When a name from the past appeared in her Facebook friend requests, this writer had serious second thoughts.

By Penelope Lewis*
Updated November 14, 2017
Geri Lavrov/Getty Images

Since I first joined Facebook, I have happily reconnected with dozens of long-lost people from my past—including friends from summer camp, my favorite high school Spanish teacher, a few distant cousins, and even the neighborhood girl I played with when we were six, who moved to a different town and disappeared from my life.

For the most part, these reunions have involved an initial thrill of discovery and then a quick flurry of messages and emails. After we’re all caught up, some of these online relationships spill over to the offline world; we’ll meet up for coffee or brunch if we still feel that connection we had all those years ago. Most, however, stay comfortably within the Facebook world—we click on each other’s photos and send birthday greetings, but that’s about as far as it goes. Everyone is happy with where it stands.

But one old “friend” recently tried to shake up the order of things.

In honor of the most notorious of Mean Girls, let’s call this one-time classmate Regina. She was the kind of girl who barely acknowledged my existence in high school, and when she did, it was only to make a sly comment about my nerdy sweater or my flat hair (this was in the days when volume and height, created with massive quantities of mousse and hairspray, equaled awesomeness). I remember one moment in eleventh grade when she rolled her eyes and laughed at me in math class, because I came to school sniffly and red-eyed the day after one of my favorite musicians died. It made me feel even worse on a terrible day, and I have never forgotten it.

Regina didn’t necessarily single me out; she was equal-opportunity mean to everyone who wasn’t in her big-haired clique. I would never have guessed she even know my name. So imagine how surprised I was a few weeks ago when a friend request from this same Regina popped up on my Facebook page. I let it sit there for a few days, mulling over why this woman who had said maybe 30 words to me in her entire life—almost all of them negative—wanted to be friends with me. But then curiosity got the best of me, and I clicked “confirm.” She immediately sent me a message, which I will paraphrase here: “Hi! It’s so nice to see you on Facebook. I was looking at our yearbook recently, and I realize I wish I had been nicer to you and the other quiet kids in high school. You seem to have an interesting life now.”

I was stunned. And I’ll admit, it was gratifying to get an acknowledgement and an apology all these decades later. I emailed back a simple “Thank you. Nice to see you on Facebook, too. Hope all is well.” I thought that would be it. She apologized, I accepted, we could both move on.

But she didn’t stop there. “I’d love to get together sometime!” When I hemmed and hawed that I was busy with work, she continued to message me, asking questions about my life that I became less and less eager to answer.

You see, I’m happy that Regina has looked back on her life and tried to make amends, and I accept her apology, but I don’t want to be her friend. I don’t have time to be her project, her reparations for bad behavior in the past. As anyone with a job and a family and aging parents knows, carving out spare time to spend with friends is a difficult task, and I want to spend that time with people who have always been nice to me, who love me and have never made me feel insignificant or tried to wield their social power in a negative way.

You know who I’m happy to reconnect with on Facebook? The girl from the debate team who gave me a ride home after meetings, with her car radio blasting Bruce Springsteen songs. The popular cheerleader down the block who was nice enough to lend me a pair of gloves the day I forgot mine and was freezing. The skinny boy from the A.V. club who had a crush on me, but whom I was too young to fully appreciate at the time. The people who showed kindness at an age when I needed it the most.

If I ran into Regina on the street or at the gym, I would certainly be friendly and ask what she’s been up to these days. And when she posts a picture on Facebook of her daughter or of her beach vacation, I will click my approval. I may even send her a birthday message with a cake emoji. And I truly hope she feels some peace after making up for behavior she obviously now regrets. But I am reserving my very precious offline time for my true friends.

*Name has been changed.