This week I realized I had been unfriended on Facebook by my high school boyfriend. This was probably an inevitable event and I have been experiencing very mixed feelings about it. I am a little sad, I am more than a little relieved, and perhaps a little irritated that I didn’t get to have the last word. That probably says a lot about our relationship!
My high school boyfriend and I grew up rurally in Massachusetts in a town that at the time had more cows than people. It is a woolen mill town where the mill had gone out of business. My grandfather worked at that mill until the day he died and my mother was the first member of my family to graduate from college. I went to the same high school that my mother went to. All of my aunts and many of my cousins also went there. Even if you moved to my home town in sixth grade, you were still the “new” kid at high school graduation. There were two blinking stop lights and no grocery store. There was however, a bar, several “packies” where you could buy cigarettes and alcohol, a bait shop and a gun store.
Everyone knew everyone else. In fact, I can’t even estimate how many people I was at least distantly related to. My grandfather was one of 12, many who lived and died in Douglas, Massachusetts. 75% of the people in Douglas were Catholic and of Italian or Czech decent. The only diversity in Douglas were the Protestants (who we were always a little leery of), one Latino family (Guatemalan I think) and the biracial adopted brother of one of my classmates.
Not unexpectedly, I fled Douglas the moment the opportunity presented itself. Also not unexpectedly, my high school boyfriend stayed. Despite my high school guidance counselor asking me, “Why do you want to go away to college? You are just going to come back here and get married anyway,” I graduated from Mount Holyoke College with a degree in Women’s Studies and Politics, lived in Boston for a few years, earned my Masters in Social Work at the University of Pennsylvania, practiced urban social work for almost twenty years and now work in neurodegenerative disease research at the University of Pennsylvania. I sent my kids to Quaker schools and I have always tried to live my values. My high school boyfriend has been a prison guard, a lifelong firefighter, police officer and an EMT. I imagine that he also sees himself as living his values.
We have essentially been clashing over our world views and values since I was 13 or 14 years old. We have argued over hunting (I am a vegetarian), gun laws (suffice it to say our interpretations of the second amendment are not identical), the Confederate Flag (he is not as fond of historical facts and hard data as I am), Caitlin Jenner (let’s just say I went a little Mama Bear there) and Obama. He gets most of his Facebook memes and views from Blue Line sites and deeply conservative news outlets (actually, I think calling them news outlets is generous. But that is a discussion for another day).
So maybe I should have predicted that our deeply conflicting views over “Black Lives Matter” would be the last straw for our online friendship. He has an unshakable belief that the Black Lives Matter Movement is made up entirely of extremists who are organized around the goal of exterminating police officers. He has an unshakable belief that he is not racist, that none of the people he works with in law enforcement are racist, and that every police shooting of an unarmed black or Latino man or woman in this country was justified because the police involved feared for their lives. He has an unshakable belief that I am naïve and don’t “get” how it really is.
I hung on to our Facebook relationship as long as I did because of shared history, the firm belief that I should NOT only be reading Facebook posts from people who share my beliefs and the faint hope that our relationship might make him slightly more open to hearing other voices, other points of view. In that respect only, I will admit to being naïve. After 37 years, even I have to admit that I have failed in making him one more iota open to considering ideas and world views different than the ones we grew up with in the 1970’s. It makes me sad that he chooses willful ignorance and has never challenged himself to really try to imagine what it is like to walk in someone else’s shoes, to live in someone else’s skin.
He is who he always was. And I understand more and more as I get older, so am I.
Farewell old friend.