In a world where we’re more connected than ever, is social media making it too easy to hold a grudge?

“Well I hope you have a nice life, you’ll never hear from me again” I screamed down the phone before slamming it down with such veracity that the handset cracked. Fortunately, this was back in 1999 (no man is worth filing a claim on my phone insurance in 2020), so the damage was negligible, but my blood was boiling. Tom Hegarty (name changed to protect the IDIOT) wasn’t taking me out that night, he was taking one of my classmates instead. After spending three days deciding what to wear, hours of phone calls with my friends debating how the night might go, and nearly losing an ear ironing my hair, I was being stood up for one of my closest friends. Both Tom and “friend” felt my wrath, and, true to my word, neither of them heard from me again. So why was it that at 16 years old, I was better facilitated to cut off people who have caused hurt than I am now at 37? Have I emotionally devolved over the last two decades? Has age made me bitter? Or is it all thanks to that Mark Zuckerberg guy? Yeah, let’s look at that last one, shall we?
When it comes to Facebook, I’ve got one rule: if I wouldn’t let that person in my home, then they’re not having access to my social media. My Instagram and Twitter accounts are a free for all, but that’s where I’m polished and professional. Facebook is where I can be at home with my fellow trash brethren, people I went to school with, co-workers who share my sense of humour, the place where I can let off steam without losing a few hundred followers and receiving an angry call from my agent. I thought I had been stringent, keeping my friends close and my enemies, well, nowhere near. But upon looking closer, this wasn’t necessarily the case. Going through my friends list, there were friends who had actually done some pretty rotten things but had never apologised. Guys who I have zero contact with except for the odd occasion when they’d get drunk and send a creep shout in the early hours of the morning. People who I actually cut off long ago, but then a couple of years pass, they send a friend request online, and you find yourself reconnecting with someone you never would have in real life. Had social media not existed, the likelihood of someone having the balls to knock at your door and ask to be friends after putting your window through three years prior is pretty non-existent. But hey, it’s 2020 now, who needs to apologise when you can hide behind a screen and pretend nothing ever happened?

The Grudge Factor

“You’ll delete them, then add them again in a few weeks” my friend, Chris, mocked this morning. There’s no way this can be true. Or can it? Although I make zero effort to maintain friendships or communication with these people in reality, I allow the virtual friendship to remain. Whilst I would love to claim this to be an act of altruism, a permanent extension of the olive branch, I’m going to ‘fess up and tell you it’s nothing like that at all. It’s petty and wrong and childish and petulant, yet devilish and utterly delicious: I just love holding a grudge. And I know I’m not alone.
“I keep those b*stards on Facebook so I can watch them fail” was my brother’s response to this. A professional musician, Peter’s career has been one long, (yet glorious) uphill struggle to success. “I keep people on there so they can see what I’m doing”. I get that. As someone who has also worked damn hard to get where I am today, there is a small part of me that still holds on to the put downs, the throwaway quips (“people remember you because you’re funny, not for your looks”), the well meaning naysayers (“you can’t change careers at 28, what a waste of a degree”) and the downright b*stards (“just **** off and die”). Sure, the “healthy” way of dealing with these feelings would be to cut these people off completely, but the satisfaction I get from proving them wrong is just so, so sweet. It’s a driving force, it pushes me to do more, to be more. Rachel, a friend of mine who awesomely juggles raising her children and training to be a nurse, is completely fuelled by her grudges: “I’ve plenty of contacts on Facebook who only have me on there because they want to see me fail, but I keep them there because I want them to see me win. It’s a two way grudge, and I’m winning my side because I’m turning that negativity into something good”.
Ok, so some good can come from the rage, but had social media not come into play, surely we would do what we did twenty years ago and move on? Holding grudges is proven to be detrimental to our mental and physical health, so why do they feel so damn good? “Because our curiosity is satisfied, we used to cut people off knowing full well that that was the end of the road, but now we can see what they’re up to and it makes us feel better about ourselves”. At 50 years old and with three divorces under her belt, no one knows more about grudges than my friend, Sue. For her, checking up on her exes on social media isn’t unhealthy, it’s cathartic, amusing, and it a fun way to spend a Friday evening. More-so, I suspect it is a form of reassurance, of remembering that the heartbreak was worth it and the right decision was made. It’s just sometimes, we have to feel as though we’ve bettered someone, we’ve got one up on them, to silence the whisper of “what if?”. Rather than an act of pettiness, some grudges could well be a well placed defence mechanism, a self imposed measure to ensure you don’t pick up the phone late one Friday night and tell him you miss how he used to bring you coffee when you were working late. It cracks the lens of the rose tinted glasses and keeps you from remembering things differently and making excuses for their behaviour. The grudge fills you with adrenaline as you’re scrolling through their Facebook feed, and that adrenaline drowns that sickening feeling in your stomach, the one that dares to suggest that you made the wrong choice, even when it was 100% right. Having your curiosity satisfied via social media may well enable you to keep a heathy distance physically from those who have hurt you, and that seems perfectly reasonable to me.

Just call me Petty Labelle

Of course, grudges aren’t all about self preservation, sometimes they’re just for our own amusement. Pretty much everyone I spoke to about this agreed that they had kept people on their Facebook friends list just for the comedy value. Friendships that had naturally run their course, old colleagues you wouldn’t say hello to in the street, they’re all fair game for a few laughs, self validation, and for when we’re feeling a being a bit nosey. Admittedly, in a day and age where access to intimate details and the day to day lives of our foes is scarily accessible, it would be difficult to dampen our curiosity and refuse a sneaky peek. One friend, who shall not be named, has a next level solution that feels both terrifying and sensible in equal measure: “It’s simple, if someone upsets me, they get deleted and blocked. It’s therapeutic and final. But I also have a fake profile so I just spy on them from that so I don’t have to look at their stupid photos every day”. Compartmentalising friends and foes in this way seems borderline genius, but it’s not for me. Keeping everyone who has ever hurt me in one virtual cell may seem sensible (and will no doubt work for many), but I know where that will lead. It’ll be somewhere I visit when I’m having a bad day, somewhere with the potential to not just create the amusement we’ve joked about here so far, but to remind me of all things I hate about myself. To validate, albeit temporarily, all the flaws these people have preyed upon, pointed out, or exacerbated. That’s not a happy place to be. It’s not a healthy place. It’s not somewhere I want to visit.

The Purge

Chris was a bit more black and white about this: “If someone has caused immense upset, they get deleted so I don’t end up throwing my phone at the wall”. I read over his words several times, opened up my Facebook page and deleted 48 people. That’s 48 people who, if I’m completely honest, probably weren’t on there for the best of reasons. I don’t care that I can’t see what they’re doing any more, nor do I care that they can’t see my goings on either. Taking the time to think about why I hoard ex friends and ex boyfriends like a crazy cat lady collecting strays made me realise that these people did nothing to enhance my day to day life. It’s sad, but sometimes you’ve got to move on, even if it means permanently losing the opportunity to send screen shots to your friends to laugh at. It’s just not healthy. Social media has made it too easy to revisit those feelings, regardless of whether they’re positive or destructive. We can’t slam the handset down anymore (too expensive), scream into a pillow and hope we don’t bump into them at the weekend. They’re commenting on our mutual friends posts, their liking other girls photos, they could live 200 miles away and yet they’re there, in our lives, every day. We can’t be granted closure if we’re constantly looking back and checking up on what they’re up to. Sometimes, you’ve got to sacrifice the comedy, the adrenaline, the glorious rush of the grudge, and say welcome to the block button.
I’ve no doubt that over the coming months, some of my deletees will try and add me on Facebook again. Time will tell if I hold on to this new found sense of grudge free relief, or if curiosity will get the better of me and I’ll let them back in. Whilst I feel better, lighter, for not being reminded of my grudges every time I go online, I’ll admit, that tiny tickle of curiosity is prickling the hairs on the back of my neck. Right now, I’m not going to cave, life goes on and I don’t need to feed off negativity to get me where I want to be. And let’s face it, I can always get one of my friends to take a peek for me…

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