Why Are You Rethinking Friendships Because of Politics?
I am witnessing a spate of social media posts from real people (along with incredibly lifelike, physically attractive bots) that say something akin to this:
If you plan to vote for Trump, delete me. If you voted for Trump, we are no longer friends. Enjoy your “pro life” stance because now you are dead to me. If you think the world is a good place right now, return the lacrosse stick you borrowed and pour acid in your veins.
I can’t help but think … how do people define adult friendships today?
For most of us, childhood served up an easy platter of accidental friendships. The kids who sat next to you in homeroom, ate at your lunch table, rode beside you on the bus, quickly became part of your tribe. From unsupervised violent games of football against whoever showed up on an empty field to four kids playing Gauntlet together in a video game arcade to sleeping outside Tower Records to nab early morning tickets to Lollapalooza, sharing an activity morphed strangers into friends. Rapidly.
As adults, it becomes harder. Donating time and effort to friendships is pushed aside in favor of Saturday drywall repair, child soccer games, and hammock time. Something far more pernicious has taken hold with the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections. Existing adult friendships teeter on the edge of extinction with a single self-disclosure of political party preference.
I suggest that you reconsider the paramount importance of friendships, and the ease by which you relinquish them. This begins with an understanding of what friendship means (something I have written about before: here and also here).
What is the architecture of a strong friendship? There are at least three features of a solid friendship.
There is a goal of pleasure. There is an expectation that both parties enjoy each other’s company and show relatively equal amounts of appreciation and enjoyment. You know each other. You try hard not to offend and try even harder not to be offended. With little worry about whether you will do something wrong, the two of you are at ease just being who you are and making the best of shared moments. Goodwill offers a foundation for frequent pleasurable moments.
There is a sense of duty. There is an expectation that you will act in your friend’s interest without being forced to, without being told to, without being accountable. Their wins and losses are you own and you act accordingly. Shovel snow together, you split the money evenly. You are trustworthy and you trust them.
There is a high level of empathy. There is an expectation that both parties will try to understand each other’s perspective. You will not always agree but you put in the work to understand who they are, where their motivations lie, and attempt to seek agreement when discord arises. Your differences make each of you stronger as there is a pooled set of knowledge, insights, and resources for each of you to draw from. You will not necessarily meet at the midpoint during disagreements. You will not necessarily have an evenly balanced ledger at the end of a night, week, or month. But there is a commitment to being fair and including the other person within your sphere of moral concerns.
A solid friendship possesses each of the three features above but some friendships contain only one or two. There are friendship types based on the triad above.
Pleasure only = a “buddy” or the fun guy or gal who is just the source of an occasional good time.
Duty only = an old friend; the person you went to grade school with and feel you have to meet for dinner when they are in town but you don’t really know them anymore.
Empathy only = collegial and caring neighbors or colleagues; without a collection of shared moments of pleasure and/or vulnerability, the relationship lacks depth.
Friendship is a two-way street. In a solid friendship, both parties agree on the quality of the friendship. Both parties agree on the purpose of a friendship. Now, both parties might think a friendship is great. Alternatively, both parties might think the friendship is subpar. And weirdest of all, there might be a lopsided situation where the parties don’t agree on the quality or purpose. The last one is an interesting dynamic that receives insufficient attention.