Losing friends has always felt weighted, like a cacophony of sadness caught in my belly, my chest, my arms numb from the hum of the pins and needles — always personal. Like I did something to push people away, like it was my fault that they left. Losing friends feels like an actual betrayal. Sometimes it actually is. It becomes physical, like a cough that’s lodged in your chest, mucus that won’t dry. Mourning the loss of a good friend is like facing a death, except their ever-aliveness is imposed on you again and again via their internet presence — all the likes they give to others and not you; the pictures they post of others in lieu of replying to your messages asking how they are.
But friendship is a difficult thing. It changes and morphs.
Earlier this year, in a piece for the Atlantic, Julie Beck wrote: “Friendships often face more hurdles to intimacy than other close relationships.” Perhaps it’s because we expect our friends to mirror us, to grow with us and not without us.
In the age of wokeness, interracial friendships have been put under strain, and the politics of being friends with white people (or nonwhite friends who are conservative) has become a necessary act of self-care. In 2013, Britney Cooper wrote about this for Salon, detailing that at one point or another a (white) person with the opposite worldview tends to obstruct the possibility of a future friendship with a person of color. Cooper says she was tipped off when Amanda, her white friend in fourth grade, mentioned, “My daddy says people should marry their own kind.”
On Facebook — back when I still had Facebook — I witnessed many a friendship end over political arguments. One of my own memorable fallouts was with my ex-boyfriend, a brown man who sympathized with a white girl who didn’t think race had anything to do with the murder of Mike Brown. It started when I responded to a comment she made on a public post I’d written on the Facebook page of my then-podcast, Two Brown Girls. Infuriated that a white woman might feel entitled to dismiss the existence of race in an obviously racially motivated murder, I stated that she was the epitome of an “ignorant racist white woman.” This did not go down well. My ex came for me in an eight-part essay, which, in response, I deleted and then blocked him.
That was in the fall of 2014.
Since then, Facebook has become an oracle for friends and family members with conflicting perspectives. Folks feel charged to create soapbox-style propaganda, like a Fox and Friends monologue, to share ideologies that border on white supremacy. Recently, the litmus test for racism has shifted to friends with family members who voted for Trump, and the subsequent opposition of said friends on Twitter and Facebook. It reminds me of what Wesley Morris wrote in a review of Seth MacFarlane’s Ted 2: “For people of color, some aspect of friendship with white people involves an awareness that you could be dropped through a trapdoor of racism at any moment, by a slip of the tongue, or at a campus party, or in a legislative campaign.” Undoubtedly, the political climate has changed and become more potent. Human life, and the way POCs are (or, rather, aren’t) prioritized, are things worth fighting for, and I’m finding that there’s no other way but to fight. But these days, I also find myself wondering whether the culture of “canceling” people—immediately reducing them to friends-of-yore—is the best way to navigate interpersonal relationships.
I have lost many friends due to my own, apparently polemic perspectives on race. Over the years, I’ve been deleted on the sly on social media platforms — I assume because of how I began to radicalize myself. At a certain point, I realized it was my imperative to give voice to the issues that affected me, like everyday racism, homophobia, and Islamophobia. It’s part of the reason I started writing and the catalyst for my podcast, Two Brown Girls, which I started with my friend Zeba Blay in 2012 as a response to the TV show Girls. We decided it was time that girls like us—that is, black and brown girls — spoke about the intersectionality of race and pop culture. We both lost friends for being “audacious.” At the time, I thought: So be it. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve begun to wonder: What’s the best way to deal with a friendship that has disappointed you?
This year, I lost three friends. One was so close that when they left, it felt like a little bit of me died. I reached out like a lost child, continuously, writing short messages to check in like we always did, communicating via Instagram, iMessage, Gmail, only to receive nothing in return, and then only a short email, months later, detailing that they needed space. I found out only recently that they had been telling others of our falling out, yet they had never explained it to me. That they had called me names and lied about details of my life. What hurt most is that after all the times I reached out to make space for them, to let them speak on what they needed from me, they refused — telling others, instead, of my foibles.
Does fighting always have to be incendiary? Is it possible to disagree, but to also move forward? My own flaws are obvious to me, and knowing that a friend cut me off, with no explanation, is still hard to swallow. I feel restless in my lack of closure; I want answers. But it made me challenge my own coldness as a response when a friend has hurt me, and made me question how to appropriately navigate the mercurial quality of some relationships. Sometimes things are misunderstood; sometimes a lack of communication is really at fault. I find solace in how June Jordan, in her book Some of Us Did Not Die: New and Selected Essays, describes the air caught in between two friends—and their ideological differences — as the “explosive spaces between us.” But how she also advocated for conversation, to air out what ails you.
White supremacists, abusers, and bigots aside — because, let’s face it, they need much more than compassion — is it fair to be reduced to your flaws? To be distilled into a reification? Of someone’s idea of you? My circle is stronger from the people I’ve lost, but I can’t help but wonder: Is it always the best option to end a relationship when disputes have happened? Mute acquiescence should never be the praxis of friendship, but moving forward, I’m beginning to learn to be more compassionate and do better when a friend has hurt me. Whether that’s voicing to them about what they’ve done or giving them a chance to talk, to share their perspective, I’m learning that most people want the chance to evolve. Being a better human being is always a messy process. Why not give others a chance to fall, and then, hopefully, learn from those mistakes?