DAME’s Friendkeeper helps a woman defuse her talks with a conspiracy-obsessed friend, and susses out why a virtual BFF is such a drag IRL.
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One of my dearest friends, who is like family to me, is slowly but steadily becoming a person I don’t recognize. She’s gone from being liberal-minded and easygoing, to someone who buys into every conspiracy theory out there. The 9-11 bombings were an inside job. She believes vaccinations are a “big pharma” scam (she doesn’t have kids, thankfully). I don’t need to go on here, you get the idea. She’s a good soul, and very smart. And she has been a devoted friend for a long time. But something happened, I don’t know what, and it’s all she talks about. She’s offended when you don’t engage, and she’s offended when you counter her argument with facts. So, it’s a no-win. I wish I knew how to deprogram her, because I miss my old friend, and I miss our real conversations. What can I do?
Friend of a Conspiracy Theorist
I sure do get the idea. I had a friend (he was a friend of a friend, but I really liked him) and he went from slightly quirky to Ted Kaczynski in like a three-year period. I do not know why this happened, I know there was a lot of speculation about things in his personal life, but ultimately, we had to let him go. The thing is, we can have friends with differing opinions, that’s what makes life interesting. My dad’s oldest best friend is a huge Republican and my dad is a huge Democrat. Somehow they manage to not talk politics and it works for them. I think it’s hard if someone has serious moral differences—I can’t imagine a vegan being buddies with Ted Nugent (hey did you ever notice how many famous evil Teds there are? Ted Bundy, too! Note to self: Unfriend Teds). But the only way it works is if you both have respect for the other’s opinion. I know in my case I can have a very strong opinion and hear another argument and change it. I also know if I have an opinion and someone shoves their differing opinion down my throat with a hot fork, I won’t go there. The next time your friend brings one of these things up or challenges you, speak up. You can say, “Listen, I feel like there has been a change in how we discuss things. I’m ending up feeling defensive and uncomfortable.” See what your friend says, maybe she’s angry about something and she doesn’t know it. Let her know you want to be friends but the hot-button topics are becoming a bit difficult for you. I hope she understands and it all gets clear, but at the very least you won’t feel so oppressed.
I have this friend I met on FB—we connected through “People You May Know” because we had a million friends in common, so I agreed to accept her friend request. And because I read hilarious posts she wrote on friends’ walls, so she seemed OK. More than OK—she felt like a long lost friend. We wrote each other, through wall posts and direct messages, nearly every day. She sent me a lovely gift after I had a baby, and we always sent each other a little something for our birthdays. She lives a few states away, and after several years of virtually hanging out, we decided to meet in person. I was shocked to discover that I didn’t like her. Like, really didn’t like her. She just sat there like a lump, and when she did talk she was sarcastic, and a serious Debbie Downer. I thought she must have chickened out of coming and sent someone else instead, except she made reference to conversations we’d had privately. And she was an uptalker, which is a serious pet peeve. I found myself wanting to get on my iPhone and email my Facebook friend right away to tell her about this bump-on-a-log because I knew THAT friend would laugh her ass off and know exactly what to say. But of course this was the same person. When I got home, she sent a note saying how great it was to finally meet up. I didn’t know what to say, and I still don’t. What do I do? Do I just embrace the online version of this person and pretend like this never happened?
Friends with an Impostor
Wow, a downer who uptalks? That seems like some kind of illegal deception right there! This is a really interesting new phenomenon and one I am happy to say I haven’t encountered too often. All of my online friends are great in person (especially the ones reading this!), but I totally get this. If you know me from social media, you would be in for a big shock (and disappointment) when you met me in real life. Because you know, online I have time to think of the things I write and edit them, and delete and re-write. While in life, the words just tumble out of my mouth like so much rust in a faucet. So I can imagine what happened when you two got together. A couple of things to keep in mind. First impressions are not always correct. I used to have this guy friend who I set up on dates and apparently he was a HORRENDOUS first dater. Mostly he never got to prove that he was a good second or third dater, but eventually we talked about it. He was so freaking nervous about the way he was perceived that he acted like a total jerk. He was finally able to fix it enough to get in a nice relationship, so there is that possibility with your friend. Another thought is, I used to work for a talent agent and any time a casting director was looking for a type—like “a William Hurt type”—the actor we sent would do the worst audition. (I learned not to tell them because people have a very hard time figuring out what makes them them). So maybe she just “reads” different than she is. The bottom line is that you can go back to your online relationship, and since she doesn’t live nearby, not getting together in person shouldn’t be that hard. You don’t even have to make up a ton of excuses. And if you find yourself less comfortable with the intensity of your online exchanges, you can taper those, too. That’s kind of what happens naturally, anyway. Give yourself a big pat on the back for putting yourself out there and trying to make a new friend. That’s never a bad thing.
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