Should I Facebook-Friend Request My Former Midwife?
Dear Mr. Loose Gravel,
I am struggling with that classic dilemma...whether or not to friend request someone on Facebook. In my quest for answers, I stumbled upon your excellent January post about this very topic. However, my scenario is a bit different. The other day, my nurse-midwife popped up on the "do you know this person" section of my home page. I do know her. We are friendly, exchange emails about general things and medical things, but we don't have a relationship outside of this. I am no longer her patient, as I have moved away. She is a really great person, and is so interesting. I like the way she practices (her profession), and I'm always recommending her to other ladies. But, do I ask her to be my Facebook friend? I don't want to put her in an uncomfortable, or unethical, position. What's your opinion on this matter? Where do we all draw the line?
You're thoughtful and responsible to consider your former midwife's feelings regarding whether or not it's proper to friend her on Facebook.
I'm assuming you want to friend her because you are interested in her life, you enjoy Facebook, and want to continue your interactions with her in that forum. If instead you are feeling guilty that you haven't yet friended your former midwife, the person who helped you through one of the biggest moments of your life, then don't friend request her. Guilt is not a good reason to friend her in this case.
Ask yourself this: Would you friend request a former therapist? How about a former general practitioner? Former garbage man? When a professional relationship ceases, there really is no hard and fast rule for how the parties should continue interaction. I think if you are considering using her services in the future, then it would probably be best to maintain status quo and avoid facebook friending altogether.
Where was your relationship headed prior to your move? You explain clearly in your question that your interactions haven't become friendlier than general and medical exchanges. If several months have passed since her services ended, this could be a sign that you two might not have been progressing towards sharing backyard barbecues, splitting appletinis during ladies night at the club, or taking each other out for birthday brunches even if you had not moved.
That said, many people use facebook for professional reasons. She may appreciate being your facebook friend, as you may be able to help her with references in the future. This article from the Wall Street Journal talks about how people use LinkedIn and Facebook to help build up what sociologists call "weak ties" for getting a job, mining for clients, or finding prospective employees.
As I stated in my facebook post from January 22nd, the folks you choose as friends can typically view all of your content. Many people accept hundreds of friends but routinely post content directed towards a much smaller group of people. Consequently, it's much easier to inadvertantly publish information and pictures to forgotten Facebook friends that you normally wouldn't show them. Facebook users can choose to edit their privacy settings (top right of facebook homepage, 'Settings', 'Privacy Settings') and customize exactly which content certain users can see. For example, let's say a college student's mother discovers Facebook, and she sends an invitation request to her son or daughter. While the student keeps mom happy by accepting her as a facebook friend, they can simultaneously protect mom from the horror of seeing her offspring doing a keg stand or participating in a wet t-shirt contest during Spring Break at Daytona by excluding her from certain, tagged, or all pics.
Keep in mind that the onus for professionalism and boundaries in this case is on your former midwife, not you. It isn't the client--or former client's--job to know whether or not friending on facebook would be an ethical dilemma; it is her's. If she is the professional you say she is, you should expect her to either accept your friend request without reservations, or decline with a polite explanation about her policy. Maybe you two can split appletinis yet.