Proper Facebook Etiquette

#721 A re-friend request for my father on Facebook

Wednesday 11th March, 2009

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I have recently received a Facebook message from an ex-girlfriend of my father’s (their relationship was pre him and my mother). There has been no contact for decades (my parents have been married for 30+ years) and she wanted to know if I could put her in touch with my father (Dad is not on Facebook).

Growing up, I knew of her by mention from my grandparents who used to compare her (quite openly) to my mother. My mother is not fond of this particular ‘friend from the past’ and after I mentioned her to Dad, he shrugged it off but did acknowledge that a friendship or rekindling of any kind would hurt my mother – though at no fault of this other woman.

I’m in a tricky situation and I do not want to be rude and ignore her message, yet I also do not want to hurt my mother. I seem to be in the middle of an impossible situation. Any suggestions?

Whether there is likely to be a future relationship between this ‘other woman’ and your father is really up to your father and Her to work out between them. You mention that your parents have been married for a good 30 years and do not hint at any kind of rift in their relationship. Ultimately what you have here are adults in a complex and densely layered situation. Both your and your father’s concern is likely to stem from the motivation of Her.

Once She was a leading light in your father’s life, to the extent that your grandparents and their continual mention of the relationship affirmed Her status. As a result there is justifiable apprehension about the forces that are determining Her impetus for contact. From your point of view I can appreciate how you are very much ‘stuck in the middle’. Your father’s unwillingness to state firmly what he wants is akin to those situations where a child cannot make up their mind and wants to be led through a complex situation by someone who is perceived as ‘wiser’. The danger here is that in the long-term it is you who will be held responsible if there are any negative repercussions or fall-out. If you do put them back in touch you may hurt your mother and/or risk a rift between your father and mother. If you choose not to put your father back in touch then in the long-term he may regret, and, thus, resent you for it.

Tricky. You could attempt to lead a rational conversation with both your father and mother about the kind of contact they are prepared to have with Her. As a course of action before you proceed with this method would be a sounding out with your mother (a one-on-one) about how she feels about not the other woman, but the potential for a friendship and presence within all your lives. In our lives we all have connections at different times that we hold dear. No relationship is fixed in certainty, nor should be taken-for-granted in terms of its status. This is where the threat arises for your mother. Not in terms of this woman ‘taking your father away’, but because they shared a closeness that she was not part of and that was important before she was on the scene. A set of threatening social credentials that is enough to intimidate or cause anxiety for anyone. On the other hand this could be for the positive all round. Your father is reacquainted with a (now) friend. Your mother is closer to your father as she is a part of their connection and is included with their communication and reunion – making her status reaffirmed in her eyes and more secure. And you get to find out a little bit more about one of your parents – a fascinating endeavour as I am constantly reminded with my own father.

The best course of action would be to proceed with the level of emotional reflection and protection that you outline in your dilemma. Your potential inaction stems from a desire to protect those closest to you – so both your mother and father, as well as the monitoring of the connection between your father and Her. As a ‘holding’ situation you could reply to Her that your father is not ‘Facebook savvy’ and that you have passed on her contact details to him. The implication being that the ball is very firmly in his court, with the expectation would be that she not contact you again and he make up his own mind as to whether he gets back in touch. I would resist from making any promises about whether he will be in touch or not. Ultimately this is where things should have been in the first place. It is your father’s decision, not yours, and not (entirely) your mother’s, about whether he wants to re-establish contact. What your dilemma hints at are the consequences of such actions and in particular for your mother. This is something that can only be negotiated after contact has been re-established.

An altogether more ‘sly’ tactic would be to take your father at his word, or rather his ‘shrug’, and take things into your own hands. Set up a Facebook account for your father. Contact Her and let her know the details and let them both go from there… I would make very clear on his page that he ‘in a relationship’ for his status. And post lots of pictures of you as a family. There’s another opportunity here for your own surveillance of their contact – but that would be way below any kind of social etiquette and perhaps borders on the lines of the stalker-ish. I suggest that such particular courses of action are below you, but might hold a different kind of appeal if you were say in your mothers position.

In short keep everything as out in the open as possible. Prompt your father into action – this time without the shrug-off. If he does continue to avoid the issues mention that you have sent a message in answer that mentions he is not interested in re-gaining contact. That should be sufficient to bring to the surface his real motivations and take you out of the potential game of piggy in the middle.

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