel if she didn’t text back? I was back in economics 101, opportunity cost, weighing and measuring my reward to investment in a human relationship. So I didn’t text. I decided to see how I felt after my trip.

When I got back in town, I saw that she sent me a friend request on Facebook. I thought, “This is it! She’s serious about being in communication.” However, something didn’t feel right about a person who wasn’t there for me having full access to the history of my past five years and day-to-day life. On the other hand, I didn’t want to make a decision out of fear so I accepted the request and I wrote her back.

It was more of the same, “I hope you’re well.” I asked how she was and tried to start more of a conversation and her answers were one-word responses. I asked her more and she didn’t respond at all.

Communication to me is not a one liner. I am really happy to know that she thinks about me and that the freeze has melted, but her not returning my voicemail really hurt as did the way our friendship ended five years ago.

However, trying to come to a resolution with her sounds daunting, and I can see that she will never want to talk about what happened five years ago. I feel uncomfortable with her as a Facebook friend, but I fear that if I unfriend her, I will be sending a juvenile, “I’m still mad at you” message.

What do you think I should do?


Hovering Over the Unfriend Option


Dear Hovering Over the Unfriend Option,

Before we delve into your Facebook options, it’s worth mentioning that while your hurt feelings about the end of a thirteen-year friendship are completely understandable, you might have a false sense of how at peace you’d be if you only knew why your friend severed ties.

Having been dumped by a friend many years ago in much the same way you described, I know that it takes years to get over the loss. One of the main issues to contend with is the lack of control you had over the fate of the friendship as well as a total absence of closure.

I remember pouring my heart out to my former friend years later when we reconnected for a short time (in pre-Facebook years) and she generally said, “Oh that? I can’t remember.” It was wholly unsatisfying and her nonchalant attitude created a new sense of confusion over the good parts of the friendship, too.

The end of a friendship is tricky no matter how the details play out. If your friend had provided a list of reasons five years ago, I doubt you would have felt better about her unilateral decision. You might have felt more hurt and rejected.

Now let’s discuss the part of your predicament that affects many relationships on Facebook.

In “real life,” we don’t let every person we know into the inner circle, so how does the same decision-making function online? Who should get to see the status updates and pictures we share?

What does Facebook mean for you?

The answer to that question depends on how you view the role of Facebook. The discussion that follows pertains to Facebook friendships in general, not just your situation with this one particular friend. I also want to be clear that there is not one right answer for how one shares and receives information on Facebook.

My local (and Facebook!) friend, Dana, said, “I try to be selective on my social network and ask myself if I ran into this person would I be really excited to see them and maybe get a coffee. If not then they shouldn’t have so much access to my life on the Internet.”

For someone like me, a blogger for almost five years and a personal essay writer with work online, I have a looser set of boundaries for my virtual connections. I organize my Facebook friends in a way that lets me share photos of my kids with my “friends” category whereas my links to online essays I’ve written or enjoyed fall in the “public” or “friends” plus “acquaintances” categories. You have to keep your Facebook connections organized for the privacy functions to work this way. More on that later.

Nina’s policy: when to unfriend on Facebook

As for my personal policy on unfriending: I have never unfriended anybody because there are other options that are less extreme. Yes, I think unfriending can be an extreme choice, especially in the realm of close friends and family members. (Note that the friend at the center of your letter does not fit into either of those categories.)

If I felt that family members were criticizing my posts, I’d restrict their access. I’ve never felt the need to hide anyone else’s posts, but if a friend’s updates really bothered me, I would choose the hide or unfollow route before I unfriended. The unfriend and especially the block option seems more appropriate for when someone is harassing you with obnoxious comments or in any other capacity.

More reasons for hesitation about unfriending

When you choose to unfriend on Facebook, you’re saying, “I want to cut off all online access to that person as well as cut off that person’s access to me.” Let’s say you vehemently disagree with a friend’s politics, yet you still want to push “like” on a picture of her kids once in a while to stay connected. That is still possible with the hide, unfollow, and restrict options, but once you hit “unfriend,” any relationship on Facebook is over.

And I’d argue it damages the relationship off Facebook, too. It can be surprisingly hurtful to be on the receiving end of that kind of instant “I don’t want anything to do with you” message in a situation that really called for a more gentle approach.

All that said, in the case of your non-communicating former friend, I think that “unfriend” might still be the best choice. But for readers with different Facebook issues, let’s explore the other options in more detail.


When you go to a friend’s Facebook page, you will see a box under “friends” that says “following,” which is the default setting. “Following” means that this person’s posts can appear in the newsfeed. (The “newsfeed” are the posts you scroll through when you’re “reading” Facebook.) A friend will not know if you’ve chosen to unfollow her. If you open the drop down menu in the “following” box, you will see an option to “unfollow.”

By clicking unfollow, you’re telling Facebook to keep this person’s posts out of your feed. You will have the option to visit this person’s page any time you want because you’re still “friends,” but you won’t be confronted with her information in the feed. You can choose to follow this friend again at any time, such as after the election season, a year after her book release, or whenever you’re ready to see her posts in the newsfeed again.


Next to each Facebook post there’s an arrow with a drop down menu. The first option in the menu is “hide post.” If you want to only see a friend’s posts occasionally, then Facebook will get the idea and stop showing you her posts so often if you hide her posts now and then. Again, nobody gets notified when you hide a post.


The restrict option requires knowing how to make friend lists and how to choose the audience for each post. Facebook has good tutorials for both. (This one is for lists. This is one for audience selection.) People do not know when they’ve been added or removed from your lists.

Here is what Facebook says about the “restricted” list: “Putting someone on the Restricted list means that you’re still friends, but that you only share your posts with them when you choose Public as the audience, or when you tag them in the post. For example, if you’re friends with your boss and you put them on your Restricted list, then post a photo and choose Friends as the audience, you aren’t sharing that photo with your boss, or anyone else on your Restricted list. However, if you tag your boss in the photo, or chose Public as the audience, they’ll be able to see the photo.”

 Sometimes unfriending is best 

 The restrict and unfollow combo might do the trick in this situation, and it’s certainly the easier path to take, but another wise friend of mine in town had this to say about your question. I think her view is worth considering.

“From what I’ve read, it sounds like the friend who disappeared five years ago hasn’t reconnected on Facebook at all except for making the friend request. She hasn’t replied to the Facebook message, she hasn’t commented on pictures. Does she ever push like on a post or a picture? If not, there are not really any virtual ties except for the fact they are ‘friends on Facebook.’

Maybe the friend accidentally requested her to be a friend. Maybe the friend has hidden the letter writer from her newsfeed and doesn’t ever attempt to have access to her life. It sounds like having the former friend as a ‘friend’ on Facebook is causing too much distress and better to unfriend and move on. If the letter writer just unfollows or restricts the former close friend, the temptation to revisit the past is harder to ignore.

I agree that unfriending is harsh, but in this case, unfriending seems appropriate as the letter writer initially accepted the request hoping that they could reconnect, which didn’t happen. There may be reasons that have nothing to do with the letter writer specifically, but since she’s not getting any response, it seems it’s time to end the virtual (non) relationship.”

When someone gets unfriended, she does not receive a notification, but she will see that you’re not friends if she were ever to visit your page. You will also no longer have access to her page unless she posts some updates as “public.” To my wise friend’s point, restricting your access to her information might be an important step in moving on from this past relationship.

 The main problem, the bigger problem than the Facebook one, is that you are still mad at your old friend.

You have a right to feel rejected, however, you already know that your intense focus on that hurt has not helped you. The old friendship, the way it ended, and the small ways that this friend has weakly reached out then scurried back into oblivion have already required too much emotional energy. So yes, I agree that some Facebook boundaries are in order with this friend. I just can’t say definitively which route to take.

 Perhaps some of the HerStories readers have a stronger opinion. Comment away, readers!

Editor’s note: The topic of unfriending on Facebook has become even more complicated because of last year’s election. We did a survey of the effects of the election on friendships. You might be surprised to learn how many of our readers have been unfriended (or have unfriended themselves) because of politics! (Here’s the post.)


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  1. Dana says:

    Nina, this question had me riveted since your teaser last week! It’s certainly a tricky situation, but I agree with both you and your friend – unfriending is a big statement to make. It’s an ending, a true cutting off, when, like you say, there are other less harsh options out there. But, if the questioner is truly done with the friendship, then perhaps this is the answer for her.

    Also, thank you SO much for some much needed info about settings and lists on Facebook. I’m relatively new to it and your mini tutorial with links here really helped me out!
    Dana recently posted…Magical ThinkingMy Profile

    • Nina says:

      Thank you, Dana! I will tell you that for bloggers and anyone else who forms many online relationships, things get tricky with the Facebook lists. Answering, “Is this person a friend?” is not so straightforward. For a while I used to put anyone I’ve never met in the “acquaintance” category on FB, and then only choose “friends” when I had pictures of my family. But as years went on (I’ve almost been blogging for 5 years), I got to know people so well online that I felt/feel closer to many of them then people I do know in town. You know what I mean!?
      Nina recently posted…Unfriending on FacebookMy Profile

      • Dana says:

        Yes, I do! Some of my current friendships that feel the most authentic and balanced are ones I’ve made online. I’m about to tackle Lists on FB, wish me luck 🙂
        Dana recently posted…Magical ThinkingMy Profile

  2. Big congrats on one year, Nina!

    I agree that the answer to this one lies with the letter writer. If it were me, I would probably restrict and unfollow as an exercise in letting go. That feels, to me, like being the bigger person, and that’s why I try to do. That said, sometimes that’s just not going to happen. If the writer knows she won’t be able to do that, I’d go ahead and unfriend. What a crummy situation.
    Annie Neugebauer (@AnnieNeugebauer) recently posted…The Hadal ZoneMy Profile

  3. Dana says:

    I think unfollowing is the way to go. It closes the door on a friendship that is causing Hovering stress, but it doesn’t lock the door. I get the sense that she isn’t ready or willing to do that, and that’s understandable. She can always unfriend later, but once it’s done, there is no going back.
    Dana recently posted…Talk to your kids and #StopMedAbuseMy Profile

    • Nina says:

      I have a few good friends in town who took themselves off Facebook permanently. I respect it, but couldn’t do it! I really enjoy the connections I have there. And it’s also where so much of my blog traffic comes from!
      Nina recently posted…Unfriending on FacebookMy Profile

  4. P.S. Re: following/unfollowing, I *loved* your line, “You can choose to follow this friend again at any time, such as after the election season, a year after her book release, or whenever you’re ready to see her posts in the newsfeed again.”

    That’s a perfect strategy! 😉

    Thanks for a fantastic post,
    Dyane Leshin-Harwood recently posted…The Unfriending – October UpdateMy Profile

  5. Another reason I’m glad I have resisted the temptation to join Facebook… It’s so complicated! Friendships can be challenging enough in real life, let alone having to categorize and place friends/acquaintances into certain pockets/folders regarding how much information you do or do not share (But I can see how this is necessary and valuable in this new world on online friendships). Helpful post, even for me — one of the world’s last Facebook holdouts! 😉
    Melissa Crytzer Fry recently posted…Elusive VisitorMy Profile

  6. I like the idea to restrict or hiding the information the letter writer’s friend can see. It’s the low fuss way to go about it.

    But at this point it sounds like the letter writer doesn’t owe her former friend anything. Unfriending might be the best way to move on. To be a bit blunt — who cares what the former friend thinks about being unfriended?

    Maybe the letter writer is still hoping for the elusive closure on this friendship. To your excellent point, Nina, “If your friend had provided a list of reasons five years ago, I doubt you would have felt better about her unilateral decision. You might have felt more hurt and rejected.” The best closure is getting on with your life while honoring the good memories you shared. If it means unfriending on FB to enable you to do both of those things, then so be it.
    Jackie Cangro recently posted…The One With EntitlementMy Profile

  7. Paula says:

    I really wished that I had remembered the unfollow option when I recently unfriended someone because of their political posts. I do enjoy his regular posta as they are so funny, plus he’s a good friend of my boyfriend. Lesson learned to not be so quick to unfriend people!

    I do agree that unfriending may be the best course for Hovering Over the Unfriend Option. I think the temptation to visit her friend’s page would be hard to ignore if she just unfollows her. And that would just bring up more pain.

    • Nina says:

      I have unfollowed people on Twitter then regretted it later. It is awkward to refollow, for sure, and I’ve tried to be more careful in that decision since those few times. I’m sorry you’ve had that regret on FB!
      Nina recently posted…Unfriending on FacebookMy Profile

  8. Arnebya says:

    I think we need to pay more attention to our reasons for accepting/requesting friendships to begin with. I’m noticing a few in my feed who I don’t remember AT ALL. I think I may have met them at a conference because of the number of people (and who they are) we have in common, but I don’t know them. Rather than unfriend (because now I can’t remember if they sent the request or I did), I unfollow or hide or restrict what they can see. I agree, Nina, that if a person is harassing there’s no coming back from that.

    Great advice to the letter writer. This “friendship” doesn’t want to be nurtured because both participants aren’t participating or wanting the same thing for the future of the friendship. Stop feeling bad about it and go with your gut. She doesn’t deserve to see your life (I want to be more merciful and think there are valid reasons, but if she hasn’t/isn’t offering those, move on, whether it’s unfriending or unfollowing.)
    Arnebya recently posted…SundayMy Profile

    • Nina says:


      That first sentence is such an important point. I think this particular situation probably called for not accepting the FB request in the first place. And in general, YES, we should all probably be a bit choosier in the first place. Thank you for bringing that up!
      Nina recently posted…Unfriending on FacebookMy Profile

  9. Oh, this information is so helpful, Nina. Facebook can be such a sticky wicket. Ever since joining I’ve struggled with keeping my profile private from people I’m friends with at work in my day job. I use FB mainly to connect with other writers, or people I don’t see every day. But inevitably, people at work ask me if I am on Facebook, or just find me using my name. I usually ignore most requests. It’s too uncomfortable to have people from the office seeing my blog posts. Now maybe I can accept some of those overtures, and simply categorize them. I feel for the letter writer here. As Annie said: “It’s a crummy situation.” In some ways FB reminds me of the locker-slamming days of high school, and blocking or unfriending is the equivalent of sticking someone’s head in the toilet.

    • Nina says:

      The only thing I will warn you about is that if you accept them and categorize them, you have to remember to choose your audience manually for every post. It’s not hard, just something to get used to.
      Nina recently posted…Unfriending on FacebookMy Profile

  10. Tamara says:

    It’s true. Sometimes it’s the way to go for sure. I have only unfriended a few times, and it was never anyone I really knew well. Sometimes they were just too offensive for the unfollow button.
    I LOVE that button, though, and with election season coming, I use it more than I should admit.
    Tamara recently posted…Anything Can Happen on Halloween!My Profile

  11. Allie says:

    I think you are a genius and should hang a shingle outside your door. Perfect answer – and I am extremely grateful for the FB tutorial! I am off to restrict and unfollow a few “friends:)”!
    Allie recently posted…The Books of My LifeMy Profile

  12. This is SUCH a complicated issue – especially since, as women, we read into it all. My husband gets unfriended or unfollowed and his response is, “eh, we didn’t have that much in common anyhow.” But I have been the subject of a few noticeable unfriendings (including from a relative – awwwwkwwward) and for me it is an issue of closure. I want to know what I did, because as far as I was concerned in all cases we were great. I actually asked one of my unfrienders in real life, face to face, why, and she feigned innocence, unprepared for a true conversation. And the weirdest part, it still hurt? It really hurt my feelings.
    ALL THAT PERSONAL THERAPY TO SAY – be so, so careful who you unfriend and why (as Nina notes) because it really does matter. It is certainly a loud message. It isn’t unheard of or unreasonable, but it does require thought.
    Always love Nina’s essays and thoughts here, and congrats to 1 year! (When are these being made into a book!? 🙂 )
    Allison carter recently posted…The answer.My Profile

  13. Shari says:

    I had this problem myself, a very close friend ditched me in a time of need and then unfriended my boyfriend. The whole thing was very hurtful, but I had such a hard time hitting “unfriend”. (even after I’d unfollowed her… friendships are so complicated) I thought that if I was going to put her in my restricted group, I might as well unfriend her (as she isn’t local). I lost my job again and felt awkward about her seeing it (since that was one of the things that happened in my “time of need”) and it lead me to confront her, which was the best thing that I could have done for me. I said all of the things that I needed to say, even knowing that I might never get a response – it was what I needed to get closure. I wanted to know that I’d done what I could and felt no regrets if I pressed that button. To my surprise, she replied AND apologized – although her reasoning was lame and she admitted as much. I don’t know if we’ll ever be close again, but we are still friends on Facebook. I found what I needed and that made a big difference in my peace of mind. (and I think I would’ve felt the same way if she hadn’t replied…)

    • Nina says:

      This is such a nice example of reaching out for closure and it working. I think it was essential that would have been okay with just expressing yourself and not hearing an answer. Thanks for sharing your experience here!
      Nina recently posted…Unfriending on FacebookMy Profile

  14. Nina, great advice and I particularly like the fact that you address the role of Facebook. When I began blogging, there was NO WAY I’d have friended a computer friend on FB, much less a reader who I didn’t interact with mutually (as in we read one another but the one-sided). After my LTYM video, I ended up loosening my “standards” (that sounds weird but I know you know what I mean), and became FB friends more loosely. At the time, I still didn’t have many of my IRL people aware of my blog… Now, I’m pretty open to the friending but also have a new sensitivity — one in which I get tagged and decline the tag due to not wanting my IRL people seeing some of the things I publish elsewhere. Anyway, that’s beside the point but maybe just another aspect of the many faces of facebook.
    Kristi Campbell recently posted…Being Thankful while Others WeepMy Profile

  15. Gail Freedman says:

    I say unfollow. If she was to unfriend it shows she is hurt, and giving the ‘F.U.’ to this person. Why not wish her well, unfollow, and go about life enjoying each day to the fullest? Don’t give away it so much of your energy, time, and mental capacity to something negative.

    Thanks also Nina for the FB tutorial. I learned some things and I’ve since unfollowed several friends and abusive family members!

  16. Sarah says:

    That is a tough situation. I’m not on Facebook (I know, I know…) but I agree. There are so many other options now on social media, it seems like unfriending would be a last resort. On the other hand, I agree with your parting quote that sometimes, it’s probably the best thing to do.
    Sarah recently posted…Poetry is Every DayMy Profile

  17. Kira says:

    All good points. I have been more judicious in who I allow to have full access to my Facebook page. I’ve also unfriended some casual “friends” who turned out to be racist, radical or only use their Facebook pages to sell stuff.

    I have a friend who, to use a somewhat strange phrase for a friendship, broke up with me. I was so hurt I hid her page from my feed and hid my posts from hers. We’ve recently tentatively reconnected online, but I am not sure if we will actually get together.

  18. Claudia says:

    I really think she should “unfriend” this “friend.” Letting her friend continue to have access to her, having the option to check up on her later, will keep her susceptible to the disequilibrium _any contact_ with this friend has brought. She’s had several years to prove she’s capable of communicating with Hovering in a caring way that shows she’s deserving of her friendship. She’s blown it each and every time and has left Hovering feeling bad. That’s called being a toxic friend. By unfriending her, Hovering gets to draw the line on what sort of friendships she chooses have in her life. There’s no evidence that Hovering’s friend will ever behave differently. I don’t think Hovering owes her any more opportunities or chances to find out. Everyone deserves more than what this so-called friend has to offer for friendship, especially after everything that’s happened between them.

  19. jOelc says:

    I had a serious disagreement with a lady friend and she unfriended me in facebook. A few weeks later, I thought that we had made up and put the event behind us. She sent me a friend request which I accepted. The next day, I noticed that her prior posts were gone. I went to her wall and noticed that access to her friends list and photos was gone. The only posts that I could see were public. A message to her was met with defiance as she defended her right to limit anyone’s access to her facebook wall. I gave her an ultimatum about game playing. She promptly blocked me and turned off messenger. Clearly, she had not put the disagreement behind her. A later phone text clarified her standing, as she stated ‘this is not a friendship’. The disagreement involved deceit on her part to manipulate our relationship. To get caught must have been humiliating for her. She projected her feelings on to me by controlling my facebook access to her.

  20. Marg says:

    I think this cruel woman has merited the eject button. If there was any hope for a friendship of any kind, even casual I would say keep the various options available. But to ACTUALLY unfriend and then virtually be a faux friend seems like a double whammy. It’s actually freeing and I think will hasten the final recovery time-rather than being exposed to “Allison has checked into the Watergate Hotel!” Or whatever. Agreed re other commenters, unfriending is extreme. However I have dear friends who I actually love who have rather annoying virtual personalities so I unfollow sometimes-i don’t take that so seriously. And I mostly am also relieved I’ve unfriended certain people over the years, with some notable exceptions. Rule of thumb-don’t unfriend any potential work associates, relatives or people you’ll have repeated social interactions with. The rest can go.

    Facebook to me is 85% insipid and awful but great for events and networking 🙂

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