New York Times Thinks You Should Ditch Your Friends For Being Fat Or Depressed
This week, the New York Times published an article seemingly tailor-made to make us all feel paranoid and horrible and friendless — a guide on "How To Rearrange Your Post-Pandemic Friendships," literally promoted on social media as a way for people to "Marie Kondo" their friend groups.
It did not spark joy.
This was because, rather than offering some halfway decent advice about how to cultivate and keep good friends, the author, Kate Murphy, gave advice that would all but ensure that whoever took it seriously would either be a complete asshole or a paranoid mess.
Firstly, she wants you to know that at least half of your friends don't even think you are their friend. Or, at least she misinterpreted some research in order to claim this.
It seems as if it should be easy to distinguish between true and false friends, but that's not always the case. Research shows that only half of our friendships are mutual. That is, only half of those who we think are our friends feel the same way about us. Blame egoism, optimism or, perhaps, the fact that social media has turned "friend" into a verb.
This "research" was a self-reported survey of 84 undergraduate students ranking their friendship levels with one another, which is certainly a very different situation than most of us are currently in. Hell, when I was that age I might have even ranked people lower specifically because I was insecure and afraid that they might rank me lower. Not only are we talking about friendships with classmates here rather than the people we've chosen to surround ourselves with as adults, but we're also talking about young people who are possibly still holding a lot of baggage from their teen years and in fact are quite possibly still teenagers.
This is a horrible, cruel thing to say to people right now, when half of us can't even remember how to speak to people we're not related to, when people are scared that they won't be able to successfully reassemble their social lives after this, when people have maybe even lost friends to this virus. We're in a vulnerable place, all of us, and no one needs this added anxiety. It's a cruel thing to say when so many people (myself included) go to the well of "Do all of my friends secretly hate me and only hang out with me out of pity?" when feeling low.
Murphy then suggested that people should "curate" their friend circles so as not to include anyone who is depressed or fat or who smokes or drinks and instead befriend people who are "studious, kind and enterprising" — which she apparently thinks are not options for someone who is depressed or fat or who smokes or drinks.
It requires daily or weekly attention to maintain foreground friends, so there are necessarily a limited number of slots (four to six, maximum). Some of those may be filled by your romantic partner, parent, sibling or child. Because they are front and center, foreground friends are the ones who have the most profound impact on your health and well-being, for good or ill.
Indeed, depressed friends make it more likely you'll be depressed, obese friends make it more likely you'll become obese, and friends who smoke or drink a lot make it more likely you'll do the same. The reverse is also true: You will be more studious, kind and enterprising if you consort with studious, kind and enterprising people. That is not to say that you should abandon friends when they are having a hard time. But it's a good idea to be mindful of who you are spending the majority of your time with — whether on- or off-line — because your friends' prevailing moods, values and behaviors are likely to become your own.
Let me be clear — if you are the kind of person who actually, somehow, thinks to yourself, "Oh boy, I don't want to hang out with this awesome person because they are overweight and I am afraid I'll catch the fatness!" and if you ditch your friends because they are going through a rough time and you don't want their issues to bring you down, then you ought to avoid being friends with anyone, period, because you are a fucking asshole.
People dealing with depression and mental health issues are often scared to reach out to the people closest to them for fear of rejection or being a burden, because they are feeling fragile and vulnerable. Every time we hear about a famous person committing suicide, we always tell people, "If you're depressed, reach out so people can help you!" But that's bullshit if we don't also tell people to care for their friends and relatives when they do reach out. It's certainly bullshit if we're actively telling people to ditch their depressed friends.
As far as we have come with body positivity, as much as we can now walk into stores and see mannequins of all sizes, as much as it is now uncool to publicly berate women for not having a "thigh gap" — we are in absolutely no danger of "glorifying obesity," as horrible people like to say. That's not a thing. The only people who think that is a thing are men who are worried women are becoming increasingly unconcerned about their boners and women who believed "everyone has to be a size 00" in the 2000s and are now concerned they will not be rewarded for their "efforts" and will be forced to develop a personality. Both those types of people tend to think the only way to maintain the lifestyle to which they have become accustomed is to bully fat people like they're seventh graders with an axe to grind.
And we still live in a world where people like Kate Murphy think it is "kind, and studious" to tell people to ditch their fat friends. And The New York Times will publish it.
Practically every one of my friends has dealt with depression at some point or another. They come in all body types as well. I pick friends based on how funny and nice they are rather than how they look, because I am not an actual psychopath. Most of them smoke at least socially and nearly all of them drink. And you know what? They are great and funny and hilarious people who I am damn sure are a better time to hang out with than people who don't drink or swear or rat their hair and get ill from one cigarette.
I don't know who threw the overalls in Ms. Murphy's chowder, but she's sure got an axe to grind, re: friendship. In the past year, she's written several articles for The New York Times along the lines of this one, like "The Pandemic Shrank Our Social Circles. Let's Keep It That Way" and "The Coronavirus Made Us Socially Awkward."
For anyone who felt like shit after reading this article or seeing clips of it online (or after reading this, though I hope that is not the case), you should know that there is a reason this woman doesn't have a lot of friends that has nothing to do with how wonderful she is at "curating" them. The reason is that she is an asshole.
Here is my hot friendship advice.
Is your friend kind? Do you enjoy being around them? Do you care about them? Do they care about you? Great. That person is your friend!
Is your friend a jerk? Do they expect you to do everything in the friendship? Do you get the feeling they'd throw you down the stairs if someone they thought was cooler came along? Do you feel badly about yourself after talking to them? That person is not your friend.
People who are shitty to you are not more "aspirational" friend-wise than people who like you and are nice right off the bat.
Obviously there are a lot of asterisks here because human relationships are complicated, but that's really about it. When you start curating your friendships based on criteria other than that, you end up being an asshole that no one wants to be around and possibly justifying this by writing several New York Times articles telling people that they're the ones whose friends all secretly hate them.
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Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse