No matter when I walked to class at Cleveland State, it always seemed to be dark. Whether it was when I was – surprisingly – teaching an intro communication class, or going to my own graduate course, the sunlight just always seemed to be absent.
It was a tough time in my life. The constant paperwork, the meta-theory that – to this day – makes my head spin, and the late-night scribbling with my cohort on our exit thesis. But it was also very rewarding, even if the math brought us to tears at times. It brought out the best in us, we became best-friends, and it made us think.
Looking back, we talked about everything in the communication field. We discussed old theories, we developed new theories, we learned how to manage a public crisis, and we even – which was my personal favorite – studied how to manipulate and control conversations. Every day was something different. And to this day I still think about, and use, a lot of the topics we went over in detail. However there is one theory I never really gave much thought about, one that we probably discussed some time around ten in the evening, when classes were finally letting up.
That was the theory of relationship management.
With all communication theories, there are layers to it. How to do this, how to do that, when to do this, when to do that. However there is a bottom line to it all – and that’s that relationships need work. Whether they are friendships, marriages, or anything in-between – all of them take a modicum of effort, on both parts. It can be as simple as a phone call, or as deep a grand gesture. But there is another part to this theory, and that’s that maybe some relationships aren’t worth that much at all.
COVID-19 has done much more than what a virus typically does, at least in my opinion. It’s brought out the best – and the worst in us. Friends have become enemies, enemies have become worse. But beyond all of the physical effects of the virus, there has been a different type of casualty – and that’s relationships we have with each other.
Albeit exhausting, social media can typically be quite entertaining – on a normal day.
You can scroll for hours, seeing who is doing what, who went where, and even local drama in your community. Maybe someone drove their car too fast down a residential street and someone wants to complain. Or maybe there was a water-main break, and the citizens want to let their city know how angry they are about it. Social media can bring it all out, the good and the bad. But when a pandemic hits, a whole new animal emerges.
Within weeks of the pandemic inching its way into our lives, things took a dark turn. Soon the posts of weekend parties turned into posts of anti-this, anti-that – or someone saying how this person did this and on and on. Almost out of nowhere, my most distant friends online – who I frankly forgot about – became conspiracy theorists, experts, and a treasure-trove of anger.
This led me to a serious debate within myself. Do I let these people go from my life, or do I roll with who they are, even if their opinions drive me to the brink.
It may seem like such a simple question – but is it? Should we remove someone from our lives because we are getting sick of what they believe in? Should we cut off a friend, or even family member because of how they are handling things?
It’s a question I struggle with on a daily basis, and one I don’t – and never will – have an answer for.
I would be lying if I told you I didn’t lose friends because of the pandemic. I would be lying to you if I told you people haven’t said to me “why don’t you go cry and write an article about it?” I would be lying to you if I told you that didn’t bother me, just a little.
However at the end of the day, I don’t want to be that person to cut people off – I don’t want to be that person to cast someone away because of their negativity.
But maybe I should be. I’m not sure.
I was always raised to not let things get between friendships. Fights, arguments, disagreements – they can all be worked out, and you can be friends with those you don’t see eye-to-eye with. And to this day I still believe that. Just because we square off at a round table, throwing out our evidence desperately trying to convince one-another, doesn’t mean can’t crack a drink and forget it all.
But at the same time, and maybe it’s just due to my growing older and tired, I don’t want to keep diving into known negativity. I don’t want to have to constantly have to prove myself, and I don’t want to have to pretend that some people are “good” people.
For this reason, I found it best to simply walk away for a moment. There is no need to get worked up about something someone said online…right?
I am not the only only, I can’t be. I have had friends, and even family mention strained relationships, all based around differing opinions on matters. I myself fall into many traps many times, maybe responding to a post when I shouldn’t – trying to call someone out on their errors knowing I will never change their mind. Even if I told them the sky was blue, I would lose the fight.
However in a strange way, I find my circle shrinking, but getting stronger. I have a wife and family that make me the happiest I have ever been, and I have friends I love and can call for anything at any time. These are the people I adore and admire, and ones I know I could get through anything with. I have even seen communities of like-minded strangers grow stronger.
So maybe we’re not “cutting” off friends, and sometimes family, that are tormenting us. Maybe we’re trimming things up, and finding out who really supports us after all. Maybe we need to forget about working out the relationships we carry that hold us down, ones we’re holding onto for no reason at all.
If a relationship, no matter big or small, is right – it can endure anything.
I will never claim to know anything for sure, and I absolutely am not telling anyone to disappear from family or friends who may irk them. But what I am saying is that, again, relationships take work. It takes understanding, it takes reassurance, and – most importantly – it takes empathy.
As hard as it is to think about, there are just some people who won’t ever care. There are people that, no matter what, will die on any hill just to prove themselves “right.” And eventually you’ll have to come up with a plan on how to handle that within yourself.
I struggle everyday with this, and who doesn’t. But what I know is that I will never stop working on the relationships that matter – the ones I know are worth it. Those are the people I will never, for any reason, turn my back on.
I may not agree with you. But if we’re all decent human beings, it won’t matter.