Disagreements Among Friends

Dr. Hurd: What is your thought on people who DISAGREE?

I bring this up because many times people disagree. We disagree on many different levels. From music and artistic tastes, to ethics and morality. Not so much on the superficial level of “what movie would you like to see my dear” but on the fundamental levels.

Where is the line? When we disagree, is the line when the gap in values is too wide?

This has always troubled me…because it’s a soft line, who do I cut, who do I hold in my life? One of the hardest judgments we make.


Dr. Hurd’s reply: It’s not a “line.” A line is arbitrary. It’s a standard. What should the standard be, for keeping friends in our lives, or not?

The conventional wisdom that nobody believes is that it’s even wrong to ask the question. “Why, it’s selfish to think about who you should keep in your life, or not.” People come up with this holier-than-thou kind of reasoning and then proceed to act on their emotions, instead. They cut people out of their lives without ever giving a reason, even to themselves. This is supposedly better because at least it’s not “cold, rational and selfish.”

Nonsense! The realm of personal relationships requires — and is entitled to — the use of reason as much as any other area of life.

So what should the standard be, for keeping friends in your life or not? The standard should be what they bring to you. After each interaction with a friend you’re unsure of, ask yourself, “What did I get out of that particular interaction?” Identify what you did and didn’t get. Then look at your interactions more generally. Do an inventory.

Once you have a list of what you do and do not get out of interactions with a certain person, next ask yourself: How important are these factors to me?

As you said, your friend might have preferred a different place to eat, or a different movie. But you and your friend do agree on eating. And you and your friend do agree on the types of movies you like to see. Or, if not, you enjoy doing things with your friend other than seeing movies or eating out. For example, “This person likes to drink a lot, but he also likes intellectual discussions. I’ll spend time with him in the intellectual discussions, but he’s not for me when he’s out drinking a lot.”

That’s the standard: Do you get anything out of the time spent with the person, or not? And if so, how important is it?

This all presumes two things. One, that every minute of your life is precious and important, and that you should never waste a minute of it. Yes, this is a selfish principle. And I stand by it, proudly. This is the principle most people want to apply, or “intuitively” or emotionally apply, but like I said, the ridiculous ideas about self-interest put out in the world by our supposed leaders get in the way. (Anyone who advises you to be selfless, by the way, is either a hypocrite or a world class loser.)

The other thing this all assumes is that you know how to enjoy your own company. There are plenty of things you can do by yourself, just as well or even better than with another. In many cases it will be preferable to do these things with another. However, if your primary or only goal is to be with another, then you’re going to make compromises you should otherwise not be making. “It’s Saturday night and I prefer not to be alone.” OK, fine. But at what cost? Will you do something you positively don’t enjoy just for the sake of not being alone? This is a compromise you should not make. You’re better off finding things you enjoy doing alone, and preserving the mental/emotional space for ultimately finding someone to bring into those activities. This surely beats wasting precious hours of your life doing something you’re positive you don’t enjoy, or isn’t even good for you.

You mention disagreement. Again, it depends on the nature of the disagreement and what the person does or does not bring to your life. Perhaps someone you know doesn’t believe in honesty, and you do. He feels free to lie whenever he feels like it, and you don’t. This is a disagreement with very real consequences for your friendship. Why would you want to be friends with a liar? How can you know that he’s not lying to you, when it’s convenient?

In other cases, the disagreement does not necessarily take away from your friendship. “Bill and I don’t like the same kind of movies, most of the time. But we do connect on several key things, and I like that about him. I’ll spend time with him talking about or doing things related to those areas.”

There are political, religious or philosophical disagreements among friends. You seem to be asking, “At what point should I no longer be friends when there’s such a disagreement?” This implies that there’s some preordained formula, other than the standard I’m offering here, for doing so. But there isn’t. There are a lot of bad and stupid philosophical/ethical/political¬†ideas that we have all been deluged with from day one of life. Unfortunately, some internalize these ideas more than others. You can’t necessarily hold that against someone if they otherwise bring a considerable value to your life. It’s possible to regard one person with whom you disagree as, “Someone with nutty ideas who acts on them and makes himself a less desirable friend.” In another case, “It’s too bad about his self-defeating ideas in some areas, but in everyday life he’s actually a great guy and shares my overall view about many things, and we enjoy many of the same things.” These are the things you ought to be looking for, in friendship or romance.

It all boils down to what you get out of being with the person. This standard is missing from your question, and I suspect that’s where you’re going wrong and getting confused. You’re looking for the “line” to “draw.” But there is no line, other than the value of your own life. If you get something valuable and satisfying out of being with the person, then you have nothing to excuse or apologize for. The only problems arise when you get less out of a person than the time you’re putting in.