Everyone gets offended. Everyone. Everyone has lines drawn, sacred cows that can’t be broached, issues that cannot (easily) be addressed.
Not everyone will admit this, and that’s the sticking point. I tend to believe people when they say things like, “It’s fine,” or, “I like a rousing argument, I think it’s fun!“, or, “Don’t worry about it; nothing offends me — I have my own opinions!“, or, “Oh, believe me — I will tell you if I have a problem with you! You will know!”
These statements are usually accompanied by a loud and hearty laugh. Often they come during socially touchy conversations — the ones on religion or politics, and usually the statements are meant to reassure that one can speak their mind around these people; that these people are totally cool, accepting, and forthright. It’s a very attractive prospect to someone like me, who has a hard time reading social cues on the fly.
I spend an embarrassing amount of time carefully deconstructing conversations and reactions in my head for days, sometimes weeks or even months after the event. Often I realize a month or so after the interaction that what I thought was a good discussion or a fun and rousing debate was taken very personally by the other party and caused a rift.
The thing I have come to realize is that when people say these things, they are lying. Maybe not consciously or intentionally, but they totally are. I have noticed the two types of people I most commonly befriend (or attempt to befriend) falls loosely into two categories
- The type of friend who admits they have boundaries and sacred cows.
- The type of friend who refuses to acknowledge there is any topic so precious to them that they cannot handle it being challenged.
Both types of people believe themselves to be honest, and both think they are representing themselves honestly by letting their self-perceived conversational styles be known at the outset. But the first type of friend is the longevity-type, I have found. The second type of friend just quietly disappears.
With the first type of friend, when the sacred cow topic comes up, they will firmly but politely make it known that this topic is too important and/ or touchy for them to discuss, and they would prefer to move the conversation to another topic. This can range from the outright words, “Look, this is a really touchy topic for me, can we talk about something else?”, to a more subtle segue of the conversation into an area they can handle.
These friendships tend to last, because the people involved know that yeah, we may disagree on some topics, but we have enough respect and affection for each other to navigate those choppy conversational waters with dignity and compassion.
The other type of person, the ones who think they can handle anything, tend not to last. They rarely blow up in a big dramatic showdown — although that did happen with a conservative Catholic friend of mine from a few years back: We could handle our disagreeing viewpoints until he couldn’t, and then the friendship ended. My Narnia collection is still in his possession.
I miss it.
No, usually the type of person who believes they don’t take offense to anything is the type of person who generally seems to quietly fade out. They stop investing in the friendship– they stop texting or calling (both initiating or responding), stop coming over, stop inviting us over. They’re polite during unexpected interactions, but visits are no longer prolonged and there are always have other things that “need” to be done. Sometimes their sudden unavailability is blamed on the spouse, kids, or job they had all along, when they were previously able to find time to socialize.
This has happened three separate times, and its always with people who claimed they ‘don’t get offended’ and say, ‘oh, you’ll know if I get upset with you!’.
Well, they’re right. I do figure it out when they’re upset at me, because they ghost and refuse to talk to discuss the issue. And when I ask them– because I personally believe relationships (whether friendships, romantic relationships, or family relationships) cannot survive, let alone flourish, if people aren’t willing to communicate– each time, these individuals have fallen over themselves reassuring me there’s absolutely nothing wrong, they love me as much as ever, they enjoy our friendship, and they can’t wait to hang out again.
And then they go back to the ignoring thing.
It’s not just a busy schedule: I get the busy schedule. Believe me, I do. That’s why with all my other friends, the type who fall into Category 1 up there, we make sure to keep in touch. To respond when someone texts, to return the call within a few days when we miss their call, to plan early-morning coffee dates or lunches or the occasional evening together. There’s an unspoken acknowledgment: Yeah, we’re both super fucking busy, but you matter enough to me that I take time out of my week to make sure you know I’m thinking about you.
And this sort of thoughtful two-way street of maintaining the friendship is not limited to Category 1 friends — Category 2 friends do all this stuff, too, until they don’t. It would be a lot easier to write off Category 2 friends and not emotionally invest in the friendship if they were like that right off the bat. Instead, they’re just as awesome and as thoughtful and as invested as Category 1 friends at the outset.
Then one day they just quietly withdraw, and you can never quite pinpoint exactly what it was that caused the friendship to end because up until that point you were talking regularly. Was it the last conversation? Was it the one two weeks before, the one that almost seemed to turn into an argument but didn’t quite? Was it something you posted on Facebook? Was it that your personalities didn’t click and it took them months to realize it? Is it that their spouse/ kids/ other friends didn’t like you and they are (obviously) more invested in those relationships than a new friendship? Were they just using you all along?
It’s one of those things about being an adult that I hate. Sometimes you just have to accept that certain things will never have a satisfactory resolution; that certain endings will go silent and unexplained. It’s painful and frustrating — especially when, like me, you want to know so you can try and avoid that mistake in the future — but it’s also a reality of life. I don’t like that.
Now, to be fair, John and I have both cut people out of our lives, too. But I don’t think there’s any mystery as to why — we were pretty upfront with each situation as it occurred that, Hey, this behavior or attitude you’re exhibiting around us is extremely disrespectful and kind of a relationship-dealbreaker. Can you not when you’re with us?
People disagree, and we get that. The way to handle disagreements is not to cut all ties right off the bat, it’s to explain why this issue is a touchy subject and figure out what to do about it. Sometimes when a touchy topic or behavior has been determined, the only thing to do is to cut ties.
For instance, we used to be friends with someone who was extremely homophobic, particularly toward bisexuals. They would often make statements indicating they felt homosexuality was a sin, gay marriage was wrong/ a sign of social downfall, and bisexuals confused, gross, and perverted. Their language and actions clearly indicated they felt those in the LGBTQA community are unnatural and immoral. The individual abstained from making blatantly homophobic remarks, choosing to abide by “love your neighbor,” and “love the sinner, not the sin,” type logic, but it was clear they felt those who engaged in this particular lifestyle to be “sinners” and lesser. They would show quiet little expressions of support for other individuals who made more obvious and vitriolic homophobic statements.
Husband and I had also dealt with previous incidents of this person being disrespectful toward my husband, our relationship, and our lack of belief. Over time, we realized this person was less concerned with values of respect, compromise, shared common interests, and indeed, our overall relationship; and more concerned with expressing their disgust for my life values and chosen life partner. So after several chances and attempts to salvage the friendship, I finally admitted that any value gained from the relationship was more than lost by the offense/ recurring disagreement and emotional labor of maintaining such a draining relationship, and I cut ties with them. Sometimes I do wonder if that was the right choice, I admit. Its healthy to have people of varying perspectives in your life.
But while it’s true that most of my friends agree with me on many things, we also disagree on plenty of things. For instance, I have friends who believe in god or a form of spiritualism– Christians, Buddhist, new-age hippies, and I’m a pretty solid atheist. I have friends who are pro-gun/ 2nd amendment supporters, and I’m for stronger gun regulation. I have friends who think Disney films are inherently anti-feminist, and I’m like ehhhh maybe they’re problematic, but I love Beauty and the Beast and Mulan and you can’t take that away from me– I’ll critically critique the things I love, but I’m not gonna paint that with a broad brush of knee-jerk hate, sorry not sorry.
We can agree to disagree, is what I’m saying. We can recognize the validity of each other’s opinions, discuss things respectfully, and move on. I mean, I have some controversial ‘sacred-cow views,’ too, views that upset people and put them on edge. Feminist, pro-union, atheist. Pretty darn liberal. But like I said– people disagree, and that’s okay. I can have friends who disagree with me, as long as we focus on our commonalities and treat our differences with respect (and kid gloves!).
The gist of all this is that I’ve pretty much determined when someone says they don’t get offended by anything , they’re in fact waving a giant red flag regarding their inability to communicate as healthy adults. Everyone has a hot button or a red-line that cannot be crossed. The flip side of not being offended by anything is that you don’t stand for anything. Offense in and of itself is not a bad thing: It’s the inability to communicate that offense and how meaningful it is, as well as whether or not it’s a dealbreaker.