With the Republican primaries in full swing and months of presidential campaigning still ahead of us, political undertones seem to line every conversation. We smile politely when friends show their red or blue colors, but when it comes to our love interests, can we agree to disagree?
Amanda G. of Texas, who identifies herself politically as an independent, met her boyfriend on Match.com. She was looking for a certain type of personality: someone who was easygoing, not too serious, and not extremely religious. Her now-boyfriend fit the bill, but a few pre-date phone calls helped further her interest in pursuing a relationship with him. “It was the second phone conversation when I discovered how he felt about the current president,” she says. “I knew his beliefs were in line with mine.”
Amanda’s not alone: a recent study published in the Journal of Politics found that people place more emphasis on finding a mate who is like-minded in regard to politics, religion and social activity than they do on finding someone of similar physique or personality to themselves.
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However, a September 2011 Match.com poll of more than 4,500 singles indicated a somewhat different result; when asked about dates and political affiliations, 66 percent of respondents said they were open to dating someone of the opposite political party.
Do the checkmarks on your beloved’s ballot matter in the long run?
Maybe not, say experts. Toni Coleman, LCSW, a licensed psychotherapist and relationship coach in Washington, D.C., is an independent voter. She’s married to a “dyed-in-the-wool” Republican; they’ve cancelled out each other’s votes many times in their 25 years of marriage.
Similar values and stances on key individual issues determine compatibility between two people, says Coleman. “At the time we met, [my now-husband] was the press secretary for a [Republican] congressman from Long Island,” says Coleman. “I’ve been an independent my entire life, even when it wasn’t cool and you couldn’t vote in primaries.” So before you pre-judge your date, find out which values drive your dinner companion’s right- or left-leaning political affiliation. The two of you may have more in common than you think.
For example, neither David G. nor Emily M., both residents of Georgia, choose to affiliate themselves with a particular political party — but they say that social issues matter to them both. “Our opinions on these issues are similar,” says Emily. “To me, that indicated that he was a person who believes in equality. It definitely made me more attracted to him.”
When (extreme) opposites attract
Coleman believes the success of a bipartisan relationship depends on how extreme each partner is in his or her views. “Let’s say the woman is very liberal and extremely pro-choice, and he is extremely pro-life,” says Coleman. “If they enter into a relationship and want to start a family, this can definitely become an issue for them — personally as well as politically.”
Greg P., a system architect in Atlanta, GA, is a Republican who says that he won’t date someone who is pro-choice… but other than that, politics don’t play much of a role in his love life. “I can’t hold someone’s political beliefs against [him or her],” says Greg. “If opposing views are considered to be essential to democracy, why can’t we have the same in the smallest societal unit?”
An October 2011 Match.com poll asked over 3,000 men and women, “Do you and your date agree politically?” And the majority of respondents agreed with Greg; approximately 51 percent of those surveyed answered, “No, but it doesn’t matter; politics don’t affect our relationship,” while just over 10 percent of respondents said, “No, and I’m not sure we’ll make it to November!” Surprisingly, only 39 percent of those polled indicated that they shared the same political leanings as their dates.
Fraternizing with the “enemy” can be a non-issue (really!)
Dr. Frankie Bashan, Psy.D., a San Francisco-based relationship expert, psychologist, and professional matchmaker for the lesbian community, has been married to her “more conservative” partner for over eight years and says that opposing political views don’t make a couple any less compatible. “A [political] conversation here and there really doesn’t mean anything,” says Bashan.
Bashan and her partner, who is a police officer, disagree on specific social issues, but Bashan stresses the importance of listening and not being critical of your partner’s beliefs. “As a psychologist, I believe in [government assistance], but she’s dealing with people who’ve been unemployed for their whole lives, having to arrest them for things like drug dealing and harassing their neighbors,” says Bashan. “I, of course, am thinking about the disenfranchised populations who weren’t given opportunities and weren’t nourished. We’re coming from two different places, but I can absolutely see her perspective. We vote differently. And we’re very happy.”
If a recent poll is any indicator of how singles feel about this issue, there’s a real possibility that Match.com members may also find themselves in politically mismatched relationships. In a September 2011 Match.com survey of nearly 9,000 men and women, only five percent said that they most preferred a mate with similar political views, while 28 percent named similar religious beliefs as the top priority and 67 percent placed the most emphasis on finding someone with a similar lifestyle to their own. What’s the game plan for a smooth bipartisan romance, then?
R-E-S-P-E-C-T, according to Bashan. “It’s OK to discuss these things,” she says. “You don’t want to avoid them, because then you don’t get the opportunity to get clarity on what exactly your partner is thinking and how [this person’s] feelings differ from yours. It can bring new challenges to the relationship in a healthy way, as long as you can be respectful of each other’s views. It’s healthy to disagree.”
Maria Carter is an Atlanta-based freelance writer whose work has appeared in Atlanta, D magazine, Jezebel, and Spirit. Learn more atwww.marcarter.com.