You were introduced by a mutual friend and immediately hit it off. You spent the night conversing about insights and ideas, comparing travel stories and favorite coffee shops. You exchanged numbers and made plans to meet for a drink at a local bar the following night. Nerves and butterflies subsided when you realized over a second tanqueray and tonic that it wasn’t just physical attraction but thoughtful conversations, shared passions and commonalities that fueled the chemistry.
Things are going well until your date makes a vague reference to a politician pushing a bill that you could simply never agree with. Panic sets in, playing tug of war with a voice in your head telling you not to delve too far into politics on the first date. While the electricity in the connection is undeniable you just can’t seem to shake the possibility that party affiliation may put a rift in your not-yet-established potential relationship.
In today’s heated political climate, there is a lot more at stake when couples experience a difference in politics than there was just a decade or so ago. Though if you grew up in a loudly liberal family like mine, you’d be quite familiar with your Nana saying “you can marry anyone you damn please as long as they’re not a Republican.” Whether she was joking or not, I can remember proudly relaying this sentiment to my high school boyfriend at the time.
Historically, party affiliation was not always indicative of one’s values. In Trump’s America however, the political differences seem to run far deeper than simply one fiscally conservative partner and the other in support of increased spending on social support programs. In some cases, the date you hit it off so well with over dinner and drinks might support a policy that directly inhibits a friend or family member’s life or livelihood. While I’m all in favor of working across the aisle, is there a line to be drawn in dating across the aisle when there is so much at stake?
Last year, on Valentine’s Day nonetheless, Josephine Sedgwick published a New York Time’s piece spotlighting an array of couples navigating a marriage or relationship split between parties. While I approached the piece assuming to find points and tips for conversing, challenging, opposing and perhaps lovingly attempting to persuade one’s lover to the other side, I was surprised to find that for many of the submissions, “living harmoniously with a political divide in the Trump era” simply meant avoiding politics altogether.
Rather than trying to see eye to eye, most couples featured in the article seem to have chosen to simply ignore the elephant in the room, claiming the stress and anxiety about potential arguments is just too much. Among some of the quoted readers having opted to avoid any conversation focused on diplomatic differences… “I have utterly failed in that effort and have wisely given up trying,” said one reader.
One does have to point out that there is a certain rationale for those wanting to put their multi-decade marriage to the mother or father of their children above politics. For those fortunate enough to not be directly impacted by Trump’s racist, homophobic, sexist and xenophobic rhetoric, quietly avoiding topics that would undermine an otherwise loving relationship may feel like the natural thing to do. Perhaps at this point in a lifelong union together it is too late to draw a line in romancing across party.
Young people today however are making a different choice. Marriage aside, all sources point to a more and more definitive line being drawn in the sand as we get deeper into this disharmonious era of all things Trump. When it comes to dating, the tides are turning. Though courting may have once enjoyed a blissful lack of insight on ideological differences, dating in 2019 no longer has that luxury. While there are the obvious polarizing issues that would have an otherwise relatively perfect match on Hinge calling it a night early on the first date, more subtle incendiaries could have one second guessing an eventual walk down the aisle.
In 2016, findings from a study by Professor of Political Science Shanto Iyengar and Assistant Professor in the Department of Government at Dartmouth College Sean J. Westwood indicated that 25 percent of American parents would be uneasy with a child marrying someone of a different party affiliation. Three decades earlier, just 10 percent of parents felt that way. “Fear and Loathing across Party Lines: New Evidence on Group Polarization,” published in the American Journal of Political Science, concluded that today partisanship is even more divisive than race, which the authors consider, “the most salient social divide in American society.”
In line with these findings were the results of a Survey Monkey Poll of U.S. adults, published by Kim Hart of Axios. Taken just before the midterm elections, the poll found that 61 percent of Democrats view Republicans as racist, sexist and bigoted. Comparatively, just 31 percent of Republicans consider Democrats to be that way. There was continuity however, in the way that close to half of both Democrats (54%) and Republicans (44%) surveyed say they see the other side as spiteful and ignorant.
As we get further into this presidency, tough conversations are happening at bars and cafes across the country, or perhaps via social media exchanges before a flirtatious invitation for drinks is even sent. For many it seems, a potential romance with a partner on another ballot is an immediate deal breaker today. The impact of political differences has certainly made its way into the woodwork since the election. The question is, when it comes to romantic relationships, how long will the deep rooted divide last?
Claire Martin is a storyteller, traveler and outdoor enthusiast passionate about social justice. As a very new resident of the Bay Area, Claire is currently trying to explore every trail, beach and adventure the West Coast has to offer.