There are quite a few social rules that don’t really make a lot of sense to me. That’s probably because many social rules are fundamentally arbitrary. That is not the same as saying they are useless; humans are social creatures, and the rules, even the arbitrary ones, help us to function socially, so long as we understand and observe them. Of course, the converse isn’t necessarily true, either; I think some social rules actually hinder us.
Let’s talk about one in particular.
From whence this idea that having different political opinions is not an acceptable reason to not be friends with somebody?
First: friendship is optional. Always. Without exception. You get to choose your friends and you get to make that decision based on any criteria you see fit! Ok? And conversely, they get to choose whether or not to be friends with you. Sometimes you want to be friends with someone and they’re not into it. That’s too bad! But the price of having optional relationships is that sometimes you have to deal with rejection. So that’s the first thing.
But the second thing is this. My political beliefs are not like my beer preferences (although: fascinating statistical correlation!) or my favorite shows; I’m not likely to break up with a friend because they don’t like Battlestar Galactica, even though, my word, you guys, it’s like the most amazing show, and I’ve never yet cut off contact with someone for constantly making Doctor Who references even though it does absolutely nothing for me.
I did not come to my political opinions by throwing darts at a board blindfolded. My political beliefs stem from my deepest, most important values. This is serious. It’s not a football game. I don’t support universal health care because it’s my team, or whatever. I support universal health care because as long as I’ve been able to consider the question, I’ve known, deep in my bones, that everyone has a right, yes, is entitled, to medical care if it is available. That denying people medical care is an enormous moral wrong. Nobody told me to feel that way. To me, this is a truth that is so self-evident that I literally cannot comprehend feeling any other way.
That is only one example, but an illustrative one. The majority of my political beliefs grow out of my moral beliefs and my values. And that matters. Reasonable people might disagree somewhat on how to best address some issues (my husband and I have pretty significant differences in our policy positions), but when someone says to me “healthcare is not a right” (actual quote from an actual person), we’re no longer talking about mere differing conclusions; we have radically different premises. And that premise is not unimportant. It means that we have fundamentally incompatible values.
How can I be friends with someone with such a different conception of morality? Why would I want to?
How can I be friends with someone who routinely expresses the belief that people like me are lazy, worthless, subhuman parasites? Why would I want to?
And surely no one would expect me to if they simply said “You, Kate, are lazy and worthless and should probably just go die.” Pretty much anyone would agree that if I stopped talking to someone who said that, it wasn’t me who ended our friendship. But because instead of “Kate” they say “welfare bums,” I’m suddenly not allowed to take it personally or care? Suddenly it becomes just a totally reasonable difference of opinion, like preferring Doctor Who to Battlestar Galactica, and I’m the asshole for making a big deal about it.
Um, fuck that.
I’ll be the asshole. That’s fine. Because you know what? Friendship is optional.
* * * * *
Because the thing here is, politics is not a game. It’s not some random collection of essentially meaningless trivia about a person. Political beliefs actually matter in the real world, and peoples’ lives are actually affected by what policies are enacted. My political beliefs are reflections of my most deeply held values, the things that matter most to me, and what I truly believe will make the world a better and less terrible place. I do everybody else the courtesy of believing that their political opinions are equally important to them and equally reflective of their most fundamental truths.
So yes, I “unfriended” you after you posted that you don’t support gay rights. Because that’s fucking awful and you are a bad person for saying it.
Sorry, I guess.
(Not actually sorry).
* * * * *
Friendship is optional. I can’t stress that enough.
I’m writing this because I’m so tired of feeling pressured to keep people in my life that I don’t want there. I want somebody to say that it’s ok to draw your own boundaries, and it’s ok if those line up with political beliefs, because political beliefs are not meaningless. I want somebody to say it, and since nobody else was doing it, I had to say it for myself.
But you are not me, and your boundaries won’t necessarily be the same as mine. I’m definitely not saying that everyone should quit being friends with people over political beliefs. If it doesn’t bother you, and you’re ok with having friends with political opinions that you can’t stand, that’s your decision, not mine, and I am absolutely not here to tell you that you’re doing it wrong!
But I just want to own my decision and say that yes, I think it’s the best decision for me, and I’m not ashamed of it. I want to say, to the people who are wondering if they’re being unreasonable: it’s ok not to like somebody because your values are incompatible. Friendship is optional, and it should bring you joy. It’s ok to walk away, and you are not a bad person if you do. You get to decide, and nobody, not even me, gets to tell you that you’re wrong.