Many of us grew up with the understanding that it’s never “polite” to talk about sex, religion, or politics. We’ve been told they’re subjects best kept to private company, away from the public sphere where a difference of opinion will inevitably lead to disagreements. And disagreements… well those are best solved with the amicable conclusion of “agree to disagree.”
The problem, of course, arises when settling for such a cautious resolve means we feel like we’re devaluing our own stance on an issue or a candidate. What do you do when a conversation reveals that politics is, well, personal? What do you do when the political viewpoints of those you hold dear—your family, your partner, your friends—reveal that they don’t just disagreewith you, the believe in the antithesis of your values and ideals?
When a candidate vows to roll back the rights of the marginalized, when political speeches are filled with dog whistles, when outright hate toward others is clear, do you keep associating with a person supporting that candidate? Does it seem like a betrayal of your own beliefs? What’s the cut-off point?
To find out, Girlboss reached out to readers for their stories of how politics has made them reassess—and even break off—certain relationships. We heard from women for whom the 2016 midterm election was a point of no return, and others who have drawn lines in the sand surrounding abortion issues, bigotry, and conversations around sexual assault.
Here’s why, for some women, cutting ties over political differences was their final resolve.
When politics become personal…
“I normally stay pretty quiet because arguments rarely change minds. I had a very hard realization when a lot of my family came forward in support of Trump and now continue to support him. as he strips away any shred of civilization we have and trample on the liberties, lives, love, and mere existence of humans who not only exist but deserve every civil right.
My ‘last straw’ was when I was added to a group chat with some family I recognized and some I didn’t have saved in my phone. Someone shared a meme poking fun at Christine Blasey Ford. I said they needed to remove me from this chat and basically called them complicit with sexual assault. I posted on social media about it, which I am not wont to do. I gave a brief #metoo anecdote to let them know that someone they love is a victim of this, and stayed silent about it until now.
All of the family in that chat had daughters. I told them that they are creating an environment where women feel unsafe to share their stories, and are the reasons a woman waits 30 years to come forward. I told them I hope, despite their actions, that their daughters somehow feel safe coming to them when it happens to them—and when they don’t, that they know they can come to me.
I can’t be close with that part of my family anymore. I haven’t spoken to any of them since. I probably will regain contact with them at some point because cutting them off completely doesn’t teach tolerance and we are a very close family despite differences. I feel good having said something because I know conversations happened separate from me, though there was a lot of “I didn’t mean it that way!” I don’t feel guilty but I do feel sad that despite the ugliness, people I love can support a monster and his disgusting minions.”
—Leslie S.*, 33, Radford, VA
“I had an abortion last month. My daughter was diagnosed with a fatal defect. I have always been a ‘sharer’ and wrote a post on Facebook to seek comfort as this was a wanted pregnancy. I did not initially reveal our decision to terminate because I knew many Facebook friends would be appalled. A few days before the procedure, I shared the full story because I felt guilty accepting prayers and well wishes from many who I knew would not support me.
You see, for many years I belonged to and, for some time, worked for a large church in my town. While I do not want to slander the church, it is well known that the church is anti-abortion in that debate and some members believe abortion is unacceptable under any circumstance. Friends I have known for over 10 years have abandoned me because of what I have shared with Facebook. The opposition has made me more vocal, leading some to suggest I not get on Facebook if anti-abortion posts bother me so much.
But if I block everyone who opposes me, who has learned from my experience? I use that unfollow feature and I discard posts my emotions can’t handle, rarely unfriending or blocking these days. I want to keep myself healthy, but I want to share for the women in my situation, too afraid to talk about it. My daughter did not die in vain and I will not be silent about her death.”
—Laura Kuhl, 26, Springfield, IL
“Here is a story about my sister. We grew up in a pretty liberal family in Oregon. We have the same dad, but different moms, however my mom raised her from the time she was five years old. She was significantly older than me (10 years) and I always looked up to her. After high school she moved away and married a proud redneck from the south. They eventually moved to Texas.
As years went by, she changed from someone who was proud of her heritage (she is part native) to someone who denied her race (she appears white) and vilified immigrants. It all came to a head just before the 2016 election when she decided to say something incredibly offensive toward Hispanic people on Facebook. My mother, the woman who raised her, is full-blooded Hispanic. I called her out and told her she was being offensive and asked her to stop and think about her mother. She said she wasn’t talking about our family she was talking about the “bad hombres” Trump told her about in his speech. I told her she was acting ignorant and to apologize to mom. She refused and called me a bitch and that was the last time I spoke to her.
My parents attempted to continue the relationship after that, but she continued to spew her hateful rhetoric and they eventually walked away too. I hope she someday realizes how much she hurt all of us, but right now I highly doubt it.”
—Melissa West, 35, Oregon City, OR
“Politics started really impacting my relationships when Trump began gaining momentum as a presidential candidate. I couldn’t stand his character, and how he openly belittled and mocked marginalized people. As a first-generation, Asian, heteroflexible, married to a Jewish husband, working with individuals with developmental disorders woman… I hated everything that came out of his mouth and any person who said a word of praise about him.
I had difficulty reconciling my politics with my biological dad. He immigrated from Germany and birthed a mixed-race daughter. How could he support a candidate who was so openly racist and misogynistic? Oh right, because my dad was openly racist and misogynistic and xenophobic and homophobic… and the list goes on.
The final straw was a conversation weeks before the election, in which my dad rattled on about how he so appreciates a man like Trump who ‘tells it like it is’ and ‘says what he’s really thinking.’ I’d had it. I had recently gotten married and been thinking about the future and family. I told my dad that although I couldn’t control the terrible thoughts he has, if he wanted any part of my family and his future grandkids he would need to keep his toxic shit to himself because I would not allow my (nonexistent) children to grow up with someone so intolerant in their lives.
The incident made me feel much stronger and more authentic. Stepping into my power and setting boundaries was so wonderful. I found that I didn’t need to set these hard boundaries with everyone in my life who had politics I seriously disagreed with— but it helped to know that I could.
…Six months after the election my dad said he sincerely regrets having ever supported Trump and that he was sorry for having done so.”
—Alex Martynowicz, 27, Santa Monica, CA
“Before the 2016 election, I didn’t care much about politics. I believe and still believe that we can have different choices in this world, and that’s what makes life interesting. I had a lot of friends who were Republicans but politics never came between us.
After Trump got elected and I spoke to a transgender friend who was panicking about what would happen to her since he won the election. I started doing my research. I found a lot of articles about Richard Spencer , the KKK and how they support Trump. I knew we were in trouble at that point. And then the Muslim ban happened, Charlottesville, and the separation of family. And for some reason the Trump supporters in my life didn’t see anything wrong with this. They didn’t speak up for the families being separated, for Muslims being banned from this country, DACA kids that have no way to renew their papers. I realized these people are selfish and only think about themselves.
I cut them off without a blink, I can’t have such people in my life. I stopped responding to them, deleted them off social media, and I do not miss them.”
—Pamela Belonwu-Ifedi, 29, Las Vegas, Nevada
“I have trouble every single day… because the ‘politics’ have become personal. As the mother of the sweetest little boy that will grow up to be a black man in America. As a survivor of sexual assault. As a woman in general. As a human. It stings when someone you love(d) and respect(ed) makes a racist, misogynistic, sexist, etc. comment. And, to me, openly supporting a candidate that stands for racism or misogyny or homophobia or any other similar ideal is even worse because then it grows from a personal attack and turns into fuel for hate to spread.
I wish I hadn’t had to distance myself from family and friends and coworkers and boyfriends because of ‘politics.’ But it’s bigger than me now. I’m not humble-bragging by any means. It sucks. It hurts. It’s not easy. I hesitate. I make excuses. But I try really damn hard to remember that losing a personal relationship is a small price to pay in the midst of the fight for so, so, so many other people to stop losing their fundamental human rights and, in some cases, their actual human lives.”
—Mary Scott Valentine, 26, Williston, SC
“My father’s ‘politics’ (morals) are extremely unacceptable to me, but we just avoid discussing real-world things. He and I both have fiercely strong opinions, and neither of us will ever back down. I think it’s up to the younger generations to be bigger people than our parents every step of the way, so I just shake my head and let him know when he’s out of line.”
—Anonymous,* 37, San Francisco, CA
“I have deleted at least 50 old friends/acquaintances from Facebook because of the 2016 election and current aftermath; I had no qualms about it because, to me, this has moved far past political ideologies and is firmly in the realm of personal ones. I cannot and will not associate with anyone that revels in the bigotry, negativity, and at times, traitorous behavior of the current administration and its ilk.
“Our relationship is about as deep as a puddle of spit”
There has been one person I have not been able to completely cut out of my life: my father. For context, I am bi-racial. My mother is a Jamaican (black) immigrant who became a naturalized citizen and my father is white and was born in the US. My entire life, he was a Democrat and progressive in his beliefs, he even stopped speaking to his own sister after her racist reaction to him marrying my mother. However, since the election cycle, I learned not only did he vote for Trump, but he continues to try to find ways to defend his behavior, frequently engaging in the most infuriating “whataboutism” when I ask him point-blank questions.
These days, our relationship is about as deep as a puddle of spit. We exchange pleasantries, we talk about work and he asks about my boyfriend and how his work is going… But that’s really it. The strain is permanent and I no longer look at him the same.”
—Yvonne Bell, 31, Los Angeles
“I pretty much no longer speak to someone who I grew up with and maintained a very close relationship into adulthood, after her response to me supporting Black Lives Matter was ‘All Lives Matter, we are all given the same opportunities.’ I tried and tried and eventually I gave up. We text on birthdays and maybe 2-3 other times per year. I don’t have it in me to be close friends with someone who thinks we are all given the same opportunities because that’s patently not true.”
—Anonymous,* 30, Los Angeles
“I recently ended a relationship due to my ex’s lack of understanding of women’s rights and justice. During the KavNope hearing, my ex said he didn’t understand why Dr. Ford waited so long to speak up. When I told him we were no longer going to discuss the topic, he continued to press me. As a political scientist, I believe history, conditions, and wealth all played into what happened to Dr. Ford.
His comment hit me like a brick because I have been sexually assaulted on numerous times… Having differences in politics isn’t a red flag for me. The red flag for me is when the differences on political topics either show a person’s understanding of basic human rights or lack of understanding. If there is a lack of knowledge or of understanding and you refuse to educate yourself or hear stories from survivors, I have an issue with that and will kick your ass to the curb. How could I imagine having a child with a human that just didn’t care to understand?”
—Rachel*, 24, Clarksville, TN
*Some names have been withheld for privacy reasons.