Goodbye stranger, it’s been nice …

“So, have you started The Purge?” Mr. Brooks asked while I was in Denver last week, a wry little smile creeping across his face.

Then he turned to our friend Sarah to explain: “Every year, right around the holidays, Sam goes through his Facebook and phone and gets rid of people — like, by the dozens. If you’ve made him mad, or haven’t talked to him in a while, he deletes you from his life.”

Phrased a little dramatically, perhaps, but mostly true. I’ve never held on to things unless they have meaning, and I apply that standard to friendships, too. (Or, in the case of Facebook, acquaintanceships.)

So a few years ago — admittedly inspired by a fit of pique — I went through my cell phone and deleted anyone I hadn’t spoken to or heard from in four months. Why spend time scrolling through contacts you never use? Why subject yourself to that sharp little sting of running across the name of a friend who had let your relationship wither on the vine (or someone you’d rather forget)? I kept the contact info for a few people written down in an address book, but most were just plain wiped clean.

Pleased with how that turned out, I moved on Facebook, which applies the word “friend” to relationships differently than I would. Again, if I hadn’t heard from someone in the past four months, I deleted them from my friends list. Most of them probably didn’t even notice.

Some of them did. Months afterward, I heard about a former co-worker who didn’t take it too well. “He was ranting and raving about it,” said a mutual friend. “ You know, ‘How dare he?’ ”

“Four months is one-third of a year,” I replied. “Plenty of time to be in touch.” I’m big on reciprocity in relationships — not about being exactly-tit-for-tat, one-for-one even, but I believe there should be an effort now and again from both sides to be worth it. Same for Facebook friends. Why are you on there if you’re not going to be in touch?

So, back to Mr. Brooks’ question about the purge: Rather than make it a once-a-year ritual, now I weed as I go — with a slight modification. On Facebook, I’m not as likely to delete someone outright as I am to hide them from my News Feed and add them to my “Not Full Access” group, which blocks most of my wall and relegates them to Sam’s Social Siberia. (It is where most of my work-related contacts now exist, as well, after a few office-related incidents.)

I still apply the more draconian principles to my phone, though. So far, no consequences except for two “who is this?” texts received over the holidays, but they were clearly group texts so I didn’t feel too bad about it.


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