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Moving on online

Grieving statue
Grieving statue
Kevin Gessner,

My brother and I are friends on Facebook.

So what?

Tim died two years ago.

Facebook was a gift in the days and weeks after Tim's death. It let me spread information about the loss easily.

Even better, his distant friends found me on and emailed me through Facebook. They asked for information and gave consolation.

Because Tim had deactivated, but not closed, his Facebook account, it can't be set for memorial. It's in online limbo.

I know that my mother still emails my brother. I'm glad that she has that source of comfort.

Lorraine Czarnota was mother-in-law to one friend and mother to two more. I met her a few times and she was very nice to me and we became friends on Facebook.

Lorraine has been gone for over a year.

Words with Friends keeps suggesting her as an opponent.

I know that I need to unfriend Tim and Lorraine.

We used to know exactly when a relationship started - when we met in person for the first time - and about when it ended. Death was clear, break-ups were face-to-face, residential and vocational moves were usually enough.

Now, our online lives persist indefinitely, unnaturally. We haven't yet found a balance on this point.

Dating sites are full of persons expecting "chemistry," which seems to be a combination of rapport and lust. You trade emails and then texts full of hope and experience and projection, then maybe a call or two, then you meet and expect things to "begin."

We usually judge the start of a connection in hindsight, because the email led to meeting led to dating or the introduction led to friendship, etc.

Endings are harder to spot. If we have been dating and we saw each other on Monday and then I tell you on Thursday that I don't want to see you again, on what day did we break up?

In reality, it doesn't matter.

What does matter is that I don't want to date this person now, but obsessions and stalkers live in the disputed borderlands and they grind warm, soft kindnesses into hot, sharp edges.

During the collapse of a serious romantic connection, it seems wise to (1) unfriend (2) block and (3) choose a mutually-trusted person as a safety valve.

The safety valve is not there to mediate or resolve, but simply as one person with access to the posts made by both. S/he is a check on the tendency to rant and slander, protecting the poster at least as much as the potentially-posted-about.

The safety valve is not there to file reports, just to reassure both sides that nothing horrible is being scrawled on the other side of that wall. The safety valve eases the pressure, reduces the fear, prevents conflict.

We often friend persons at jobs and schools and in neighborhoods, even though the connections are more like acquaintances. We may go along to get along and there is great benefit in these weak social bonds.

They're the basis of community and potential friendships.

What happens after one of you leaves, though?

Depending on how deeply you share online - and let's remember that anything online is public and permanent - it may be perfectly fine to let these weak bonds endure.

The following seem to be some good general guidelines:

* don't sustain a connection with anyone who upsets you
* don't sustain a connection with anyone whom you have outgrown
* unfriend and block the other during the collapse of a serious relationship
* remember that you can unblock and refriend later
* don't friend anyone whom you supervise or who supervises you
* from time to time, look through your connections and determine if you want to keep each one

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