by: Katie Weiss
I met one of my closest friends to date at a show when I was 17. Physically overcome by his attractiveness (seriously), I didn’t care that we had very few of the same interests and that I had no idea who he was talking about when he was explaining to me the bands that he loved. All I knew was that he was necessary to have in my life. After googling the Red Hot Chili Peppers online and buying a few hip new clothes, he asked me to dinner, I asked him to prom, and we proceeded to date pretty happily for nine months – an eternity when you are 17.
Now, six-ish years later, both of us have grown up a lot from when we were so young and in puppy love. We have both expanded our interests and have made life changing decisions about what we hope to be in the future. More informed and fascinating, both of us have had experiences that have shaped our understanding of the world. Plus, we have found links that have continued to keep our friendship alive. From when we were so young and had so little in common, now we share one similar interest very strongly. We both love politics. The key difference, though, is that while my experiences have led me to become more liberal, my friend Adam’s choices have led him to be more conservative.
Consequently, there are times when we talk where our conversations get so heated that I actually think I might explode- like literally blow up. It would be rude of me to not admit that I have definitely done more than my fair share of yelling when on the phone with him although I am pretty sure that he is trying to push my buttons (and he’s good at it too).
The problem with walking away from Adam (because of our vastly different belief systems) is that he has been extraordinarily supportive of who I have grown to be. When I came out as queer, he teased me, sure, but he also never questioned my interest in women nor my interest in LGBT politics. When I began to recognize that I was a feminist, Adam rolled his eyes and made a few rude remarks, but he asked questions. When I have gone through personal dilemmas relating to queer issues or have been in awful situations in my hometown where I felt hated and attacked because of who I am, Adam has stood by my side in support – even though he does not agree with me in many of these cases. And this matters.
There are a few lessons that Adam and I have had to learn from one another. The most visible is what is okay and not okay to say. There are words that are unacceptable to me, and Adam has essentially cut them from his vocabulary. Essentially labeling him as a bigot was unacceptable to him, he was mad at me, and I was forced to recognize that he is listening and thinking about the points I am making. His opinions, as well as mine, have changed on political issues due to our talking about them. We have both recognized that this is a learning process, one where we can get a lot out of the other.
I think having Adam as a friend has broadened my worldview by challenging me to think beyond the walls of what I like to think I know. His logical way of reasoning out his beliefs has made me re-examine arguments that I present in an effort to really get at the issues behind the issues. Instead of living in a semi-bubble of people with whom I agree, with people who have the same basic political beliefs as me, I am encouraged to engage on a consistent basis with someone who shares very few of those opinions. This has helped me to grow as a person, and to recognize that I will never live in a utopia of people who think as I do (which college had partially helped me forget).
Adam also serves as an outlet for me. After reading comments on online articles, after being a part of a discussion with someone who doesn’t believe in gay rights, after experiencing homophobia and sexism in my life, Adam lets me bring it to him. He lets me yell at his disagreement. He lets me groan and make snarky comments. Even though we don’t agree on these issues, Adam lets me talk about them as I need to, he lets me get angry at him, and he doesn’t turn away. He lets me get worked up so that when engaging with people who have frustratingly “wrong” beliefs, not only am I more prepared for what they say, but I also do not need to lose my temper. And, though Adam can be extremely frustrating, I know that he is listening to what I am saying. And I know that we are both taking something positive from a conversation that does not always end that way.
There are times when Adam and I have to step back from where we are. There are times when our conversations get out of hand and one of us ends the call (usually me). There are times where we are on what my mom calls “political probation” where we do not talk politics while we un-ruffle our feathers and get back on positive ground with one another. And, ultimately, do I think Adam can be a fool? Yes. He knows that. He probably thinks it about me. Do I think he has privilege that he doesn’t recognize (or won’t)? Often. I’ve said this to him too. But I also firmly believe that he is willing to engage with his privilege when we talk. And he keeps coming back willing and wanting to discuss issues that are close to my heart.
I think it’s important to remind myself of this: Adam has my best interests at heart. He cares about me whether I am upset or thrilled. He has given me tips and tricks to winning over conservatives. He has been mad with me when I needed him to be angry. Adam loves me so much. We just don’t see eye to eye. He’s conservatively conservative. But it is important to me beyond a reason of a doubt, to continue to have his viewpoints in my life. It is important to have this conservative friend, who pays attention and engages with me while offering his two cents, because he isn’t shutting me out because I think differently. He is listening. He is thinking. And, I like to believe that as a conservative, he is becoming more conscious to some of the issues that, had I shut him out because of our different values, would probably never have been important. And I am too. He is reflecting on our conversations like I do and we are both becoming better people for thinking outside the lines we have drawn for ourselves.
Katie Weiss is a recent graduate of DePaul University who loves Hershey’s with almonds, her teapot collection and hoop earrings. She spends her time as a hard-working admin at National Louis University, an all-out bro at Mad River and a nerd-loving Merlin on Netflix. She is consistently inspired by her amazing peers and thinks everyone is cute.