Knock Knock.

Last night I opened my work email to a little visit from an old friend. And by "friend" I mean "guy who broke my heart". I won't go into the gory details, but suffice it to say that this person knew they should not be writing me. In fact, he tried before. And guess what he got? Um, not a response. That was six years ago. You say "grudge", I say "consistent".

The fact that he's married with child (children?) should be enough to keep him from saying hello, don't you think? Or maybe not. Boundaries are apparently subjective, as I've learned in this life. The last time he wrote he threw in that maybe someday I could agent his book. You know, because the allure of that would be SO much that I would jump at the chance. Emmmm thanks but no thanks.

I guess that's what happens in the electronic age. First, people can find anything they want about you on the internet (including the semi-flattering pictures you post, aware that this sort of thing could happen). And then they can *act* on it. They can make you their screensaver, they can track your contact information, they can bypass your personal email (where you deleted them) and show up in your work inbox at 10pm on a Monday night (yet another reminder that shame on she who checks work email before going to bed).

No one knocks on email. Don't you wish they did?

Friend Poaching: The Social Crime of Friend Theft

Recently I was presented with two cases of severe friend poaching by friends suffering, as many of us have, at the hands of people who don't seem to check their rearview social mirrors when making their moves.

You've probably done it and don't even realize it. The time you spend not hanging out with a friend who was recently snatched from under your nose is a good opportunity to reflect on your past behavior in a new light. Watching my friends go through this recently has brought to mind my own experiences with this, as a poacher, a poachee, and of course the third-party victim of this sneaky art.

It seems there's some question as to the etiquette of befriending other people's friends, and over the course of the past few years I've re-examined what I think the Friend Poaching Bylaws should be. And we need Friending Bylaws because, let's be honest, the internet has put our social graces in the pooper. Society probably didn't need Bylaws before because people interacted in person in the past; now, the use of phone/Facebook/email has made it easier to sidle up to a new person instantly rather than earning that company through time and effort. It gives you access, after a quick Google stalking or similar, to someone who you wouldn't have seen back in the day until another event, where the Original Friend would be on watch.

As for the recent Cases of Friend Poachery that I heard about:
Situation A: The person had introduced a friend to their larger circle of friends a couple of times. That second person then planned an event to which all of Friend #1's social circle were invited. It was essentially a luncheon composed of people you might expect at, say, Friend #1's surprise birthday party... But it wasn't.

Situation B: This one was a double-whammy because, not only were friends poached, but ethics of female loyalty were crossed. A best friend was poached by another close girlfriend, who then proceeded to set up said new friend with castaways that the Hub Friend hadn't worked as setups. Ouch.

Now, as anyone who has ever come to any event I've thrown can tell, I LOVE mixing my friends. I do it all the time; which is why my college friends know my grad school friends, know my family friends, know my random friends. It's just what I do, almost a game in my head to figure out how I can connect people and who might enjoy each other's company. But there are ethics to befriending the friends of your loved ones. And here they are. Print it out and keep it handy.

1. Before poaching, ascertain status
Thou shalt not poach new friends, exes, or people your friend is currently on the skids with (romantically or socially). We have all watched many seasons of Beverly Hills 90210, and accordingly, we know these rules forward and backwards, so I won't go into them.

2. Ease into it
What is the hurry?

These days I will go to a party and come home to a 2am Facebook add. Is that really necessary? When you're befriending someone through an existing friend, determine whether you need to become instant best friends with that person. Because those are the most egregious poachings.

Connectors (aka. Hub Friends) are connectors because on some level, they *like* introducing people. Their ultimate intent (I say this as a Hub Friend) is for everyone to get along. No one is saying don't go to dinner or a movie or hang out with a new friend. But when it happens quickly or when it's done in a shady manner (which I'm not defining, because the short rule is if you have to ask, it's probably shady) is when it's a no-no. By cutting out Hubbers, it removes the fun for them, and then we'll have less of them. And God knows we already have enough selfish people.

Connectors want to build and expand the network, not create grounds for a disassociated rebel camp elsewhere, which is often what happens. To properly poach/acquire a new friend, it is helpful to retain respect for the original friendship, because no matter at what point you join in, by definition you can never have the history the others have.

The goal is to grow your social network, not steal it.

3. Exemption: friends in close geographic proximity to one another.
When a friend moves to a new town, I will often try to introduce them to locals. Logic dictates that those people might become close or that they will hang out more than the distanced friend is able to. My first group of San Diego friends (the ones who set me up blogging, actually) is based on friend poaching, something I constantly acknowledge and thank Hub Friend Amit for.

4. If you poach friends, there are consequences.
There always are. And you have to know this, because when you befriend someone else's friend, a quick calculation can be done in your head to figure out if it's worth it. It's cost-benefit analysis, with people on the scales.

There are people I would have loved to get to know, but out of respect for the friend who introduced us, I keep a distance until I get the signal that they're cool with it- or I ask. If an assessment of other people's feelings doesn't come naturally to you, err on the side of caution. Wait it out. You do not want to be the leader of a rebel camp, nor do you want your life story to read like cheesy US Magazine tabloid fodder.

In the cases where I have poached too quickly (Rule #2, above), the Hub Friend became more distant. Likewise, when my friendship grounds are poached upon, I tend to lose interest in both of the people involved, whether it's to a degree, or completely.

Now, this morning a friend mentioned a poaching situation in which a friend started dating a sibling... Being a romantic, I think some of these rules go out the window for love. But the distance is gonna happen and you better be prepared for it.

We all get excited about new people; the crime (and consequences) appear to come in two forms:
1) becoming so excited that you neglect your original friendship
2) moving in so closely/intensely that you railroad the Hub Friend (aka. The 7th Grade Popularity Contest poach maneuver)

I could write a book on this, but I have Facebook friend adds to attend to.

A Final Note
Most legislation has notes at the bottom, where Congress or whoever talks about the reasoning or the way the laws should be interpreted. For the avoidance of doubt, Friend Poaching isn't the same thing as "Befriending". You befriend a new person with time, shared effort, and generally some level of inclusion of the person who introduced you. If you notice yourself cutting someone out of the loop, chances are you are friend poaching. If you mumble the Poachee's name in conversation with the person who introduced you, chances are you're friend stealing. Maybe you're doing so because you're retaliating ("Poaching Warfare"), or maybe you're doing it because you don't think they'd be interested in whatever you are proposing to do with your shiny new friend. As always, err on the side of caution. Maybe Sid doesn't want to go get a pedicure with you and Nancy, but it's nice to ask.

Most of us have down pat the social etiquette of not moving in romantically on other people's crushes, exes and such. We don't think twice about the fact that it's wrong. The Anti-Friend Poaching concept is the corollary of that.

In closing, be nice to your friends, and enjoy their friends... But don't poach them, for the only things that should be poached are eggs. Because they are mm mm good.