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It’s no secret that we live in dicey political times, and I know I’m not the only one with friends and loved ones on the opposite side of an increasingly polarized system.
I miss my stepfather dearly (he died three summers ago of colon cancer), but on more than one occasion since the 2016 election, I’ve been grateful for the luxury of wondering whether he might’ve broken ranks with his beloved Republican party in order to prevent Donald J. Trump from becoming president.
Still, most of my friends, family members, and colleagues feel as I do; namely, that Trump is an affront to the presidency, a dangerous cancer on the soul of our nation, and a tantrum-prone narcissist who is setting our nation’s social agenda back decades.
With one notable exception: my best friend.
This is a woman I’ve known for 19 years. I met her back when I was married to my first husband (full disclosure: he, too, was a Republican), and can remember her visiting me in the hospital and holding my newborn son in her arms. As toddlers, our boys played together in the bathtub—their chubby bottoms growing pink from the warm water—while we sat on the tile floor amidst the steam, drinking wine and comparing nap schedules.
A native of Kentucky, I would describe this woman as smart, loyal, generous, and honest. A steel magnolia. She strongly advised me against getting my first tattoo at age 39 (advice which I both appreciated and ignored), and in return, I’ve talked her down from perceived slights at work and imagined faux pas on the neighborhood social scene. She was a bridesmaid in my second wedding, gracing the event with her recitation of Richard Wilbur’s poem, “Wedding Toast.”
Prior to the 2016 election, we handled our different party affiliations by simply ignoring them. This was back when the Republican brand was not inextricably tied to Trump and differences of opinion regarding taxes or the size and scope of government could be easily set aside in favor of some gossip and a margarita.
Since 2016, however, I’ve been wrestling. Voting for this bozo seems a lot bigger than merely being a Republican.
I started to wonder: could my beautiful friend be a racist? Does she even believe in the notion of white privilege? Does she care about those less fortunate than she, or does she see them as inherently inferior and therefore deserving of their fate? Is preserving her personal wealth more important than making a statement against misogyny and discrimination?
Can I still be friends with this person?
Because, after all, what is a friendship if not a place where you can be yourself, share your deepest beliefs and fears, and even engage in a good debate once in a while?
My reluctance to discuss politics with this woman caused me to question the very depth of our friendship, even as we continued to meet for drinks, go for runs, and plan vacations.
After giving this a lot of thought, here’s what I’ve decided:
I rail against the news every night. I get into regular, passionate conversations with my husband, sister, children, and colleagues over the state of our nation. I post unambiguous opinions and left-leaning articles to Facebook. I took my kids to New York City to see “Hamilton.” I read Becoming by Michelle Obama. I watch Stephen Colbert and Saturday Night Live. I give money to Planned Parenthood, my local library, and the DNC.
These days, being anti-Trump takes up an enormous amount of my time and energy.
What I’ve decided is that this friendship is not a place where I need to expend that kind of time and energy.
In the same way that I don’t discuss my crush on Jason Momoa with my husband, or wear yoga pants to work, not every relationship has to be open to every possibility. (Just to be clear, I’m 100 percent sure my husband is aware of my crush on Jason Momoa.)
There are folks I will never know simply because I learned of—or made assumptions about—their political leanings before we met and decided “no, thank you.” (This, in direct contrast to my recent article advocating for “connections over qualifications.”)
Our world is becoming increasingly polarized, with fewer and fewer opportunities to hear from the other side. To jettison a friendship that’s already in place, and that brings both of us so much joy, seems frivolous…if not dangerous.
My friend is an English teacher, and I like to imagine that one day we’ll come together over a book study and begin to tease out some points of political commonality. Surely we can find agreement in our shared appreciation of Maya Angelou, or have a meaningful discussion on William Faulkner’s treatment of race, or explore some of the central societal questions posed in Tayari Jones’ An American Marriage.
But not right now.
Right now, I choose to take a mindful break from politics and allow this friendship to simply continue as a source of joy and mutual support. I choose to live in the moment when I’m with my friend—without judging her, without worrying what it might mean in terms of my commitment to certain values, and without counting calories.
I choose to focus on what we have in common—two decades of shared experiences, a love of travel and literature, motherhood, marriage, and our rapidly approaching 50s—rather than where we differ.
I gave up Chick-fil-A and their freakishly delicious nuggets, but I’m not giving up my friend.