Not all advice need be professional. Sometimes your problems merit a bit of unvarnished honesty from a dude equipped with nothing more than a computer and a conscience. Luckily for you, I’m that guy. Welcome back to Tough Love.
This week we’re discussing how friends can overcome their political differences, and what to do if someone in the group starts to feel ostracized by others because of their beliefs.
Note: I’m a columnist, not a therapist or certified healthcare professional. My advice should be interpreted with that in mind. If you have a problem with anything I say, file a complaint here. Now, let us begin.
So, my longtime partner identifies as Republican. Not MAGA-wearing, capitol-marching, Qanon-embracing, Trump-loving, but just a Republican. He’s used the phrase ‘fiscally conservative’—which, I know, is ironic given how the US deficit went up during the last administration, even pre-COVID…
The past couple of months have been extra stressful, especially after the capitol riots, and he’s mentioned several times he feels like he’s back in the 80s (when he was in the closet). He (obviously) doesn’t want to be called a racist, fascist, etc—although, ironically, he seems to be stereotyping all gay men as flaming, name-calling liberals, so, yes, a bit of a double standard.
The other night, he got into an argument with a friend at dinner over politics (but no name calling or personal remarks were exchanged). When we got home, he said, “Maybe you should just go out with our friends in the future and I’ll stay at home.” I think that was a knee-jerk reaction—we texted with our friend yesterday and things seemed fine—but I’m worried about him shutting himself off, even from people that have known him for years.
And, yes, we have Republican friends, gay and straight (also not MAGA-types, although one is pretty strongly pro-Trump and posts some questionable stuff on Facebook), and we all basically don’t get deep into politics when we hang out, and that seems to work fine. They’re not going to change my mind, and I won’t change theirs.
He’s not mad at me—he’s mad at a part of the rest of the world. I have hinted he should talk to someone—I don’t know if that would be a professional or one of our Republican friends or what. But he is very stubborn, and that’s what has me worried.
Congrats to your partner for not falling into the QAnon vortex or joining with insurrectionists at the Capitol. It’s increasingly difficult to find people who identify as traditionally Republican who also staunchly disavow the more recent extremes, so kudos to your guy, and I really mean that.
Even though we live in hyper-factionalized, polarized times, this is an issue as old as politics. “The personal is political” is an old maxim that carries a lot of weight, and when your convictions are challenged by those close to you, it can feel like a personal affront. To use a cringingly clichéd phrase from politics, I think you need to examine this situation from both sides.
You say your partner feels like he’s back in the 1980s when gay men had to hide their sexual orientation because of societal stigma and rampant prejudice. Now I ask: Is what he’s experiencing personally at the moment akin to widespread and legal discrimination that gay men faced forty years ago? Or is he just being challenged on his beliefs by friends who disagree? And from the standpoint of your liberal friends—do they afford your partner the courtesy typically deserved of a respected friend? Or do they plug their ears every time he speaks?
It’s one thing if you disagree about imposing tariffs on China, or even about the current state of immigration policy or a $15/hr minimum wage—friends can disagree—but friends are less likely to take disagreements personally if those disagreements are limited to the means to reach some mutually agreed-upon ends.
There’s plenty of research that suggests it’s worthwhile, at least every so often, to engage with people outside of your own political bubble. And given that much of U.S. politics has drifted into fringe territory and combative political theater, your friends might make the mistake of inaccurately lumping your partner in with the Tucker Carlsons of the world, and that would be a shame—especially if you’ve all been friends for a long time without your politics driving a wedge between the group.
From a practical standpoint, here’s what I’d recommend: Ask you partner why the disagreements upset him so much, because it seems like he feels as though he’s being outcast. If he’s being treated badly by friends as a result of these conversations, then I think he does have a right to feel aggrieved; but if this sense of victimhood stems from mere disagreements, then he’s got to be a little more mature about this.
Then there’s two other options. If this is really affecting his relationships with friends, and he wants to gain some perspective on it, why not talk to a therapist? Men have deep aversions to therapy, rooted in the many inane stigmas society has woven into beliefs about masculinity over the years. Some neutral perspective on how to handle the situation can be hugely beneficial.
Also, here’s another one: Continue to limit how much you talk about politics with friends. It’s a simple rule that’s easy to follow—especially in groups larger than two or three people, where disagreements tend to focus less on curiosity and understanding, and more on ego and being right. Those smaller-group conversations can go a long way towards healthier discussions, and potentially, over time, might help make him more comfortable and mitigate concerns over the conversations turning sour. Focus on what matters most to you guys, and understand—as you previously stated—you’re unlikely to change anyone’s mind.
That’s it for this week, but there’s plenty more Tough Love to go around. If you’d like to be featured, please get in touch by describing your dilemmas in an email to me (please include “ADVICE” or “TOUGH LOVE” in the subject line). Or, tweet at me with the hashtag #ToughLove. Serious inquiries only: Don’t email or message me if you don’t want to be featured in the column. Disclaimer: I can’t respond to everyone, so please make sure you outline a specific problem in your note. I won’t respond to generalizations, like someone “being mean” or vague descriptions of “relationship problems” without any concrete examples of what’s ailing you. Until next time, take care of yourselves!