From a brilliant and understandably upset friend of mine. Just a reminder that the topics we address here and in the real world have real consequences to real people and we have to remember to be considerate:
I have friends who I disagree with. About a lot of things, in fact. From Middle East policy to programming languages, taxes to burrito joints, there are people who I argue with, who I get in discussions with, and who I value.
Some days, I’ll fight and argue about this stuff. On some topics, I won’t. I’m not interested in your theories on gay rights, in your debate tactics and points and counterpoints, because this isn’t an intellectual exercise, “these are my relationships,” I would say, “this is the part where my boss doesn’t meet my partner.” That’s a line in the sand that I’ve been willing to draw.
But for the first time with one of these friends, for one of these arguments, I’m considering calling it a day. I’m reminded of Melissa McEwan’s “The Terrible Bargain We have Regretfully Struck” where she speaks the truth, in a way that I feel again and again every time I read it.
There are the occasions that men—intellectual men, clever men, engaged men—insist on playing devil’s advocate, desirous of a debate on some aspect of feminist theory or reproductive rights or some other subject generally filed under the heading: Women’s Issues. These intellectual, clever, engaged men want to endlessly probe my argument for weaknesses, want to wrestle over details, want to argue just for fun—and they wonder, these intellectual, clever, engaged men, why my voice keeps raising and why my face is flushed and why, after an hour of fighting my corner, hot tears burn the corners of my eyes. Why do you have to take this stuff so personally? ask the intellectual, clever, and engaged men, who have never considered that the content of the abstract exercise that’s so much fun for them is the stuff of my life.
I’ve honestly never thought about what the type of argument that would end a friendship would be. If you asked high school me, I would imagine that she would think it would be some great falling out, with explosions and screaming matches and deep vows of never speaking to each other again. Now, it feels more like a deep pit in my stomach, an overwhelming desire to cry, and to ask myself where everything went so wrong. It’s the desire to disengage, to ignore, to pull away, because this once-solid relationship where I found comfort is now a source of pain. I liked you, I would say, if I could bring myself to speak about this without feeling like I fulfilled some stereotype of typical feminine irrationality.
“I liked you. We were friends. How could you be like that? How could you look at the same set of facts as I did and come to a conclusion that hurting people, real people, is less important than your right to argue? Does it cause you so much frustration to examine your own privilege, to note that the experiences you have had are different from other people’s, that you would rather create things out of thin air?”
“When you tell me that what we’re talking about isn’t real, that it doesn’t matter, that my lived experience is an insufficient counter for your browbeating arguments, do you expect me to eventually agree? Do you think the strength of your rhetoric will somehow cause me to realize that everything I have seen, that all the expertise I have is less important than your guesses? Does our friendship mean so little to you that it is more important to be right than to listen? Do I mean so little to you that it is more important be right than not to hurt me?”
I guess, when that’s what you want to say to someone, they probably aren’t your friend anymore anyway.