This was going to be a paragraph on Facebook. Turns out I had more than a paragraph to say…
I read somewhere that what we want most is what we didn’t have enough of when we were seven years old. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but it rings true for me.
When I was seven years old I didn’t have enough friends. Or really, any friends. I lived in a rural area with no neighbors within walking distance. I went to a small church where the three or four kids in my Sunday School class were all older and had different interests and outlooks on life. And as for school, well, to use Gordon White’s term I was a weird kid, and we know how other kids respond to weird kids.
I now have a handful of very close friends who I cherish dearly. I’m still in contact with some of my closest friends from my high school and college days, although that gets harder every year. Facebook tells me I have 1772 friends, and I’d have more if I was convinced the 146 open requests weren’t spammers and scammers.
And I still don’t have enough friends. Certainly not enough to throw them away over disagreements, misunderstandings, and differing priorities.
Friendships, like all relationships, require work. Entropy applies to friends just like it applies to energy: left alone, people slowly drift apart.
I hear people saying “I’m tired of doing all the work in this relationship.” I get that, but if the other person won’t do it, how can you not? How can you let a friendship end for want of a phone call, an e-mail, or a dinner invitation?
I’m genuinely perplexed by those who unfriend people (on social media and in real life) for the slightest personal offense or political difference. I’m frustrated with those who attempt to involve me in their shunning campaigns. How can you do this? How can you walk away from a friend? I don’t think I’ve lost one real world friend or family member over our very significant religious differences, even though some relationships have been strained at times.
I got caught up in one mass unfriending a few years ago, centered around Stephen McNallen of the Asatru Folk Assembly. He’s one of the most pernicious racists in modern Paganism, and isolating him was the right thing to do.
But it still felt wrong telling people “you can’t be friends with me if you’re friends with him.” If the same situation arose today, I don’t know that I’d make the same choices.
In any case, that’s now the standard. If the person you want me to shun isn’t as evil as Stephen McNallen, then I’m going to ignore your request. If you choose to unfriend me, I will mourn the loss, but that’s on you.
If you wonder about my position on any important issue, just ask. I’ll be happy to tell you… and the rest of the world. I’m not known for keeping my opinions to myself. If you assume my position is this or that based on who’s on my friends list, that’s your mistake. If you think my position obligates me to like or dislike anyone, that is also your mistake.
I have limits and boundaries. If you post pictures of abused animals or people, I will unfollow you. Those disturb me and I’m already aware of the problem. If you post non-stop political memes (from the left, right, or center) I will unfollow you. Our political problems are deep and complex and they aren’t going to be solved with sound bites. Post thoughtful analysis and practical solutions (from the left, right, or center) and I’ll follow you more closely.
If you send links, memes, or other spam through private message – regardless of content – after being warned, I’ll block you.
If you insist your way is the One True Way – whether in religion, politics, culture, or anything else – I’ll ignore you and Facebook’s algorithms will take care of the rest.
I have different standards for close friends: people I know and interact with on a regular basis, and people whose opinions I respect and value – whether I agree with them or not. I appreciate people who challenge me and make me think. These are the friends I so desperately wanted when I was seven years old – my limits with them are very, very broad.
I’ve maintained relationships with “difficult” people long after most of my other friends wrote them off. I’ve put up with rude behavior, defended them in private conversations, and explained why I sympathize with them.
Mainly, they were friends, and friends are too few and too precious to throw away over a misunderstanding or a difference of opinion.
But even with close friends, I have limits.
I do not take sides when friends fight. If you insist I choose a side, you will not like the choice I make. Or maybe you will – I’m not everyone’s cup of tea. But when presented with evidence (that I find convincing) that a friend has been abusive to others (remembering that holding an unpopular opinion does not constitute abuse), and especially if they’ve been dishonest about their actions, I’ll drop them in a minute.
My loyalty to my friends is great. My loyalty to my values and the virtues of my Gods is greater.
I tend to tolerate friends who abuse me more than those who abuse others. But that too has its limits.
If you engage in deep conversation over contentious issues things are going to get passionate. I do my best to keep my arguments calm, reasonable, and on topic, and away from the personalities of those I’m debating with. I take pride in being the “bigger person” and in maintaining decorum even when others can’t or won’t.
But when people play fast and loose with the facts, when they twist my words into something I didn’t say, and when they turn differences of opinion into assaults on my character, my tolerance is limited. The closer we are the harder I’m going to keep trying, but eventually I run out of patience.
Last year I gave up on someone whose work I greatly respected, even though we disagreed more than we agreed. This year was the last straw on another relationship where a bright red line was crossed one time too many.
I’ve never been in an abusive relationship, but it must be something like this. Good times, outbursts, recovery, rinse and repeat. You hope it won’t happen again, but it always does. And so you accept reality and move on.
And it hurts. Friendships are precious, and I can’t stand to lose even one. But if the cost of maintaining a friendship is either abandoning my integrity or putting up with abuse, that’s not really a friendship.
How was I ever going to say all this in one Facebook paragraph?
I cherish my friends.
Nobody gets to tell me who my friends are.
I have boundaries, and they’re different for different people.
I’ll put up with a lot to maintain a friendship, but I have limits, and when someone crosses those limits, it’s over.
You, of course, must set your own boundaries and make your own decisions. This isn’t a teaching piece and it isn’t an advocacy piece.
This is a piece of my soul.
Make of it what you will.