When I was younger, I used to be perplexed by gay Republicans and Black Republicans (gay Black Republicans were so confounding my eyes would cross at the thought). I foolishly dismissed them as consenting to their own oppression, masochists who couldn’t see their way around the machine designed to disenfranchise them. While I now realize that the world is a much more nuanced place and it’s completely unfair to diminish those groups of people, many of us out there still consent to our own oppression, and it doesn’t require party affiliation or action at the ballot box to do so.
While playing Apples to Apples with a group of female friends, we got on the subject of relationships. I idiotically asked how someone could stay in a relationship where he or she wasn’t happy. My best friend (or Actual Best Friend, as I like to refer to her) pointed out my longstanding friendship with my Fake Best Friend (now known as FBF). In an instant, I realized I was not only blind but a huge hypocrite.
If you’ve ever stayed too long at the party, pretending to be content with a significant other or even a toxic friend, in a relationship sapping all of your effort and joy, then you might know to what I’m referring. Whether or not you put a name to it, all of us self-sacrificing individuals were consenting to our own oppression.
Why do we consent to our own oppression? Why do we stay in relationships that are beyond unhealthy and actually actively destroy us? I can’t speak for the lovely ladies who spilled their souls as we played Apples to Apples, but I can speak for myself. This token consents to her own oppression because she’s used to it. She thinks she deserves it.
My FBF and I have known each other for awhile. This person doesn’t understand me all that well, but we have common interests, ones we don’t share with any of the other people we know. Unfortunately, my FBF is angry like a Tea Party protestor. As liberal as my FBF claims to be, I know this person looks at me filled with rage that I’m happy and employed, and in the ugliest moments, I know my FBF doesn’t think I’m talented but thinks I’m a quota hire.
My FBF also has a problem believing that anyone else on the planet could appreciate me, so much so that when introduced to my friends – the ones who care about me – FBF clams up, perplexed and instantly insecure. This person also has no desire to date me and thus is confounded and threatened by the idea that anyone might look at this grenade and want to pull her pin.
My FBF and I compete over everything, only neither of us would admit it (and only one of us was ever actively playing the game). We used to compete over who could withhold more; who could give the least away about his or her new job or current relationship. Our bond devolved into one where the one person you’re supposed to want to share everything with is the one person you can’t wait to hide news from.
So, after all these years, why do I still hang out with my FBF? Because oppression feels good. It feels right. Life hasn’t ever been completely easy for me socially, so when I suffer, either in school, in work or in relationships, I always look at it as character building. I think suffering means something great is on the other side. I pride myself on having a high pain tolerance.
My FBF isn’t a demon. I don’t have Stockholm Syndrome, I promise, but the truth is that I wouldn’t stay if this person was intolerable. The truth is, my FBF has a lot of great qualities. My FBF is funny, talented, smart, at times thoughtful and a great friend when that’s the goal (which, unfortunately, isn’t often). Those flickers of humility are my way of justifying the intense rumbling shitstorm that is our friendship.
Here’s another dirty secret: Suffering is sexy. I thought my FBF and I were the suburban Kurt and Courtney, so delightfully and perfectly mismatched that we’d soon land in the history books. We’re good together, in that awful synergistic way, like alcohol and Valium.
So why stay? Well, without cataloguing the entire relationship, there’s the complicated part about enjoying your suffering. I spent a long time being the token single girl among my friends, but the emotional Tilt-A-Whirl my FBF and I were on provided much of the same relationship woes that my friends went through with their boyfriends. We could commiserate and develop those stereotypical girlfriendly neuroses together. I could still chime in and talk about how frustrating it was to feel like I couldn’t trust the person I loved, even if that love didn’t include sex.
I foolishly figured we might save each other and salvage our friendship. I try to support my FBF in every endeavor, even actively feeling guilt about my own relative success in any area. My FBF praises me too, though always with an undercurrent of disdain because I’m supposed to be the wallflower with the silver medal. Yet even wallflowers sometimes shine and I figured, like Needy in “Jennifer’s Body,” one day I might be the very person who saves my FBF from destruction.
I’m more of a masochist than I ever realized, which is the ultimate token’s occupational hazard. After awhile of being treated poorly by the world, you not only get used to it, you start to feed off of it or feel like you need it. Now, the healthier my relationships have gotten, including the one with myself, the more I’ve realized that my FBF and I are going to keep hanging out in each others’ lives until we kill each other. One day our bond is going to strangle us, and it won’t matter how many funny articles we’ve shared or kind texts we’ve sent, because we will both hate ourselves and each other for dragging it on so long.
Oh yeah, there’s that too: I’m clearly oppressing my FBF. How can this person be happy in a relationship with someone who so clearly and openly resents them? I don’t know why my FBF is consenting to his own oppression. I’d imagine that being friends with someone who alternately loves, loathes and resents you (albeit for different reasons) is no cakewalk, and I can attest to that. FBF isn’t a token, but maybe I’m the status symbol. Maybe FBF chooses to stay not yet realizing the relationship’s inherent misery, or perhaps the alternative seems more frightening. Like Brooks Hatlen in “The Shawshank Redemption,” maybe getting freedom is scarier and more dangerous than being imprisoned. Being without a token friend might mean my FBF would have to face why he or she consented to his or her own oppression and how that turned this individual into an oppressor.
I’ve wised up enough to realize I don’t need to suffer to feel alive. I get that I don’t deserve to be oppressed and that, aside from rose-colored nostalgia, there isn’t a real reason to go on masquerading like things are OK, shucking and jiving while someone stands next to the stage slicing watermelon for me. But sometimes we consent to our oppression because we know no other way, because ultimately, remaining oppressed retains the status quo. At least now I know I’m a hypocrite, and hopefully that’s the first step in breaking the cycle. If nothing else, when people rail on gay and black Republicans, you can find me with my mouth firmly closed.