Burning Bridges

I’ve had to let go of a few old friends recently.

Nothing was inherently wrong with the friendship itself, per se. More or less, I hadn’t seen some of them for fifteen years. I was a very, very different person than I had been when we were bffs back in the day – because I’d been, you know. A child.
 
Back in that day I was a lot of things I’m not now. I was that kid who unintentionally perpetuated systems of oppression. I was the kid who told marginalized people to just calm down and try to make friends with their enemies. At one point I publicly shamed a couple for their sex life which I saw as deviant (bondage, I’m not even kidding, that’s how much of a dick I was). I would never have considered myself a feminist. It was a dirty word. The point of feminism was to dominate and subjugate men because they didn’t like men complimenting them. Ugh, women. Can’t you take a joke?
 
Yeah, that sound wrong to anyone who knows me? Yeah. It was a long time ago.
 
Not all of those old friends changed with me.
 
I’d started to speak out about things I’d realized that I’d been wrong about for years because I wanted to be a better person. I started gaining other friends who were supportive of my emerging politics. I changed from the person who thought talking about politics was the rudest thing you could do in polite conversation – to the person who insists that we must talk about politics in our time, because to ignore the pain and suffering of the world is to contribute to it through tacit acceptance.
 
When I began speaking out, as an example, about racism – I got a lot of push-back from some of my friends who considered me ignorant. They’d argue that nonono, all lives matter Sandra. And there are lots of good black people but they’re clearly different from us and worse on average and some of them just don’t care to improve themselves.
 
I discouraged a friend from a Halloween costume that was blatant cultural appropriation, attempting to outline the difference between fetishizing and mocking a culture and celebrating it. I pointed out that yup, we had a lot of white privilege that we didn’t want – and that it was our duty to use that privilege to signal boost the stories of POC. Another friend of hers threw her hands up, calling me a racist for suggesting that white people use their privilege to do anything. But when you have privilege that you are given unfairly over another – and you cannot shuck that privilege due to a societal-wide idea, it is your duty to use it to push back against that system of oppression.
 
This kind of conversation kept happening.
 

If you ‘love me but’, what you’re saying is that you no longer approve of me. If your love for me is contingent upon my silence in the face of the horrific goings on in the world – that isn’t love. You’re talking about approval. You used to approve of me. Now you don’t.

 
I started to experience a lot of disgust with my friendships. For a long time I tried maintaining them anyway, trying to forgive my friends. Hoping they’d grow along with me. Maybe I could reach them. Maybe I could get them to stop using slurs. Maybe. Maybe someday, they’d look back on these conversations and feel sick in the pit of their stomachs the way I do when I think back on some of the awful, oppressive things I’d said as an ignorant cis white girl.
 
So when fights would break out – and these friends once so old, would respond to me with intolerance, racism, sexism, etc – it became harder and harder to maintain these friendships. 
 
At the same time I was starting to be met by people on the street that I didn’t know who would say, “omg you’re Sandra, I’ve wanted to meet you. I love reading your stuff on Facebook!” (I am not even joking. Several times. It floors me every time, it’s super uncomfortable.)
 
I had people giving me their phone number really wanting to hang out. I was literally overwhelmed with the number of people wanting to be my friend because they fought the same fights I did. They enjoyed watching my long posts about sociopolitical issues and science and thought they’d like to hang out with the like-minded lady. Unfortunately, I suffer from anxiety to the point where socialization is almost always a bit much for me. I can manage maybe a couple of hours of it a week. I started to feel spread too thin – a feeling I have almost constantly.
 
Again. It became harder and harder to maintain those older friendships. The ones less supportive. The people who, it always felt, thought me naive in my fight against societal oppression. They’d start so many sentences with, “I love you but…”
 
If you ‘love me but’, what you’re saying is that you no longer approve of me. If your love for me is contingent upon my silence in the face of the horrific goings on in the world – that isn’t love. You’re talking about approval. You used to approve of me. Now you don’t.
 
At a certain point – I came to a #byefelicia place with friendships. I could only have so many conversations where I sat back in horror wondering how I was ever so close to this person – before I cut that thread, burned the bridge down.
 
If the bridge you have built is crumbling and leads to a fetid wasteland, tear it down and build new bridges. Build progressive, powerful, wide-open bridges to beautiful, better places.
 
A part of me feels like I should be sorry – that I should feel guilty for dumping friends unceremoniously who were once so important to me.
 
The rest of me realizes that despite my assertions I’m actually a good person and I deserve to surround myself with people whose values I share – people with whom I can work together to make this world a better place.
 
Don’t ever be sorry for that. You deserve it too.
 


Have you ever had to let go of a very old friendship for similar reasons? Was it difficult? Did they ever find their way back to you? Tell me in the comments! Discuss!