DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: Last summer, some ex-friends and I had a falling out.
From since 2014/2015 we’d spend almost every night talking to each other on Skype. Around 2017/2018 I wasn’t in as many of these group calls because I would be hanging with my in-person friends or out on dates. At some point during this time, we discovered that a friend was lying about a lot, and they were pretty much endangering a child, owed some people in the group money and betrayed severals trust. I chose to not get involved and I had no opinion because of what I had going on outside of the friendship.
Because of this I assumed thing got tense; they either think I didn’t care or think the friend did nothing wrong. In, 2019 there was a lot of back and forth arguing because I didn’t express my feelings, limited what I shared on my social media, and didn’t share everything I had going on in my life and kept somethings private.
Things came to head last year during the pandemic because I didn’t have a therapist to go to or couldn’t do any of my therapeutic/self care activities. This was about the time when we started playing D&D. I didn’t take to how the game worked and was slow to adjust. By this point, we were fighting a lot because they believed I didn’t care and was wasting their time. Meanwhile, I was just frustrated with myself for being a slow learner. I was trying to convey these feeling and they didn’t believe my sincerity or my apologies. I was told my behavior was seemed as abusive, misogynist and transphobic, based of previous arguments and things I had shared from my personal life. I was blocked from all the groups and by them.
I gave a one last apology before this mass blocking and left them alone.
Then a friend who was mutuals with the others sent me a text refunding me money for art I purchased, saying they were told by friends I’m a predator towards minors, woman and trans individuals. They and 2 other mutuals have removed and or blocked me. I’ve tried to confront the individuals who I assumed were the source of these allegations, only to be blocked by them on all social media. I’ve made attempts to tell as many people I know and who are still mutuals with the others to ask for evidence if this gets brought up, but it seems they don’t interact as much. I know best thing to do is move on and just live my life, but I just feel hurt and angry that they felt the need to go this far after I’ve just left them alone.
Do you have any advice?
The Great Schism
DEAR THE GREAT SCHISM: his is a frustrating situation to be in, TGS.
Now, without having seen things go down, or without watching the replay and following the transcripts, I can’t say anything about who’s right and who’s wrong, who’s justified and who was just stirring s--t. So, while I’ll take you at your word, I can only offer you advice based on my own observations and experiences of watching friend groups splinter and split. Because the truth is that every social circle will have drama, and sometimes that drama can blow up all over the place, full of accusations, recriminations and backbiting, where personality conflicts become evidence of deep character flaws that in turn become signs of… something.
I think one of the most valuable resources that had ever been published to the Internet is the concept of Geek Social Fallacies, because of how much they speak to the mistakes we often make in our social circles. Two of the most important fallacies to recognize are often the hardest to shake. The first is “Friendship Before All” — that is, that these friendships trump everything, up to and including personal boundaries and personal circumstances. This often gets positioned as a “friendship test”, where putting your own interests over The Friendship means that you’re Not Being A True Friend. While the author brings up conflicts like “being asked to keep a secret from other friends”, I’ve found for a lot of folks — especially younger people — having “secrets” or just not sharing everything often gets seen as inherently sus. People feel annoyed or shut out or excluded and that you’re not Being A True Friend, when all you’re doing is having healthy boundaries.
The other fallacy that trips people up is “Friendship Is Transitive” — that all of your friends will all get along because if they’re your friends then they should have the exact same level of relationship with everyone else. This often comes packaged with being part of the same community — such as a particular fandom — where the shared love of $GEEK_PROPERTY means that you should all be friends and love the same things and do all the same things… preferably together.
Unfortunately, this falls apart very quickly because it turns out that having friends in common isn’t the same as being compatible with one another. Nor, for that matter does being part of the same fandom or loving the same things mean that everybody is cool with each other and that you all are capable of being the closest of friends.
Even the most devoted fans of any property are going to be individuals, and where you have individuals, you’re going to have conflicts. Sometimes those conflicts are minor and dissipate quickly. Other times, however, those conflicts create flaws and cracks that become fissures… and those become greater points of conflict, that spiral, rapidly out of control. And what can make it especially maddening is sometimes the conflicts that break everything apart seem to have come out of the clear blue sky when, in reality, the conflict was merely the trigger; the source of the break were those conflicts and fissures — often ones that folks thought had been resolved long ago and weren’t.
Of course, all of this is made worse by the fact that they were held against the backdrop of the nightmare that was 2020. I suspect that the stress of the global pandemic and the attendant lockdown, the political and social upheavals, violence and fear took any number of simmering issues and conflicts and threw them into a pressure cooker. Everybody already working at reduced emotional capacity; it would take very, very little to turn those conflicts into full-bore conflagrations.
One of the truisms about fights within social circles, especially when you’re young, is that those conflicts can’t just be because of petty disagreements and disliking people on a personal level. You can’t just say that you don’t like X because you think they’re an asshole or you think Y is selfish and self-involved. To admit that would be to lose the moral high ground and — worse — make it harder to get what you want. So those fights often become about other things, things that make your being pissed at them not just justifiable but morally correct. And so things are misunderstood or taken out of context, blown up to immense proportions or possibly even just straight made up.
Worse, because of the friend-of-a-friend nature of groups, particularly when your relationships are primarily online, it’s easy for the Telephone Effect to kick in. Stories get twisted past all point of recognition and what was previously just gossip becomes gospel truth. And if it’s not actually true, then it’s fundamentally true; they may not have done X, but they probably would because “they’re just that type of person,” so really it’s fine to say they did it anyway. And sometimes people’s reaction to one person will have absolutely nothing to do with them; it’s a reaction to other s--t within that social circle and got thrown at someone else because the original cause has long passed.
So, what do you do about this?
Well… unfortunately, not much. You’re dealing with individuals, and so those individuals will all have their own reactions — both in the moment and in the aftermath. You can’t control what people are going to think or believe. And while it’s reasonable, even understandable to be frustrated with the folks who didn’t come and say “hey man, what the f--k?”, you don’t know what they were dealing with in their lives at that moment.
So all you can do — as maddening as it can be — is to just… live. You know that the things they said aren’t true or are wildly misunderstood, so the best option you have is to live your life with authenticity and integrity. Apologize where it’s needed (and won’t cause further harm), make your amends where you can and then let it go. Live your life with integrity. You may not want to just brush the dirt off your shoulders — you may well feel intense amounts of resentment and anger over this — but there’s nothing else to be done. You can swear up and down that people are wrong, you can even show the receipts (if there are any), but some folks won’t accept any of it. It’s a matter of deeds, not words, so show them who you are with your actions. That means living your life as best as you can, in the most authentic, upright and sincere way you can.
Everything else after that is out of your hands.
What you don’t want to do is dwell on things or the unfairness of it all or getting people to acknowledge that they were wrong. You can’t control that. Likewise, you can’t control who will or won’t remain in your life in some form. Some folks will be determined to believe what they want to believe, some folks will believe what they hear because someone they trust said it and some folks will never believe it. Some will recognize that they were wrong and come apologize, some will insist that YOU need to apologize to THEM and others will persist in believing that you did horrible things.
As I said: I can’t adjudicate the rightness or wrongness of any of this. If there are areas where you fell down or hurt folks, then you want to make your apologies and try to make things right. You may have lessons to learn about how you’ve said things or done things that may have been insensitive or ignorant. Or you may not. And if it’s the case that this was just a drama bomb that went off and you happened to catch most of the shrapnel… well, that’s out of your hands. You can’t control what people say or think or how they feel. You can be a living saint and there will still be people who will be pissed off at you for sitting there eating crackers. That’s just life.
You focus on the only thing that you can control: yourself and the life you lead. Live a good life, one in line with your core values and your deepest truths. Do your best to live your life like Mr. Rogers (both of them) would want. It may not necessarily change what those folks think, but it’ll put your mind at ease. And sometimes that’s the best thing we can do.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org