Advice: Outside the Box

Dear Dr. Fred:

I’m a middle-aged gay male, newly single after a recent, painful break-up. The most helpful person to me in going through this rough time was my co-worker Pam. Pam is a middle-aged lesbian, also single, with a huge heart and loyal as can be. I never could have gotten through the last few months without her.

Problem is, Pam is also one of the most opinionated people I’ve ever known, and doesn’t hesitate to air her very strong opinions anywhere and everywhere, always very loudly.

She’s a tea party conservative and proud of it and likes to vent her outrage over the current administrations “total incompetence, dishonesty and stupidity.” While I agree Washington is a mess, I happen to like Obama, so it actually hurts my feelings sometimes when she goes off on one of her rants and then gets even more revved up if I try to say anything in his defense.

Things really came to a head recently on Facebook. After the President’s state of the union address the other night, Pam went on a true rampage there, trashing him, everything he’d said, his policies, his plans, even his wife and kids. She really got ‘out there” over the course of the evening. I posted a response, trying to defend him, but that was a big mistake, because it just got her more agitated, calling him a Muslim, saying he’s not even an American citizen, etc., etc. It got so bizarre that I “unfriended” her— not because I don’t want to be her friend in real life, but just to end her crazy postings on my FB page.

So now Pam isn’t speaking to me. When we cross paths at work she looks the other way or stares me down with hate in her eyes. I want to somehow get across to her that I still want to be friends, just not on Facebook, as that site isn’t good for our friendship. Any suggestions?
In spite of her quirks, I really miss my friend.

Signed Me,
Sad Man on Facebook

Dear Sad Man:
I’m often amazed at how some people can take a venue designed just to socialize and have fun, like a cocktail party or social networking site, and turn it into a forum for angrily venting their political views.

I’m on Facebook myself at the urging of numerous family and friends who said they wanted to “keep up with me” there. Though dubious of it at first, I’ve found that I do enjoy seeing friends’ updates and photos there, but more importantly the site also offers a means for people to exchange support and encouragement with others going through difficult times.

The downside is that I too have witnessed some very negative and even hateful posts by others there — especially about Obama and the Affordable Care Act. I usually try to just ignore these but I also have gotten “bitten” a time or two when I weighed in with my own opinions.

I’m reminded of an article I once read in this paper by a very wise old friend, namely editor Ted Fleischaker. In it he addressed the problem of people who write hostile e-mails, especially at night, which become increasingly vitriolic, as well as more poorly written as the night wears on. As I recall, he opined that these individuals are probably either drinking or drugging to fuel their bile, thus the growing venom of their rhetoric and deterioration in their writing. Having received such e-mails myself I couldn’t agree more.

You mention that Pam posted her diatribes late into the night after the State Of The Union address, and that they became more malicious and irrational as the hours unfolded. My guess is that Pam is one of those people Ted wrote about and that she was under the influence of something or other that night. As a result, I can see why you unfriended her, and it looks like the move served its purpose.

That said, it’s hard to unfriend someone in one context and not have it bleed over into others, so I can also understand Pam’s reaction. Sadly, she’s making it impossible for you two to work through the matter by stubbornly refusing to interact with you at all. Given that fact, I see little other recourse for you but to address the issues in writing.

You might start by perusing the friendship cards at a Hallmark store. Find one that captures what you feel for Pam and enclose a personal note inside explaining why you did what you did.

Explain that you didn’t mean for the action to indicate you didn’t want to be her friend at all … just not on Facebook, in the interest of preserving your friendship. If you’re sorry for what you did, apologize sincerely and ask her forgiveness. If you’re not sorry for your actions, don’t apologize but say you’re sorry for the current state of affairs. Close by making clear how much you value her and your friendship, and asking her to let bygones be bygones.

I’ve found that anyone who truly cares for us will usually accept a heartfelt apology from us. Since Pam obviously cared greatly for you before, my hope is that she still does and may be willing to overcome this breach in time.

Fred Schloemer, Ed.D., LCSW, is a gay psychotherapist. Send him your questions at FredSchloemer@aol.com

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