Dear Carolyn: I am a teacher at a large high school, and typically only interact with those in my wing of the school. On the first day we returned from break, I bumped into “Polly” while signing in and cheerfully asked, “How was your [vacation]?” She glared at me and stomped away. I’m sure I gave her a frown in return at the perceived rudeness. A week or so later, I remembered the incident and looked her up on Facebook. We were friends, but I had muted her postings since she posted quite frequently.
I then discovered that she suffered a late (seven months in) miscarriage. She had many detailed posts of her anguish.
I felt TERRIBLE that I may have triggered this reaction from her.
Since then, I occasionally run into her at school and she is friendly but distant. My question is, is it worth bringing up months after the fact to apologize?
And what is my responsibility to be aware of people’s personal issues if we are social media friends but I do not actually pay attention to their posts?
Dear Regret: You have zero obligation to be aware of what people post on social media.
Think about it — you can’t go on vacation? Take a break from Facebook for a while? Or quit it entirely? What if the algorithm filters out someone because you unwittingly went for a certain period of time not liking or commenting on someone’s posts, or just missed them as a matter of timing. That’s your fault?
There’s no logical thread you can follow here that takes you to the point of obligation. You’re going to miss some news sometimes. That’s it.
So if Polly has distanced herself as a way to punish you for your faux pas, then Polly is in the wrong.
Polly was also, I think we can agree, grieving and hormonal after a horrific loss — that’s a stillbirth, not a miscarriage — so she gets a complete pass on reacting emotionally.
And it would have been a compassionate gesture on your part to follow up with her immediately after you realized your faux pas: “I only just learned of your loss — I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to be insensitive.” Particularly if you had put it in a condolence card or note, so she could respond to it in the privacy of her home.
So much time has passed now that I don’t think you can mention it without making two apologies, one for the unintentional ignorance and another for the non-response once you found out your friend was in mourning. Again, this should be in writing, to give her room to compose herself.
Also consider: If you don’t intend to get any closer to Polly than you’ve been, then it might make more sense to leave her alone than to dredge up your months-old mistake for the sole purpose of returning to the same arm’s-length acquaintance as before. This friendly-but-distant place might be right where you belong.
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