I (she/her) was at my town’s outdoor farmers market last week when a friendly stranger, “Carly,” (she/her) struck up a conversation with me while we were standing in line for food.
Carly mentioned that she had moved here recently, during lockdown, and had been finding it hard to make friends as a result. While chatting, we discovered that we shared some common nerdy interests; she suggested we meet up for coffee sometime, I agreed, we exchanged our details and went on our way.
We met up a few days later, had a nice enough time, and while Carly was friendly — really friendly — there was something I couldn’t quite put my finger on that made me a bit uneasy. I felt guilty for being so guarded and chalked it up to my own awkwardness around new people. She seemed so nice after all, and was in need of some friends in a new town! When we eventually walked home and parted ways in front of my apartment, Carly asked if I’d like to meet up again soon, and I agreed to keep in touch.
But I couldn’t shake that weird feeling, or stop thinking about something Carly had mentioned: she said that she originally moved here for a job at a local company. It’s one that I know well, where several of my friends work. Shortly after she arrived, she was laid off due to “restructuring.” This didn’t sound right to me, for a multitude of reasons, so I asked some of my friends there if they knew the whole story.
Turns out that Carly wasn’t laid off; she was fired for misconduct after bullying other employees, and for the content she was posting on her social media accounts. I did some digging, and what I discovered was grim.
Carly used to have a more public social media presence but was “chased away by the mob” (her words) and now resides on an alternative “free speech” platform that leans heavily alt-right. During her time on Twitter she became infamous enough to garner multiple call-out posts, including receipts of her mistreating and gaslighting ex-friends who disagreed with her ideas.
I managed to find one of her private accounts and her feed was like a nasty alt-right pizza with all the toppings: Qanon reblogs, lots of bad hot takes masquerading as “facts and logic,” racist dog whistles, anti-immigrant, anti-LGBTQ+, anti-SJW, anti-BLM, posts glorifying gun violence, you name it.
Amidst all of these are multiple posts where Carly insists that she is NOT a bigot, or anti-anything; that she is truly a kind person, simply a victim of Cancel Culture, unfairly persecuted, and that 99% of people on the internet are simply idiots with “rotbrain.”
Terrible opinions and ideological differences aside, I’ve seen enough evidence that Carly has a real capacity for unkindness, manipulation, and cruelty when people dare to challenge her. I would really, really prefer to never see or speak to Carly again. Problem is, I cannot overstate how tiny our town is, and while we were getting coffee she made it very clear that she intended to stay for as long as possible, job or no job. She lives just a couple of blocks away from me, and it’s practically impossible that we won’t encounter one another in person while we’re out and about. She was so eager to meet up and it’s only a matter of time until she gets in touch again to organize another friend date.
I’m not really afraid for my safety, but I wish I had never given her my number and feel foolish for not listening to my instincts when I felt that something was up. I asked my friends for advice and the responses ranged from “ghost her” to “tell her what you discovered and confront her” to “it’s cowardly to avoid someone just because you have ideological differences.”
What’s the best (and safest) way to extricate myself from this situation I’ve found myself in?
Thank you so much for any advice you’re able to give!
I want to start by saying, GOOD JOB trusting your instincts so far despite a lifetime of social pressure to ignore them.
You met this lady twice and found out she’s a bunch of red flags in a trench coat, you’ve made the logical choice to not meet up a third time, and my advice is that you don’t owe her shit. Definitely don’t be friends. Ghost her if you want. Block her cell number and preemptively block her on any and all social accounts today. If you want to make sure the message is clear, you could send a text just before you block, a simple “Nice meeting you but I’ve decided not to be friends,” or you could wait until you run into each other again and deliver the same message, but honestly, do whatever is easier for you.
It will feel weird and awkward to do this, there’s no way around it, it’s jarring when someone puts a lot of effort into being nice to you and you don’t respond in kind. Please know that however awkward it turns out to be, it will be so much less awkward than continuing to hang out with her, waiting for the other shoe to drop, while she uses you to launder her reputation and get a foothold in your social spaces.
Once you make it clear that you don’t want to hang out, be ready for any and all niceness to disappear in a flash. Not everyone can safely confront bigots in person, so whatever lets you walk away in one piece is the right thing to do. That could mean bringing a buddy to the market for a few weeks, and it could mean being firm but remaining vague. For instance, if Carly asks you why you changed your mind, keep in mind that she already knows or strongly suspects why (like you said, it’s a small place, and this isn’t her first ride at the consequences-of-her-own-actions rodeo), and you can confirm her suspicions or not as you see fit.“”Oh, it was the racism, definitely the racism.” “I caught wind of some of your social media history and views and I can tell a friendship is not for me.” “Eh, just wasn’t feeling it.” “I changed my mind.” “…’Corporate….restructuring,’…. ay?” :LONG, BLANK STARE:
Once you cut off contact, cut the conversation short and do not respond to future communication attempts. When you absolutely cannot avoid seeing her, make it very boring, like a curt nod at the farmer’s market, but don’t engage more. Carly’s persecution narrative will continue just fine with or without you, and there is no point in debating her views with her. In the unlikely event that she really is trying to change her ways, her redemption narrative can happen without you (a person she’s met twice); no longer being The Worst will need to be its own reward. Either way, I have some words for the people in your life who think “it’s cowardly to avoid someone just because you have ideological differences.”
“You must embrace the worst possible people or else you’re just like them!” is not where we set logical or social baselines, y’all.
There used to be this terrible reality show called Fear Factor, where contestants would do unpleasant, unsanitary, upsetting, and unsafe things in exchange for the chance to win money. Every time someone tells you that you must engage with a known Nazi, bigot, TERF, sexual predator, or other predictable bad actor in order to show how “brave” or “tolerant” you are, I want you to mentally replace it with,”You must force yourself to eat horsepucky on television while Joe Rogan says unfunny things nearby” and see it for the nonsense it is. Nobody had to go on Fear Factor just like nobody has to befriend the local bigot to prove a point, turns out you can just not participate in completely optional stuff that you know is guaranteed to be a bad time.
Others are of course free to lie down in Joe Rogan’s sweaty worm coffin* if it’s so important to them, and you’re equally free to re-evaluate how you feel about “friends” who advise you to ignore all logic, survival instincts, and your own well-being when Nazi scum are around.
*True story, which I unfortunately cannot un-know, thanks to a terrible roommate who loved Fear Factor. My apologies.