Old-Fashioned Etiquette in the Age of the Internet
This is not a cloth diaper question (though we use them), nor a pregnancy question (though we are!) nor a in-law question (I ignore them). This is a good old-fashioned etiquette question in the age of the internet.
My husband’s friend’s wife blogs about her family and her life. It’s just a friends/family quasi-diary blog she keeps. She links to it to promote it on Facebook so it’s not private by any means. The problem is that she shares a LOT on her blog, stories about infertility, difficulties she’s having with her spouse, etc. These aren’t things she’s talking to me about personally, because we aren’t that close, I just know all about them because I occasionally check in on her blog.
But the real problem pops up because frequently what she’s telling me to my face is significantly sunnier than what she’s writing on her blog – “my son is so advanced!” versus “he’s really struggling making his milestones..” I feel like I know way more than is appropriate for our friendship level.
Do I just keep doing what I have been: smile/nod, change the subject? Do I mention that I read her blog? Do I just stop reading the blog and go off what I’m hearing from her mouth?
Oooooh, interesting question, very very innnnnnteresting.
First, as someone who writes a very personal blog and has on more than a million occasions written about very personal things: It definitely can both simplify and complicate IRL friendships. On the one hand, it’s nice knowing that I don’t have to have the same conversation over and over about something difficult going on — my dad’s illness and passing, my oldest child’s special needs, etc. I can focus more on asking about what’s going on with the other person when I know they’re basically caught up with me.
On the other hand, yeah, it takes some getting used to realizing that the woman you just met at a company holiday party has read your blog for years and thus knows all your birth stories and breastfeeding stories and times-you-got-drunk-and-did-something-dumb stories. And oh, her husband is your coworker now. HI! I’M THAT IDIOT FROM THE INTERNET.
With any public blog (whether you have your full name on it or not, whether you promote it on Facebook or not), it’s generally a good rule of thumb to assume that anyone and everyone you know can read it. But I personally find it pretty presumptuous to assume that anyone and everyone I know DOES read it, if that makes sense.
I write with the assumption that they CAN read it, which sets my ground rules that I won’t write mean things about people or write anything that would embarrass my husband or jeopardize our employment somewhere, but I tend to interact with people on the assumption that they DON’T read it. Not because I care if they do, but more because it might not be interesting to them or they are too busy to bother, and because it’s just a dumb blog thing that I do. It’s not everybody’s jam. I get that. I once had a friend who went to my blog (after I told her about it), and then admitted that she just wasn’t comfortable reading about me like that, and she’d rather we actually talked in person about things. I totally got that too.
Once someone volunteers that yes, they’ve read my blog, that changes things, but not really. Mostly I’m just like, “Oh, God, sorry. I try not to be so CAPS-LOCK in real life.” You might not be someone I’d casually discuss stuff like grief and infertility or whatever off the bat, but I’m not going to mind that you read about it. Nor would I mind if you do bring it up because we have something in common. BUT: I think I’m pretty consistent with both my online persona and my offline one — online I’m more confessional and prone to hyperbole for comedic effect, yes, but I’m not gonna go around telling two different stories about my kids and marriage and all that.
(UNLESS YOU’RE WRITING ABOUT ME. ARE YOU WRITING ABOUT ME? OH GOD, I’M PARANOID NOW.)
Since your friend (WHO IS NOT ME) is telling you two different versions of things, she could probably use a little heads up that you do read her blog. Yes, she should already assume that you do, given the Facebook connection, but she obviously doesn’t and I think you would be doing her a gentle etiquette favor to stop her from openly contradicting herself (and unknowingly embarrassing herself, because I bet you aren’t the only person she’s doing this with).
There are a couple nice ways to do this:
One, bring it up in conversation yourself, preferably BEFORE she’s had a chance to contradict herself so it’s not like you’re calling her out. “Hey, I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed your last blog post (or the post you wrote about X, Y, or Z).” Preferably you could do this with a less-heavy, confessional post — maybe something she wrote that was just funny or had a great photo or whatever. This way you can let her know that yes, you are reading, while still keeping your conversation away from the super-personal topics she writes about.
Two, acknowledge the blog via social media. Like it, share it, comment on it. Just a subtle online wave that says HELLO. I AM HERE. I SEE THIS. OCCASIONALLY I ACTUALLY READ THIS. JUST FYI.
Now, be prepared for a couple different possible outcomes:
One, she acts embarrassed at first but does indeed stop bragging/revising to you IRL, but also maybe doesn’t know quite what to talk about instead. If she’s someone you’d like to get closer to, bring up any common ground you have and see where the friendship goes. If you’d prefer to keep her at arms’ length, just stay gracious and polite until she feels comfortable that you aren’t out to shame her or call her out publically for her exaggerations/outright lies.
Two, she reacts weirdly or badly, tells you to stop reading or suddenly password protects the whole thing. Whatever. You didn’t do anything wrong reading a public-facing blog and you didn’t do anything wrong by giving her the heads’ up that you read said public-facing blog. If she freaks out and has a RESPECT MY PRIVACY temper tantrum, she probably really shouldn’t be keeping a public-facing blog to begin with.
Three, nothing changes. She smiles and nods and oh yeah, the blog. It’s a nice hobby! Did I tell you about how my amazingly advanced son has already been accepted to Harvard and my husband and I are renewing our vows in Hawaii because we’ve never been happier? I’ve known more than my fair share of bloggers, and the reality is that some (not all) are indeed a little cray-cray, as the Internet Kids say these days. Sometimes it’s just run-of-the-mill social anxiety or awkwardness and they mean no harm, while others will indeed straight-up fabricate/exaggerate online for sympathy and attention. Some really don’t see a disconnect or problem with presenting two entirely different versions of themselves and will double down when they’re “caught” or confronted with the facts. Maybe she sees her blog as a place she vents when she’s feeling down or angry, rather than a real reflection of reality. Or maybe it IS her reality, but she can only face said reality online and will continue to compartmentalize/disconnect from it when talking to people IRL.
Dealing with a number three is probably a whole other advice column, but let’s hope your friend’s reaction is more along number one: Mild embarrassment, followed by some nice self-awareness of how she’s presenting her life to people and personal growth in the humblebrag department.
(WE’RE STILL NOT TALKING ABOUT ME, RIGHT?)