It was one of those relationships that I wonder why I struck up in the first place. She was a former high school classmate. Not a former girlfriend. Not even a friend. Just a classmate and one with whom I was never on particularly good terms. She had a seething hostility about her in the years that I really knew her. But, it's fair to say that I did, too. I just did a slightly better job of hiding it
I had left her in the mid-80s as barely an asterisk in my life. Occasionally I would think of her, but only in a "where are they now" bit of brief curiosity before moving on to matters more demanding of my attention. And then came the age of personal computers which spawned the age of Facebook and, suddenly, I knew where she had been and what she had been doing all along.
Like all things tech, I was not a Facebook first adopter but I was in the first big wave of general acceptance, signing up in 2008 or 2009. I was suddenly in contact with people from the past 30 years of my life. Mostly this was a good thing. Some people collect "friends" on Facebook. My rule was that if we were to be friends online we had to have some real-world connection. And people whom I barely knew before became genuinely good friends. But not all of them.
Her connection was as a former classmate. We had nothing else in common. I was a convert to orthodox Catholicism. She was a convert to reform Judaism. I am a conservative Republican. She is a very liberal Democrat. In the time before you could sort your Facebook friends into groups, we tolerated each other's political and religious differences. If one of us posted something disagreeable to the other, we allowed the other to have their say. We shared the light moments of Facebook, congratulated each other on our achievements and, generally, conversed amiably in the electronic world.
One thing I've found about Facebook, though, is that the social-networking behemoth is the Great Sifter of relationships. You find out, either quickly or over time, more about the people whose lives you are sharing on a daily basis than you ever would in a strictly offline relationship. For some of my friends, that has meant a strenghthening of bonds between us. For others, it has meant the end of what would have been in the real-world fine, see-you-every-now-and-again acquaintanceships. The online world just exhausted our few commonalities too quickly.
This week, I unfriended her. She had posted something particularly offensive to the Catholic faith and I had responded. Normally, that would have been that. But, she then made me aware that the post was not for me but for her liberal friends. Good, could she then put me in a group where I would not be offended or need to partake in what she had not intended for me? Her response was that she would post as she wished and it was up to me to restrain myself and filter her posts as I saw fit.
So, I started to do just that. However, as I used the controls to take her posts out of my news feed I realized that, in doing so, for all that I would now see of her I might as well hit "unfriend." I restrained myself, though, until she made a general posting informing all that if they didn't like what she posted to everyone, then they were welcome to leave her friendship behind. She ended it with Douglas Adams's now classic brush-off "So long, and thanks for all the fish."
If you haven't read the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series then you probably aren't my age. Or you are my age, but were generally well-adjusted in high school. Suffice to say it means "We've had a fine relationship based on shared, fleeting interests, but now is good-bye." She was telling me, personally, through her general post, that she knew she was offending me and no longer cared to make any accommodation to avoid doing so.
Once that sank in, my thoughts, which I didn't share in return, were of Ford Prefect, the Hitchhiker's character—both very alien and very British—saying "Yes, it is, as you say, goodbye."
I don't dismiss any relationship lightly and the thought of this one hung around as I was reading the Catholic blogs all fiercely critical (and justly so) of the new mandate from the Obama administration that Catholic institutions pay for the birth control and sterilization procedures of their employees through government-required insurance policies.
Very uncharacteristically, our American bishops, who are second only to Episcopalians in their ability to smooth over differences with the culture through capitulation, to a man stood up and said that they would not do so. Further, they were shocked, they said, that the president would insist on them participating in immoral activity. But, while the president was willing to allow that it be presented in a slightly different way, the effect was the same—Catholic institutions would be directly participating in mortal sin. If the bishops didn't like it, well, that was tough. That's the way it's going to be.
It was, I knew, the bishops' own Facebook moment.
It had been a long time coming. Forged in decades past, the bishops have been in an uneasy relationship with the American government since they signed on to the New Deal idea that government aid—money extracted from unwilling payers and given to others—is the same as the charity Catholic institutions engage in.
The bishops and the American government started growing apart in the 1960s and 1970s as the interests of the government in birth control and abortion grew, but the differences were smoothed over as the bishops started taking government grants to pursue their various charitable works. They justified their cooperation by saying that they weren't involved in the sinful works of the government only the good ones. There was no longer a friendship between them but there was amiable conversation and mutual respect.
Until there wasn't.
Two institutions with a connection in the past but no real connection in the present, and both committed to different ends. The bishops implored that they be put in a group where they would not be offended or need to partake in sin. And the answer was no.
One wonders if the bishops will have the courage to click "unfriend."