Became alienated from many friends over the past 5 years
October 12, 2021 1:05 PM   Subscribe

I live in a liberal city in the US. The past 5 years have made me feel strongly about feminism, antiracism, pro-LGBTQ, etc. Some of my oldest friends have gone in the opposite direction, revealing that they're TERFs, male chauvinists, or enablers of bigots. Those friendships are falling by the wayside. Watching my friend circle continue to shrink makes me depressed and lonely. How can I feel more hopeful?

I'm a woman who immigrated to the US in my youth. I grew up in white-dominated places in the US.

When Trump got elected in 2016, all the feelings I repressed my whole life about being an immigrant and a woman of color came to the foreground. I was no longer willing to be a pushover. Each subsequent movement (Women's March, MeToo, BLM) made me feel more strongly about speaking up.

Some of my friends were already well-informed about these issues, or they also went through their own process of becoming better informed. Those friends and I continue to get along great. We learn from each other and challenge each other's thinking.

However, other friends are expressing beliefs that are in the opposite direction as me. They proclaim to be liberal, and think of themselves as progressive. But for example, I've known a couple of male friends for over 20 years. When I met them, they had romantic relationships that seemed egalitarian. Now they're in their 40s and 50s, and dating women half their age (i.e. early-mid 20s). I find it unpleasant to talk to them and hear about how hot their girlfriend is, or their extreme jealousy, or the 1950s-style marriage they want to create.

Some friends are white, and have an attitude of "Can't we all just get along?" They want to hold gatherings where they invite their racist Trump-supporter friends and relatives, and also invite me. When I attended the events, I found the conversation offensive. Now I refuse to attend, and my friends are dismayed and want me to start attending again. If I spend a large amount of emotional labor explaining to them, they might slightly understand, but they really just prefer to not understand.

Some female friends had kids, sent those kids to private school, and are now Karens. They constantly talk about being victimized. They refuse to acknowledge that white privilege exists. When they interact with a Black person, they feel guilty and think the guilt makes them the victim. When they feel scared of a trans person, they think the fear makes them the victim. etc.

Most of these friendships have already disintegrated. Others are hanging by a thread. I've tried to hold onto some of them for several years, because I grieved over losing a decades-long friendship. Sometimes I tried repeatedly to explain how their actions are hurtful, to no avail.

These friends express a strong desire to keep their friendship with me ... but they insist any conflict is due to me misunderstanding them. They're sad about the growing distance between us. They accuse me of not being a good friend to them. Some of them feel that they're being victimized by me drifting away or challenging their micro-aggressions. Sometimes I suggest reading material for them. They either don't read it, or read it and completely miss the point ("So the author is saying white men can never be friends with women of color?") If I tell them how important this topic is to me, and how it's getting in the way of our friendship, they get defensive. It's just so much emotional labor with very little results. I grew to dread and resent interactions with those friends.

For those of you who have gone through a similar experience, what did you do that helped with grieving the lost friendships? It's been brutal and depressing, losing one friend after another. Did you move to a different city? Did you just wait it out, gradually replacing these friends with new friends?

I also tend to mentally beat myself up, questioning my judgment in forming so many friendships that are now causing me conflict and stress. In addition, these friends profess to value gender and racial equality, and it's caused me to be suspicious of new friends in case they also turn out to secretly hold incompatible views.

(I'm not interested in answers about how I can preserve these friendships by changing myself, biting my tongue about equality, or sticking to "neutral" topics.)

If you've been through this, how did it eventually get better?
posted by vienna to Human Relations (19 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: This is exactly my story (can we be friends?!). I had to end a 20+year friendship with someone because I found out that she was a COVID-denier and also voted for Trump, neither of which were things that I ever imaged she would be/do. It was sad and difficult to do, but I also feel strongly that it was the right thing to do, as being susceptible to misinformation is one thing but I draw a hard line at racism.

It helped me a lot to join a national group that worked to make and distribute masks and mask-making supplies. I connected with some of the volunteers via the group Slack channel, and after the mask needs started to dwindle and the organization wasn't as active we spun off into our own private group chat and now we talk as like-minded friends often.

I also joined my local DSA chapter and have met some really great people there. You could try that, or find (or start) a chapter of the Sunrise Movement or Food Not Bombs.
posted by mezzanayne at 1:26 PM on October 12, 2021 [6 favorites]

Similar situation. Ending friendships is sad, but sometimes it's what is best for everyone. The friends who I like enough as people, I keep, and the rest, I let go, and make new friends.

Btw, I'm your friend from the other side. Not literally -- I'm sure I don't know you, but if you were my friend, you'd probably think of me as one of the groups you painted, even though I'm pretty liberal by average standards, and really just living my life. It's interesting that you see your friends as having diverged from your views, when I see my hyper-progressive friends as having diverged from mine.
posted by redlines at 1:27 PM on October 12, 2021 [7 favorites]

I get the feeling of loss — and the fear that I won’t be able to find better friends — because I’ve been there. Yet by eliminating these people from taking up space in my mind, heart, and calendar, I was making space for awesome new people. A few years later and my life is full of good people. I eventually moved but it wasn’t necessary because I had already found better people and quite quickly. In fact, I only wish I had done it sooner! I can almost guarantee you that, while it’s hard now, you will feel so much better in a few months, almost like relief or a weight taken off! I’m sorry they’ve been such a burden and for so long!
posted by smorgasbord at 1:30 PM on October 12, 2021 [7 favorites]

By your own account, you grew up as an immigrant in white-dominated places, so you probably didn't have a diverse array of friends available. It's okay that we grow up and apart and don't stay friends with people from our youths, especially when those places and people don't reflect the values we hold close. What can be really hard, and what sounds like the situation you are in, is that you've continued to invest in those friendships and haven't formed friendships more recently that reflect your current way of thinking.

Are you in your 40s? It's certainly possible to make new friends. I'd encourage you try to connect with people over some of your new values and interests. I also think engaging with people who share your values and interests will help you feel hopeful.

I'll confess that I haven't stayed connected to many old friends where their values are so different than mine. I tend to move away from those friendships.

I'm not going to tell you to censor your opinions or thoughts to maintain these friendships. Honestly, I'm not sure why you think you'd get that advice here? Maybe if you had to be around some intolerable person for a half-day for a family event, it would be one thing where it would be worth it to keep certain things to yourself for the sake of the whole family, but you're talking about friends, people you spend time with. We don't need to share all our values with our friends, but we I don't want to spend a lot of time with people whose values seem in conflict with my existence.

You said a lot of these friends complain that they're losing touch with you. Are you perhaps the "diverse" friend for them who makes them feel like their friends aren't all the same? You aren't obligated to play that role in their lives.

There's only one thing that gave me pause, and I'd encourage you, if you are inclined, to think about if there are one or two of these friendships where you think the people are thoughtful and open-minded enough to maintain as friends, especially outside of a group context. Not that they're perfect, but that they're sincere and trying to do some self-reflection. Did all of those women friends become terrible? Or is there one who seems less reactionary? Maybe there are one or two friendships worth saving.

It can also be the case that when we come into some new ideas that click and make sense to us, where we feel a lot of passion, we can sometimes be so enthusiastic that we might overwhelm people who have known us for a long time. I think in your new awareness, you might be seeing things more black and white right now.

Maybe try talking to folks one-on-one about some of your feelings. Or don't. It's truly okay to move on, too.

And the best way to grieve those friendships is by acknowledging the loss to yourself, keeping busy, and pursuing new connections.
posted by bluedaisy at 1:55 PM on October 12, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Every relationship you shed with someone who doesn't share your values makes you a safer friend in the future to someone who does. Keep being who you are openly and loudly, and the good friends will find you.

I'm pretty unrelenting in my opinions and that doesn't work for a lot of people. And I'm not sure there's anything that ticks me off more than moderate neutrality. In the 17 years or so that I've been an adult, my circle has gone through a lot of flux that reflects that.
posted by phunniemee at 2:42 PM on October 12, 2021 [12 favorites]

Best answer: I've shed a few people since 2016 who are now a "bad fit" for friendship with me. All of them are cis, white, and straight (and I'm not any of that) and I definitely had the experience where they wanted to continue to be friends "despite our differences" and I just let them go. In most cases I just let it slow-fade and it really also showed how much of the onus was previously on me to keep the relationships going. I also had some friends really step up and work on themselves and their biases and that was amazing.

I did find, though, that the friendships with the people who have stayed in my life are better. The people who are still in my life are better listeners, more compassionate and empathetic, and do not feel like a drain of my energy. We can talk about baseball or music or politics or vaccination and when we don't agree it's because our favorite teams are different and not because I believe that systemic racism is real and they have experienced "reverse racism" so I must be wrong.

Free yourself from friendships that aren't a good fit for you anymore. Enrich the ones you keep. Friendship seems to mostly be trial and error anyhow, don't beat yourself up when it doesn't work out forever.
posted by komlord at 3:25 PM on October 12, 2021 [11 favorites]

Best answer: I have found great joy in replacing my failed friendships with white people with friendships of people with a similar background to mine. Well, not even that similar, mainly just also not white. I still feel occasional little pangs of guilt or grief over the long-standing relationships that ended (usually when I read a list of red flags and it says something like “doesn’t have any friends from their childhood or some such nonsense), but honestly it is so wonderful to have friendships with people who challenge me to grow instead of always feeling like I’m being challenged to tolerate some backwards white nonsense. Community aid, organizations for immigrants and some very specific craft groups put me in regular contact with people who I actively want to be friends with instead of just tolerating. I figured life is too short to waste on those old friends, but too long for me to want to go through it without friends at all!
posted by Bottlecap at 4:38 PM on October 12, 2021 [2 favorites]

Unlike many of the previous answers on this thread, I am not in a similar situation or “can we be friends” ilk. Rather, I am likely the type of person you might have ditched in recent years. I certainly could identify with a few of the labels you list off as nopes. I chewed over whether to post, but I suppose I’m hopeful that my perspective will be helpful.

In the last couple years, I have adjusted or tossed relationships where people hurt me or sabotaged me in one way or another. Toward the end of the Orange Cheetoh’s reign, I realized that I wasn’t just shutting out people who hurt me, but those whose opinions were different from mine, whose viewpoint was different from mine. I did the math and realized that if I kept going down that path, I wouldn’t have anyone left.

I did some soul searching and came to the conclusion that these people hadn’t really changed—rather the political atmosphere had become acrimonious, where the Right was encouraging wrath and the Left was responding by encouraging the confabulation of social pain and physical endangerment. Most of the people in my life weren’t going off the deep end (though a handful did). Rather the endless Twitter barrage and news cycle had overwhelmed my defenses and made me hyper allergic to anything that remotely seemed to threatened my sense of self.

YMMV but I realized that when I reduced people to labels and could no longer identify them separately from what made them part of a big meme-y group, the relationship was definitively over. But when most of the people around me fall into the rejection pile, I look to see how exhausted and overwhelmed I am and whether that might be coloring my perspective and expectations a bit. It’s also helped me hold onto some friendships with a wait-and-see attitude toward my own ability to cope.

In your circumstance, I would definitely find people who share your perspective and beliefs either via advocacy or meetups etc. I would urge you to wait on making a decision about your more conservative compatriots until after achieving that balance. I personally found that doing this made it easier for me to see mountains for mountains and mole hills for mole hills (ie I roll my eyes at the cousin with the trophy wife—it’s stupid and typical, but his choice to marry someone half his age threatens my self esteem but not my existence).
posted by executive_dysfuncti0n at 6:25 PM on October 12, 2021 [14 favorites]

Response by poster: Please show respect by following my clear request: "I'm not interested in answers about how I can preserve these friendships by changing myself".

The prior answer advocated wait-and-see and also rolling my eyes (but staying silent?) at patriarchal situations. Watching an older man behave with extreme jealousy (did you see this part in my post?) and urging his girlfriend to give up her career in her early 20s to form a 1950s-style marriage doesn't "hurt my self esteem" (!). As a feminist, it frustrates me to watch this up-close patriarchal demonstration.

A big thank you to everyone else who answered so far. It was helpful to read about specific volunteer venues where people made friends, and how those friendships formed. It was also great to hear how you felt a few years later. I would love to hear any other answers. Thanks!!
posted by vienna at 9:06 PM on October 12, 2021 [12 favorites]

For me the best way to deal with grief over the loss of a relationship is to improve other relationships in my life. That might mean working to become closer with existing friends or to develop new friendships or entire social circles. This helps me focus on the awesome life I'm building for myself, instead of the old parts of my life that I miss.
posted by metasarah at 7:46 AM on October 13, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I think it is especially hard right now to make new friends, since the people you're most likely to connect with are also staying home. Right now may be an extra good time to put effort into virtual or safer socializing with those friends you still feel close to, and it's a good time to tell them that you appreciate them and why. You could also reach out to those friends to talk about making more efforts toward "intentional community", and maybe everyone trying more deliberately to bring together their various like-minded friends - I'm assuming you don't already all know each other - to grow the circle.

That can mean sticking your neck out as organizer or ringleader, and it may also mean not always getting a ton of response, which can be disheartening but I think it's worth remembering that other people get busy and get anxious, and keep it going a while to see if you can get some momentum going. It might mean polling your friends to see what kind of thing they'd be interested in doing, but one low-stakes way to start that you can do virtually is to have a craft-along or WIP-along, where everybody sits down in front of Zoom with some Thing they need to work on (when I've done this with friends and not been feeling crafty, I've cleaned my desk or done some mending and it was very satisfying) and spend a couple hours working on it and chatting. It can help to ask everyone to bring an interesting fact or piece of trivia, which often make good conversation starters and often spark "oh you love X? I love X too!" connections.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:24 AM on October 13, 2021

With respect to executive_dysfunction's answer, I believe it was intended not so much as "how I can preserve these friendships" but how to make new friends in a world where pretty much no one actually measures up to Twitter-perfect current-year standards of social justice in their political views, let alone their personal lives and lifestyle preferences, AND be good friends that you trust and like, and who trust and like you. Honestly, for me, getting that last part is hard enough. But if you find those friends, possibly through some of the answers here, even better.
posted by redlines at 9:17 AM on October 13, 2021 [4 favorites]

Best answer: No advice, just an observation. This is not just a difference of opinions, or a disagreement over politics. It’s not just an abstract mismatch. Several of the examples are personal, denying the validity of your lived experience, misrepresenting what you say, jumping to weird conclusions about demographics that include you, exposing you to others that devalue you, expecting you to interpret everything in the most flattering way for them, not recognizing, acknowledging or caring when they hurt you. Why would keeping them in your life be better?

There may be some that had some misconceptions but try to correct them when you go through all the slog and drain of telling them, they will be apologizing quickly and sincerely for harming you. These people are easily recognized from their reactions to you bringing up a micro aggression. It doesn’t sound like you mean these in your post.
posted by meijusa at 9:18 AM on October 13, 2021 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: To clarify, it's not like I'm giving up on these friendships due to a label or a single point of contention. I'm not saying, "Oh, she sends her kids to private school and she shared a problematic post on Facebook 3 years ago, so I'll fade her out."

It's more like this:

Me: How's it going?
Longtime friend: I just fired my nanny.
Me: Why?
Friend: My kid asked her what a trans person is, and she told him about how a boy can become a girl.
Me: What's wrong with that?
Friend: She shouldn't have done it. Those moms who let their kids "experiment with gender" are going to regret it once their kids grow up and hate their moms. Also, we need to stop with the unisex bathrooms. ... [some more TERF stereotypical stances]
Me: No, there are studies disproving these. [go off and do research] Look, I spent 20 minutes and found you two studies showing that trans kids don't regret it later.
Friend: I don't have time to read those. I'm too busy with mom stuff. Also, all my school-mom-friends agree with me.
Me: I have trans friends, and these attitudes are hurtful to them.
Friend: Well, unisex bathrooms are hurtful to me as a woman. I need to feel safe in the bathroom.

Repeat these conversations over the course of 6 months, when she wants to give more funding to cops "so she can feel safe", when she is upset about seeing homeless people because it makes her feel unsafe, etc.

I end up asking myself, "Was she always like this and I was just oblivious? Did she gradually change into this? How did I end up having a long friendship with someone who can say these callous things?"

Or like this:

Friend: Are you coming to my event next week?
Me: No, I don't want to run into your friends X and Y. Last time, they were so happy about equal-pay gender-equality activists getting fired.
Friend: What made you think they were happy about it?
Me: They sounded happy.
Friend: That's not the impression I got from them. Anyway, I want to honor a wide set of opinions. I think there's room for many views.
Me: Their views are hurtful to me.
Friend: Have you considered that some of your views might be hurtful to them?
Me: They are white men. They are in the privileged group already.
Friend: People in the privileged group can still be hurt.
Me: Here's an article explaining how it's different when a minority-group is oppressed, versus the majority-group feeling uncomfortable.
Friend: [after reading] So the article is saying that white men can never talk about the topic of equal-pay?
Me: Obviously that's not what the article says!

Usually, I will have at least 3-4 of these conversations with a friend over the course of months, before deciding that the friendship isn't going to work.

I appreciate your tactical answers, especially how I can form new friendships during the pandemic, or turn my existing friends into a more tight-knit community. Many thanks!
posted by vienna at 10:39 AM on October 13, 2021 [10 favorites]

Best answer: I think if you are worrying perhaps that you need to test out your new/existing friends for their social justice credentials without wanting to actually go round and test for everything, I would look at two things in particular.

Firstly, how do they talk with actual real people. I think this is a version of 'how do they treat the waitstaff', but extended. So, I have a few older friends or family members who are a little bit less educated on some social justice topics, but do always prioritise the needs and wellbeing of the people around them when they are with them and will adjust their own behaviour as needed. And then I know other people who are actually not very good at treating other people as individuals with agency, and rich and complex lives. I can at least trust that the first group want to be kind, and that really does go a long way especially combined with a willingness to adapt.

The second thing, which is more of a 'what is a red flag?' point. In my experience, if anyone does a 'think of the children' thing about almost any issue then they'll usually have a range of views that they think are moral and I think are horrific. Similarly, for people that express contempt for people living in poverty. I mention both of those, because they are often things that people think are safe or even good to bring up. As I say, it usually indicates I am not going to have enough values in common with them to be friends.

The only other thing I will say is that there are levels of not being friends with people. I have few really close friends, but I have even fewer people who I would just cut dead in the street if they said hello. And I have a lot of people whose politics and general attitude to other people that I cannot stand, but am willing to have smile and nod if I pass them in the street and have a few moments of benign small talk with at an event. You may want to put your boundaries in different places, but it's not all or nothing.
posted by plonkee at 12:16 PM on October 13, 2021 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Also, who cares what these people think about whose fault it is that the previous friendship is drifting. They've already demonstrated bad judgement. Let them think what they like. If one day they reflect on their attitudes and come round, they'll probably reflect on why you drifted away and make amends. If they don't, you'll be happier with friends that do share your fundamental values.
posted by plonkee at 12:18 PM on October 13, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I’m rereading your questions and comments and I’m seeing two main questions:

How do I grieve these friendships?

Was something wrong with me that I didn’t see this earlier?

I have lost friendships. Sometimes I never knew why. It was hard. It literally took me over a year to let go, emotionally, of that person, even after the friendship was clearly over. I understand this. I also have friends I lost touch with who I miss. I think you are smart to consider this a grieving process and honor this pain.

I once read, ‘sometimes people come into your life for a reason or a season’. Most relationships we have with other people have an expiration date. They grow out of or are based on specific life phases or shared interests and it’s natural for them to end. That doesn’t mean it’s not sad when they end but it also doesn’t mean that they were bad friendships or somehow invalid or not real. They were real friendships. Now they are over. Thinking of relationships as something with a life cycle has helped let go of some of the pain around losing them. And it reminds me that I should be trying to add new relationships and be open to new friendships to people that I meet.

Just like a garden has plants that are perennials and some that are annual. There will be your rhododendrons that last for decades, your rose bushes that will go dormant periodically, your vegetables and annuals which are fruitful and lovely but need to be replaced every spring.
posted by bq at 12:23 PM on October 13, 2021 [6 favorites]

to continue bq's analogy: and the mushrooms that pop up with no effort or control on your part
posted by olopua at 6:40 PM on October 13, 2021

I recently gave up on a friendship like this, because the emotional labor was too much. There's no bad blood between us, I've just chosen not to put any more effort into keeping the friendship going. For whatever reason, in recent years my friend has been unable to put as much time or emotional effort into the friendship, and I've accepted that. Instead I'm going to focus my time and energy on meaningful causes, as well as social groups that better align with my values.
posted by carnival_night_zone at 8:21 AM on October 19, 2021

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