The politics of friendship

elephant-donkey-politicsThe election is still more than six weeks away and I’m starting to get a callus on my tongue from biting it.

It’s not that I don’t like to talk about politics. I love to talk about politics. Just ask my husband, or my family, or any of my friends who happen to share my opinions. We talk about politics all the time and we love it. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve solved all the problems of the world over dinner and a few bottles of wine. It’s not that we don’t argue. We certainly don’t agree on everything, but we do share some very core ideas about the way the world should be run.

I love to talk about politics.

I just don’t want to talk about politics with certain people that I know because I like those people, and I want to continue liking them and I know that I won’t like what they have to say about the upcoming election and then I’ll have to either bite my tongue until it bleeds or try to have a rational conversation with someone who is clearly out of their mind if they really think what I think they think about the upcoming election.

But I’m scared to ask them because, honestly, if they feel the way I think they do I don’t want to know.

So I’m deluged with emails and links to blogs and funny YouTube videos from friends who know I think the way they think and I forward them on to friends who I think think the way we think, but there are a lot of people in my address book who don’t. With them, I try to pretend that there isn’t an election going on because I want to continue being friends with them and I know if we talk about it, it will be hard for me.

See, I have to deal with them daily at work, on soccer teams, PTAs and nonprofit committees, and I want to deal with them in a pleasant, respectful manner and stay friendly. They are my friends, after all. But quite frankly, I’m scared that if we start to talk about certain things I’ll lose all respect for their intelligence.

Then my blood pressure will go up whenever I see them, or perhaps even think about them. Then I won’t be able to sleep at night because I’ll have endless conversations with them in my head where I brilliantly and logically explain my point of view in a way that they couldn’t possibly disagree with me–and yet they still do.

So I’ll try again and again and again until I feel like I’m banging my head against the wall and then the alarm goes off and it’s morning and it starts all over again.

So I don’t talk about politics with them.

And it’s really not the end of the world. We have plenty of other things to talk about. In fact, it’s amazing how much time you can spend with someone when your children are the same age or you’re working on a common cause before you realize how far apart you are politically.

But once that barrier has been broken it’s hard to go back, and politics becomes the elephant–or the donkey–in the room that you try to ignore but can’t quite get out of your mind.

Published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on September 19, 2008.

Forging friendships requires strong arms

Photo: Wonderland,

Yes, it’s good to know you’ve got a friend–but it’s better if you know what kind

Thanks to a recent column, my husband and I have experienced a surge in the number of couple friend applications. That, and an unfortunate holiday card count miscalculation, have forced me to do some reevaluating of my Rolodex to reflect a scientific analysis of the types of friends I have in my portfolio.

First there are the Forever-Friends. Whether the friendship emerged from the trenches of third grade, Dykstra Hall or my Lamaze class, these people now know so much about me; they’re stuck with me. These are the kind of friends you call at 4 a.m. — whether you need help with your bail, you just got engaged, or you simply need a ride home. Hopefully you make these friends before you need them.

Next up are the FOBs, Friends-of-the-Boss. My old boss John used to call us his work spouses, but I think of us more like work siblings. You might bicker a bit over parking spaces or time spent in the bathroom, but when push comes to shove, you’re a team, united against common adversaries — the microwave, the copy machine and that rival newspaper down the street.

Then I have the FOKs, Friends-of-the-Kid, a relatively new category for me, as I’ve found that small children are almost as effective as large cocktails as social lubricants. Until I became a mom, I could never understand why every one of my sister-in-law’s close friends had two boys the same age as hers.

Now I get it. When your kids are young you’ll go to great lengths for a semblance of adult conversation, even if it’s as mundane as “Does Biz work on chocolate and blood?” or “How did you get your son to stop peeing on the floor?” This type of friendship can go on for years. By the time you get around to discussing politics or religion or anything even remotely serious, they’re so entrenched in your life they’ve moved into the Forever-Friend category.

Next up are Function-Friends, the people you hang out with at functions, also known as acquaintances. Whether they work out at your gym or have kids on the same soccer team, we have certain people that we gravitate to in those situations when you’re there anyway; you might as well find someone to talk to.

Function Friends should not be confused with Functional-Friends, otherwise known as Friends-in-High-Places. In my younger days, my most Functional-Friends were actually in low places, like movie theaters and bars. Now that I’m a big time reporter for the Beacon, my Functional-Friends are … well, still at movie theaters and bars.

Always of special interest to me are my Foreign-Friends. One of my favorites in this category is Kenny, a lima bean farmer in Jalama Beach. In my daily life, I don’t come across many farmers, or lima beans, so this fellow is as mysterious to me as an Inuit friend might be.

As a writer, Foreign-Friends also help fill in some of the gaps between my own, relatively mundane, middle class upbringing and, oh say, that of my friend Angie, whose mom was a crack dealer, or Kevin, who still won’t admit that he works for the CIA.

I’ve realized that friends don’t always fit neatly into categories. The groupings often overlap. Take Steve, a Forever-Friend of my husband’s, who we’ve nicknamed the monogamist misogynist. While some of his behavior might warrant a reclassification to the Former-Friend category, his tales of romantic woe are so entertaining that they move him into the Foreign-Friend category, which brings me to one the cardinal rules of friendship selection: anyone who can be exploited for laughs in my column will always have a special place in my Franklin planner.

A girl’s got to get her material from somewhere, and Flash-in-the-Pan-Friends fill in when Foreign-Friends fail. These are the people that blast into your life with bright shining promise — their kids are the right age, they immediately get your jokes, they take your call at 4 a.m. — only to fizzle out due to divorce, disharmony or because you called at 4 a.m.

And don’t forget the Filler-Friends. These are people you like, but they don’t make the A list. They get invited to your big parties, but not your intimate gatherings. You might invite them to a large wedding, but then you realize you don’t know their last names. They are not to confused with Fifth-Wheel-Friends, who are extra and unnecessary people, usually brought along as Friends-of-Friends who aren’t very discriminating about who they befriend.

Then there are the Forced-to-be-Friends-Friends, which include your spouse’s friends, your friend’s spouses, the parents of your children’s friends, etc. If you’re lucky, these people will survive this initial phase and become reclassified — hopefully not into the Friends-I-Don’t-Like category.

All of this category hopping can get awfully confusing.

I recently had drinks with a Forever-Friend, a Function-Friend, a Functional-Friend and a Friend-of-a-Friend. We spent the whole time discussing the breakup of our Fantasy-Friends, Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston. We even became Friends-for-the-Night with our waitress, who had a few choice words about her friend Jen, which prompted my Forever-Friend to talk about Brad’s Friends-With-Benefits friendship with a certain costar.

This got me thinking about another Fantasy-Friend, Ralph Waldo Emerson, who said, “It is one of the blessings of old friends that you can afford to be stupid with them.”

Right, old friend?

I’ll talk to you at 4 a.m.

Originally published inĀ South Coast Beacon on January 20, 2005.