On being friends with someone who turns out to be an asshole
Sometimes, someone you’re fond of turns out to be an asshole. Holding them accountable is part of being a friend. It helps them be better. I have a colleague/student/friend who has been awful to other people. Not to me, and that isn’t a defense. Ever.
Their behavior is inexcusable.
Defending my asshole friend’s behavior would make me complicit in it, because then I would be condoning the problematic behavior. The question then becomes… do I remain their friend?
Let me use a more extreme example. I’m penpals with a convicted murderer who found me during the Month of Letters. Most of his friends dropped him and that leaves him isolated in prison except for his mom. He has to reach out to complete strangers to have human interaction. There’s a reason that solitary confinement is reserved as a severe punishment. Do I write back to him? Absolutely. Would I invite him to hang out with my friends? All the nope.
So… am I going to remain friends with this person? Probably, although in a very modified form because I recognize that my asshole friend is potentially dangerous and harmful. It’s on me not to put other friends or colleagues in harm’s way.
But I also believe that even assholes are allowed to have friends.
There have been other bad actors in SF that I go out of my way to avoid, but I don’t expect their friends to drop them. That does nothing to make the world a better place.
This doesn’t mean that I’ll fight my asshole friend’s battles for them, but I’ll help them parse what’s gone wrong. Or maybe I’ll just model better behavior and hope they learn by example. It involves the person wanting to change. I would like that the case, even while knowing that the person in my head is not the person that other people met. It’s deeply disappointing.
I’m not convinced that dropping them will improve anything. Nor would excusing them. If they want to retain my friendship, they’ll have to accept my anger and disappointment. They’ll have to accept that I don’t include them in things.
And I’ll have to accept that I’m not a good judge of their character. It’s not a comfortable place to be. I think that’s why so many people come out to defend their own asshole friends, because no one ever likes being wrong. No one likes feeling as if they stay friends with the asshole that people will think less of them. (That, by the way, is the grossest of reasons to drop someone.)
It’s possible, I think, to both maintain the friendship while also not contributing to the asshole’s damage.
So, yeah… someone I’m fond of is an asshole. Holding them accountable is part of being their friend. And goddammit, I want them to be a better person. I don’t want to be friends with an asshole.
But I am.
(Note: We are NOT going to talk about the specific person because this isn’t about them. It’s about the moral conundrum of remaining friends with a problematic person.)