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Help or delete?

A boyfriend from long ago finds you through Facebook. Despite memories of a bitter breakup, you decide to accept his request to be an online friend. After a while, his messages start to sound suicidal. You suspect he is toying with you, but you worry he may be serious. How do you handle this?

By Connie denBok and Bob Giuliano

Three interconnecting issues are complicating my life. When does a “friend” on Facebook become a liability? Is this friend desperately in need or manipulative? Can old love interests be just friends?

If life were a series of concentric circles — God at the centre; spouse, children, important relationships in the next; work and service; leisure; and housework relegated to the utmost outer edge — it would reflect my values. The amount of bandwidth each takes varies according to circumstances: I might take a morning off work for the dog’s medical emergency, or clean the house instead of going to the gym if we have friends coming. But ultimately God is the hub.

Every day we make decisions based on the bull’s eye of our values. My husband and I struggle to keep our life together from being consumed by everything else. Should either of us begin an association that makes the other uncomfortable, we let it go. It’s a matter of what relationship we value more. And it’s amazing how quickly your partner can discern a questionable relationship.

Allowing a mostly forgotten boyfriend to connect with me through Facebook, no problem. Telling my husband, no problem. Sharing the messages the old boyfriend is sending? My husband is the first to detect that this guy is emotionally needy in a way most Facebook friends are not, and that this could cross boundaries. Should I accept that invitation to coffee? My partner is suspicious — not of me, of the other guy. But he’s often right, and I am not the person to counsel the old flame.

So, “Dear John, it was good to hear from you. I can see you are unhappy about many things. I hope you speak with someone who can help you. My husband and I wish you well. I think it best we not continue as friends on Facebook. Sincerely . . . ”

Author's photo
Rev. Bob Giuliano is a retired minister who lives in Owen Sound, Ont.

I do three things. First, I remind myself that the Internet is not real but virtual. All online conversations are fantasies created in our lonesome imaginations while we are texting, typing or talking to a little box with flashing lights. All that stuff, Facebook being the most virtual, exists only in our heads. Nothing true, nothing real here. We forget that at our peril. So I remind everyone on my Facebook that we are playing a game.

Second, since Facebook has a whole bunch of onlookers, I invite everyone to address my old friend and speak of what they are hearing. It will be a kind of virtual intervention. There is a public nature to all our Internet blathering to each other. Nothing’s private here. We know that unconsciously, and that’s why we don’t speak out of the depths of our hearts on the computer. That is only done face to face or with pen in hand. We may imagine that we are sharing our souls with one another, but that is a romantic illusion. It ain’t heart-to-heart.

Third, I speak directly to my friend, saying I suspect a game is at work that is toying with my virtual head, and please knock it off. I also share my anxieties about the sounds of a sadness being conveyed. If there is a depression gripping my friend, I urge a mature response in getting treatment and help. No messing around. Get into the real world with this stuff and to a real doctor.

This friend may be pretending to give me responsibility for their life.

I am not going to take that on. I can only reflect what I see and hear. I can love and speak the truth, praying for some guidance and insight as we go along. But to play with suicide is like Yahweh’s warning to Cain: that Satan is crouching at his door.

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