I discovered that my good friend “Tom” also exists on Facebook as “Kevin,” whose location, age, and level of emotional expressiveness differ drastically. “Kevin” has posted pictures of me, and other people I know, with false names and descriptions. Now I worry that I may not truly know Tom. I am also uncomfortable about the photos. I am not sure how to go about doing anything without upsetting Tom or losing his friendship. I fear that “confronting” him will have detrimental consequences. Your help would be greatly appreciated!
E.C. / Boston
Tom is the person with the problem here, not you. If you speak to him and lose his friendship, that does not mean you spoke wrongly. It means he doesn’t value your friendship. That’s survivable. You’ll find other people who do.
Many people are gifted at playing the victim when confronted by their own wrongdoing. “How dare you accuse me of lying/being prejudiced/undertipping! I am so very hurt by your accusations! Apologize at once!” Don’t fall for it.
Instead, you are going to inform Tom of his problem and how it affects you, calmly and authoritatively. You will not wheedle, uptalk, cajole, or engage in any other sort of vocal emoji. Watch a couple of Mad Men episodes — you want Joan Holloway Harris’s cool, unapologetic authority. “Tom, I saw through a mutual friend that you’ve got an alter ego on Facebook. I’d appreciate it if you’d take down the mislabeled pictures of me.” Notice the lack of question marks in that little speech. You are not asking him why he did this, or requesting that he take your pictures down, only stating the facts. Tom’s next move is his responsibility alone.
Recently, a friend who had made plans with me to attend an event with our teenage children backed out at the last minute. Shortly after that, another friend was late for a get-together. When I called her house, she replied that she was “running late” and “[didn’t] plan on leaving home for an hour or so.” (She lives 45 minutes away.) No apology was ever given in either situation. I think both these people were plain rude, but should I be more understanding?
Anonymous / Windham, New Hampshire
The next time you make plans with either of these friends, mention that it was inconvenient for you that they flaked out at the last minute. You certainly understand that things come up, but you’d appreciate more notice if things aren’t going to work out for this event, mmkay?
I think your friends were rude, too, but they almost certainly don’t perceive themselves that way, and probably wouldn’t mind if you’d done the same thing to them. Some people are just socially flaky, and, unfortunately, e-mail and smartphones make it far easier than it used to be to bail on events at the last minute. When two social flakes flake on each other, neither is angry; both are secretly gleeful. For some folks, no diamond ring or palomino pony could match the gift of a free evening thanks to canceled plans.
You can’t argue the flakes out of their avoidant ways, which are probably based in deep-running factors like executive brain function and cultural notions of time and how much of a neurotransmitter spike they get from social interactions. You can, however, gently nag them until they learn that flaking on you is actually more trouble than it’s worth.
Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.