How to Maintain Friendship with a Republican (or Democrat)

We’ve all been there. You’re just minding your own business, killing time on the Internet, when you see “4 friends like this” beneath Mitt Romney’s shining visage. First comes the feeling of shock, then anger. Before you shed a single tear and click “Hid

Sep 19, 2012 at 9:28 am

We’ve all been there. You’re just minding your own business, killing time on the Internet, when you see “4 friends like this” beneath Mitt Romney’s shining visage. First comes the feeling of shock. “But his brother is gay,” you think. “He doesn’t believe his own brother should have equal rights?” Next is disappointment, leaving you wondering how long your friend has been “afflicted.” Finally there’s anger: “Oh, he thinks he can litter my newsfeed with that garbage?”

Before you shed a single tear and click “Hide all updates from this user” or — gasp! — “Unfriend,” stop what you’re doing. Shut off the TV or laptop or phone or whatever platform is causing you to reevaluate your entire history with this person. It is possible to maintain a relationship with a Republican (or Democrat), even during election season.

The older you get, the more politics apply to your life. As a kid, you don’t even think about left and right when making friends. The topic barely even comes up among children. I’m inclined to believe politics are more divided now than they were 20 years ago, but 20 years ago at this time I was watching Rugrats and showing off my shoe-tying skills. After approaching voting age, certain issues are pushed to the forefront of our minds and topics of conversation. It’s hard to distinguish whether politics really invade our lives more and more each year, or if we’re just more aware because of the surge of media coverage and access to technology.

This issue jumped off the screen and into human form during a recent happy hour with an old high school friend. Like most longtime friends, we’ve grown up and apart over the years, but we enjoy our sporadic get-togethers. There’s always something to talk about when you go months between catching up. While politics are rarely a major topic, I have noticed over the years that our views on many issues are increasingly opposing. And while there probably isn’t a single opinion she could believe in that would overshadow our friendship, I generally try to steer clear of any non-neutral topics. It’s my very grownup way of sticking my fingers in my ears while singing “La, la, la!”

So, on this particular day, I deftly avoided the LCD screens that engulfed us with coverage from the Republican National Convention. Despite my efforts and uncomfortable winces, harmless gossip about former classmates who already had babies somehow turned to gay marriage and reproduction rights. She mostly talked while I mostly listened, mentally going through the aforementioned steps and trying not to start a slightly buzzed debate in a bar. But before I got to “anger,” we were already back to talking about DIY projects we found on Pinterest. Something I had continually built up in my head came and passed with minimal agony.

So your close friend or cousin has beliefs you find fundamentally fractured?

Listen to them. It’s always beneficial to hear a differing point of view, even if it’s infuriating. At the very least it may teach you tolerance, remind you to check your facts and help cement your personal views.

Remember the person, not the politics. In the case of my friend and I, it wasn’t our belief in upholding the Constitution that bonded us in the beginning — we were too young to care about that kind of stuff. Our friendship will forever be grounded in shared experiences, extensive knowledge of Saturday Night Live and our eternal love for the Spice Girls.

Imagine the flipside. Vegans can have carnivorous parents, atheists can have religious friends, Republicans can marry Democrats. When it comes to family and good friends, most of us don’t really care how our loved ones vote, just as long as they don’t shove those beliefs down our throats. But are you doing the shoving yourself? Perhaps your right-leaning friend is just as frustrated with you for always blabbing about those funny emails that are supposed to look like they’re really from Scarlett Johansson or Beyonce. What you think is an impartial, inoffensive petition might make your aunt’s blood boil. Be yourself and speak your mind, but don’t be an inconsiderate ass about it. You just might make it past Nov. 6 with your sanity and your relationships intact.

CONTACT JAC KERN: [email protected] or @jackern