In truth, this post also applies to anyone with friends and family, but the title was long enough.
A few years ago, when I was in college, I started dating D, who would become my wife. However, at almost the exact same time, I discovered that another girl had fallen for me (truth is stranger than fiction, indeed). Unfortunately, she was very obvious about it, and a bit relentless. She’d throw casual remarks that really served no other purpose other than to allure me. So, frustrated by all this, I did what everybody does:
I talked about it on the internet.
Facebook was my particular medium this time. I didn’t even use her name, but I let her know exactly how much her intrusion on my relationship ticked me off. Well, as often happens, she discovered it, and instantly knew it was about her. Since I’d already made the ordeal public by putting it online, she merely responded vehemently. I don’t remember all she said, but I remember one pivotal phrase:
“Why couldn’t you just talk to me about it like an adult?!”
That’s how I learned a critical lesson about being and adult, having any kind of relationship with any other human being, and living in the internet age.
Never put your inter-relational difficulties online.
If you’re having trouble with a friend, a spouse, a love, a co-worker, or a family member, never EVER put it on the internet.
As bloggers, one of the things that makes us marketable is our realism. People like to read about people with whom they can relate. It’s good to share our troubles and our struggles, and at times, even our disagreements with people. But there’s a very bold line that is crossed when we take our private arguments to the bloggosphere…or Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, anything public (and all the internet is public).
I’ve seen it countless times. Facebook rants about people they hate. Twitter updates about how much they hate their boyfriend/girlfriend. Blog posts about what a lousy husband/wife they have. I can think of a dozen examples, but to use them would be to do exactly what I’m talking about, and I want to emphasize the problem, not shame the people doing it over a public forum.
These online diatribes do nothing more than damage the relationship you have with that person. It goes behind their back, taking what is meant to be private and putting it in public. This is a betrayal of trust. How can somebody put their confidence in you if you take them to the internet and vilify them?
Yes, yes you ARE vilifying them! How could you not be? You’re online, complaining about what so-and-so did or how hard it is to be with them, even if you don’t say their name. You’re saying, in one form or another, “aren’t they so awful? Don’t you agree with me that they’re wrong and need to stop?” When you write your online story of pain, you cast the other person as the villain.
Show some courage. As in my example above, most of us rant online because we’re too cowardly to talk to their face. Yes, cowardly! COWARDLY! I was a coward when I spoke to the world instead of that girl who liked me. A coward hides behind the screen of anonymity that the internet (falsely) provides. A coward takes potshots from the sidelines. A coward gathers a hundred real and virtual friends to their side because they’re afraid to stand alone.
The courageous man or woman walks boldly into the battlefield, not hanging around the edges, but marching right into the fray. They march alone if they must, because they are strong enough to stand on their own two feet. The brave put themselves in danger of rebuke, anger, and the horrors of the truth being spilled out. I’m not being sarcastic; shattering the bubble of happy illusion is terrifying, but the brave don’t want to live in a lie.
Show some class. These fights are not for the world to know. Nobody had any business known that this girl was worming her way into my relationship with my new girlfriend, but I posted it anyway. How did it concern anybody but the three of us? What good could anybody have done? NONE! Why? Because I wasn’t actually looking to fix the problem. I was just wanting to point a spotlight on it. So I pointed the almighty internet finger at her, so all eyes were on her, honing in the great spotlight of shame on her face.
And it backfired. She grabbed that spotlight and shone it right on me, for I was just as guilty. She pointed out that a civilized grown up would keep the matter private instead of embarrassing the guilty party. A quiet talk would have been a hundred times more effective and neither of us would have been the bad guy. Each of us could have saved face, but because of my actions, neither of us did. I speak of myself, but also the world.
Show some love. As I said before, these posts vilify the other person. What’s worse is it’s often a boyfriend/girlfriend or even a spouse. Why are you trying to make them out to be the bad guy/girl? Aren’t they your friend? Aren’t they your family? Aren’t they your love? Why are you fighting against them instead of for them?!
There are healthy fights, but in those fights, you fight together against a problem, not separately against each other! Fight together! You’re on the same side! Show some compassion for your fellow man, instead of a burning desire to be right. Fight to remove the wedge between you. Isn’t your relationship important to you? If not, why are you complaining at all, much less online?
But what if I’ve tried talking to them? What if they don’t listen? What if they really do want to be my enemy?
T hose are hard questions and most should be dealt with on a case-by-case basis, but here’s some general advice that applies to most situations: fight the problem, not the person. Point out the problem in love, build up that other person, even if you don’t feel like it. Show your courage. Show your class. Show your love. And if they don’t listen, do what you must to protect yourself and others, but not a hair more.
Fortunately, I ended up taking that girl’s advice. I spoke to her in person and apologized for my childish behavior. She forgave me and agreed to stop intentionally flirting with me. We actually maintained a friendship out of that–never that close for obvious reasons, but we were on good terms once more because we were brave enough to talk to each other, classy enough to keep it between those involved, and loving enough to think of each other as friends, not enemies.
Fight well, fight fair, but above all, keep it in the ring.