Friendships That Don’t Survive Politics
Hundreds of hours of enjoyable phone conversations, decades of sharing confidences and seeing each other through tough times, years of giving and receiving special notes and birthday cards, frequent visits and vacations that fostered closeness…these are the foundation for friendships that last a lifetime, right?
I certainly thought so, until 2016 became about Hillary vs Trump. The first casualty came about when I told a friend of 30 years — a white, privileged PhD — that I had gone to a Hillary and Michelle rally, a dynamic event I blogged about on Huff Post. I knew she was a conservative, but this was her response:
“Whenever I see Michelle on TV, I thinks she looks like a gorilla.” And she laughed, a hateful laugh. I was stunned into a moment of silence before I lauded Michelle’s character and brilliance, then let her know how disappointed I was in her, and ended the conversation and the friendship with, “I’m going to say goodbye now.” I haven’t responded to her calls or emails since. It was my decision to end that friendship upon learning she was a racist. How could I not have known this before? I knew she didn’t like President Obama, but she’s a Republican and I put her dislike down to politics, not race. Even if it weren’t racism, it was extremely mean-spirited. Either way, I’m too defined to deny my own character, even to accommodate a 30-year friendship.
Another long-time friendship quietly ended, but in that case, I have no idea why. I suspect our opposing politics, which became more and more evident in my blogs, became too offensive for her to bear.
I began blogging for Huff Post in February, 2016, with a blog about being an older woman who was willing to wear a very short dress one last time in her life while in Las Vegas. It was fluff and it was published in the Fifty section.
The tone of my blogs changed as the 2016 year wore on and I saw the assault on women’s rights escalating, via the Republican political agenda. I am a long-time feminist, and I had some pretty strong opinions which I was able to express through my Huff Post blogs. While some of my blogs still dealt with women’s sexual and relationship issues, I became focused on political issues as the presidential election stakes got higher.
When I first started blogging, I would let my friends and followers know about each blog, and I would provide a link. As my blogs got more political, I culled the list to exclude those whom I knew would be offended. Though I had every right to express my opinion, and had a credible platform for doing so, I considered their views and felt that pushing those blogs on them would cause offense.
The one who quietly ended our friendship was very dear to me, yet I should have seen the signs when, after years of sending the perfect birthday card, she was “too busy” to get my birthday card mailed off, even weeks after my birthday. But I am a loyal friend, and if you are in my circle of friends, I will value you and give you the benefit of the doubt and even fight to keep you. So I sent her a loving Christmas card the following month as if nothing had happened. She called the day before Christmas as she was driving to her daughter’s home. We had a short but pleasant conversation. She asked about my blogging, and I said I had not sent her the link to my latest because I knew she wouldn’t like it. Honestly in relationships, right? She replied, “I can always find your blogs, Rebecca.”
And I suppose she had. In October, the month before my birthday, there had been the Hillary and Michelle blog, and another about the type of women who would vote for Trump. One blog of December 16, 2016 expressed my incredulity at Trump’s election. Another blog from January 4, 2017 conjectured the lengths Republicans would go to in making abortion illegal. In it I said, “Think this is far-fetched? Until November, 2016, so was electing a misogynistic, racist, xenophobic, p***y-grabbing, Russian-loving, alt-right supporting and frenetic-tweeting president.”
So okay, I admit, someone who voted for Trump might take offense.
A few weeks into the new year, I realized I hadn’t heard from that friend. I had emailed her once or twice during that time, but our preferred communication was laughter-filled Sunday morning phone calls. It occurred to me that she might have found my blogs offensive. If that were the case, there wasn’t much I could do about it. I left the ball in her court.
It’s now July, 2017, and there has been no communication from her. It was her choice to end the friendship, and though I’m pretty damn sure it’s about politics, I’ll never really know why she dropped out of a 20-year friendship without a word.
But you know, that’s her right. Just as I exited the friendship with the offensive racist, she exited her friendship with an offensive liberal.
In friendships, our mutual likes, interests, desires, ideas, philosophies and politics can’t hit on all cylinders all the time, but we have to be in sync most of the time to remain friends. For some of us, the 2016 election threw the equivalent of sand in our friendship fuel tanks, and our friendships sputtered and died.
Other of my friendships with Trump voters have survived, and I am convinced it’s because the positive elements we have brought into each other’s lives over many years outweigh our divisiveness on this one issue, though it is a major one.
It isn’t as if those friendships haven’t been tested before, though never in such a meaningful way. It’s impossible to be friends with someone for 20–40 years and not have a few disagreements. But if the roots go deep enough, they’ll withstand anything.
The roots of the lost friendships were, to my surprise, not deeply-enough embedded. When faced with the tsunami that was the 2016 presidential election, they couldn’t hold. But for those friendships that did hold, we are on solid ground.
Presidents come and go, as do friendships. Lasting friendships evolve, and it’s not always a comfortable process. But in the end, the friends who add value to my life are worth far more to me than any politician.
That said, I still wish they hadn’t voted for Trump.