In 2004, just before I turned 21, I met a gal who was the opposite of me in every last way and we became fast friends.
She was the bitch to my bleeding heart. The direct route to my beating around the bush. The fair skinned, mysterious brunette to my sun-tanned, fun-loving blonde.
She would become lovingly known as my “wife,” upon taking up a joint lease in a cute little fourth-floor, two-bedroom apartment.
Let me clarify that she was not my wife in the sense that we were in a homosexual relationship — not that there’s anything wrong with that, to quote the very wise Jerry Seinfeld. Rather, she’d be my wife for the way that she kept me alive for the duration of our contracted monthly rent payments.
She would text me in the middle of the night or call me at work the next day if I didn’t come home, for example. She would make no secret of the very true fact, on several occasions, that I was drinking too much. Her questioning was never convenient, but I knew it came from a place of love and I needed her.
She was a good wife.
When she and I met, I worked at a labor union and attended community college, and she managed a clothing store in the mall. We never really talked about this, because at age 21 my future was nary as important as living on my own for the very first time and having a buddy to hit the town with.
She also made sure my outfit wasn’t trifling, which was a solid bonus.
And so we would bar hop in all our opposite glory. She would vet restaurant patrons for who was and wasn’t worth our time, as I smiled politely through even the dumbest of conversations with strangers.
“You’re nicer than me,” she would say as she rolled her eyes at the prospect next to me.
One time while we were rooming together, I took my very 2004 desktop computer tower to Circuit City for a defragging. (Children: this is what we did in the old days after our computers got 35 viruses.)
When I got it back the hard drive had been completely erased — including about three years worth of digital photos. I was devastated, and the store associate basically shrugged at me and said “oh well, nothing we can do now.”
As I was standing in our apartment living room, venting about how nice it would have been to know beforehand, she picked up the phone to rectify the injustice. She pretended to be me for at least 30 minutes, demanding payment in some form for this repugnant mistake. I think she eventually landed me a gift card.
Indeed, she was that friend.
Never the one to enable, once while I was ignoring the calls of a boy I briefly liked and then changed my mind about, she lectured me about leading people on. “Just answer the phone and tell him you’re not interested, Michelle.”
Like I was some sort of monster or something. Passive aggressive works just fine, thanks.
Simply put, we each were everything the other was not. We just worked.
We knew this and we examined our relationship a lot, with a true interest in what made the other tick. We would hang out in bookstores, read about our astrological signs and laugh and laugh. “OMG, that is so you,” we would say.
That was such a common phrase in our little apartment household. Everything was “so you.” She would set aside an entire wardrobe for me at that trendy store she was working at, commenting these things would never work on her but they were “so me.”
I just really appreciated her respect for the difference. She didn’t try to be like me, never asked me to be like her, and we carried on as independent women in mutual friendship.
Funny enough, we only gallivanted together in person for that one single year.
She moved across the country from me in 2005 as our apartment lease wrapped up, just after I met the man I would eventually marry.
I remember crying to her that I’d be left to shack up with this boy and never have a nonsexual opinion about my outfit again. (Which, of course, is exactly what happened.)
But we would stay in touch. I would be in her wedding a few years later and she would be in mine. She would piss off everyone in my wedding party just like old times, assuming her position as the Personnel Management Bridesmaid to my Quietly Stressed Out Bride.
Throughout this time I participated quietly in civics, mostly as an effect of my job in labor, and never touched on the subject with her.
In fact, she was wholly against politics as far as I knew, based on one single memory from a bar in Adams Morgan when a boy asked her: “So, are you a Democrat or a Republican?”
The audacity, you guys. “THAT is your pickup line?” she said. “Who cares!? WTF is the difference!?”
I would dare not mention a politician after experiencing this reaction. It still makes me laugh, especially as we plunge toward a partisan election in 2020 where she has taken an interest in who will lead us for the very first time.
Imagine my surprise when she formulated a position and challenged one of my social media posts recently. The surprise only being the interest in politics, of course — not so much that she would land on an ideology completely the opposite of mine.
Why break with tradition now?
True to the length of our friendship, however, there was a respectful curiosity in her messages to me. I could tell that certain positions linked to her morality were causing her to question whether I could still be a good person while lending my vote to Joe Biden.
I respected that, and decided not to be threatened by it. If any of my friends could hear my opposing views on politics of all things, without getting offended, it would be her.
Last weekend, we decided to exchange book titles as a way to sit in the other’s ideology for a little while. We would read the chapters recommended without feeling obligated to respond, exploring the differing thoughts in our own quiet minds.
I’m not afraid to admit I was daunted by the idea, but it was also my idea, and I loved that she was open to it. Of course she was, and the result has been worthy in every way of the time given.
The book I recommended to her was Untamed, by Glennon Doyle. I chose this one because it centers on the mentality of someone who didn’t fit the standard “Christian-American Woman” mold she’d been dropped into, and it made her very sick (mentally, emotionally). I thought it framed the need for a social justice movement so well.
When we came back to discuss midway, she told me she felt like the church had let this poor girl down. We agreed it is good to have ideology in leadership that looks out for human beings who fall through the cracks of some of our rigid institutions.
In exchange, she asked me to read Black Rednecks & White Liberals, by Thomas Sowell. Much different from the focus on mental health, this one laid out a chronology of the changing cultural landscape for black Americans since our country’s founding. It walked through the truths of slavery, examined the effects of different progressive solutions over time, and compared our biases to cultural biases the world over through history.
Her book choice made the point that White Liberals seemed to make themselves responsible for interfering with black culture in a way that potentially isn’t helping. I had heard many of the points made from anti-racism educators around the internet, but realized and agreed with the need for defenders of baseline societal rules that apply to everyone, exactly the same, at all costs.
Whether I believe that goal is realized at this point in time aside, I understand. Because just like our friendship, the same way that she and I jived over 15 years ago for our balance to one another’s opposite motives — so too does America need differing mentalities in order to keep us accountable to our freedom.
It is this very system of checks and balances in government and discourse which makes sure that institutions and human beings are spoken for as we continue to improve the function of our homeland.
I’ll make it very clear that this exercise did not change our politics.
I still lean to the side where human rights must challenge institutions and she still identifies with very simplified structure and rules — as she has for as long as I have known her.
This activity didn’t serve to change our minds so much as it forced us understand. It let us stand before the other as we always have, and say, “that’s so you.”
It isn’t inherently bad or wrong — it’s not for me — but it is “so you.”
Last Saturday, I watched The Social Dilemma — to add an important layer to this story.
Frankly, going through this process with my dear friend at the same time I learned how social media algorithms manipulate our brains turned my stomach.
Indeed, I had been reading her social posts, at complete odds with mine, and I was drawing conclusions.
I was internally bothered by the things she was sharing, much as I have tried to be less of a “snowflake” these past three years. This documentary affirmed the suspicion I’d long had that my echo chamber, along with the news stories my algorithm knew I wanted, had contorted an opinion no matter how resistant I thought I was to such things after 2016.
Plain and simple, she does not see the same news that I do; not even the same science. Her facts have been telling her my beliefs are evil and vice versa.
I believe adult humans are capable of beating this, but we are playing with fire when we let social media content affirm and weaponize our religious and political beliefs against others.
When I say I am voting for Joe, that only means I am picking the candidate more in the direction of my dreams for this country. It irks me to every end when someone assumes I love and align with every ounce of his baggage, because I am also a grown ass woman with my very own thoughts thankyouverymuch.
With awareness to this, however, I have to extend the same understanding to my friends who vote for Donald Trump. I have to stop assuming things about them without asking questions, just because I’m afraid their answers might offend me.
We have to get back to this.
At this point, I am less scared of a second Trump term than I am of what social media politics will do to us if we keep this up. Truly.
So what do I suggest?
Bear with me as I challenge you to reach out to a “right-wing nut” or “liberal snowflake” that you otherwise love outside of elections.
Resist the temptation to tell someone who is reaching out to you, “I don’t have time for this; it’s not going to change my mind.”
Just stay, and let yourself learn something. Seize the opportunity to teach that person something about you and why you think the way you do.
Even better, exchange book titles like my “wife” and I did and agree to read quietly with an open heart.
I understand we are all busy schooling kids at home and trying to dodge COVID, but this is one of the most important things I have done with my time all year — I truly believe that.
Lastly, if you haven’t already, catch The Social Dilemma on Netflix when you are done with this blog post. Awareness is the first step.