My ex could be best described as a rich, spoiled military brat who loved the government. We started dating when I was 17 — around the time I discovered anarchism, when my overwhelming fervency for controversial politics blossomed in full force.
To cope with the contrast between us, I’d joke about it. My comments attempted to maintain a humorous tone but often retained the weight of the matter — they were an awkward attempt to suppress the tension that constantly threatened to crack through the surface. We talked about most things but didn’t talk about politics often, almost as if to avoid potential antipathy. It was easier for us to dance around certain topics than challenge each other; in the moments where we failed to bite our tongues, the arguments could last for days.
As the global political climate became more spiteful, these formerly sparse arguments began to take over most of our time together. Eventually, the gap caused by our crippling political polarity became too vast to bridge, and loving each other became a blood sport we couldn’t win. The choice was to either continually obliterate each other, or to give up on trying to make the relationship work and instead rest on our laurels.
I am still admittedly vocal about politics and likely always will be, although my beliefs have evolved and mellowed out since I was 17. Like with many relics of my high school days, I’ve since reassessed my views on anarchy, but my current political views are still not watertight.
My proclivity for political participation has made it apparent to me that for most people, discussing politics is more than just a leisurely hobby. As a result, we’re awfully quick to denounce those who have opposing views. Arguing is hard and it takes a lot out of us emotionally, so instead of putting ourselves in vulnerable situations, we often choose a safe route: living in echo chambers of validation. It’s something I’ve been guilty of myself.
The truth is politics will never cease to exist. The same is true for love. Neither can be reduced or simplified. But, are the challenges they pose disconcerting enough to make us avoid the possibility of dating across partisan lines altogether?
The significance of politics
Beyond the amusement provided by political compass tests and stimulating debates, politics has seeped into every possible corner of our lives. It’s a way to communicate where you stand with other people. What’s more, it’s extremely divisive and significant — to some, it’s literally a matter of life and death.
The American Family Study found that nearly 70 per cent of married couples had the same political affiliations in 2016. That was five years ago — a time that many of us can pinpoint as a period where political tensions began to grow immensely, to eventually become as palpable as they are today. Since then, the intensity of partisan animosity seems to be ever increasing.
What does this tell us about the significance of politics? Advocating for certain policies can be intrinsic to a person’s character, and surrounding ourselves with friends and acquaintances who share our political views seems like an obvious choice. That being said, those who are politically involved often want to engage in conversations about politics, like I did in high school. Why is the line drawn at romantic relationships?
Dating apps such as Hinge and Bumble also support political agreement in relationships by offering the option for users to indicate their political affiliation. The people who use apps like these can filter their pool of potential matches by political party prior to even meeting face to face. In light of the increased use of dating apps, this seems to provide yet another reason for why bipartisan relationships are increasingly rare.
The people around me are no strangers to the aforementioned political echo chamber. I don’t know anybody in a bipartisan relationship in this day and age — even the most vigorous attempts to find a couple to interview for this article turned up no results. When I asked a vast majority of my friends and family about whether or not they’d consider dating someone with different political beliefs, the answer I got often amounted to a resounding “no.”
Although my own romantic life may as well purchase a shovel and start digging, I can’t help but muse about the nature of relationships. I don’t have the wisdom of those who are currently romantically involved, but since I handled the demise of a relationship from the basis of political disagreement, I’ve been deeply curious about how strongly couples consider political affiliation when making their decisions. Politics is something that clearly ignites fires in people. Is there a force strong enough to dampen them?
It’s been proclaimed time and time again: the media is a poisonous echo chamber. For politics, this is exceedingly true.
These days, it’s incredibly easy for vague statements to be misconstrued as ideologically sensitive. It seems that now, more than ever, political disagreement is seen as a threat, a crack in the foundation of political correctness culture.
Those who are more right-leaning or conservative often find themselves in the middle of different, unique challenges that may influence interpersonal relationships. Often, those who affiliate themselves with the right wing are predisposed to hiding their political views or not making them known right away. This is presumably because, especially from left-wing activists, there is an unspoken but prevalent societal disdain for conservatives that hangs in the air. However, hostility from either side of the political spectrum can contribute to evergrowing stressors — the further and further you lean in a particular direction, the greater the antagonism you feel toward the other side.
When confronted with contrasting viewpoints, we’re often quick to feel like we’re being attacked — as if our very existence is being challenged. For some people, in some situations, this is the case. However, on a general level, we’re often incredibly quick to judge what’s different, deeming unrelatable opinions completely invalid when in reality, the existence of deeply different moral values is a product of numerous personal factors.
While we may not care for certain opinions, those who hold them aren’t necessarily monsters or horrible people. Often, the people with political opinions that we instinctively denounce don’t have sinister intentions — their experiences are simply composed of different constituents that contribute to their viewpoints.
What does this have to do with dating and relationships, then? While certain opinions can reach uncomfortable extremes, a threshold of tolerance toward social politics may be useful to shed our biases. Escaping our political bubble, even momentarily, might just open our eyes to a different perspective — whether or not we agree with it. By way of political disagreement, we’re offered a unique opportunity to widen our worldview if we’re lucky enough to do so.
A question of values
When I first encountered the world of politics, I was lucky enough to find that I was already aggressively passionate about a multitude of issues. I picked my leaning very carefully and subscribed to beliefs that resonated with my personal values. In high school, I dove headfirst into political debates, constantly challenging the beliefs of myself and others, allowing my political views to change as fluidly as my perspective on life.
In philosophy class, I became a bit notorious among my friends for stirring up quite a bit of controversy — something that allowed me to explore the implications of several hotbed sociopolitical policies. My own situation is a perfect example of the complexity of politics, and subsequently, our mannerisms toward partisanship.
Generally, though, we strive to reinforce our own political beliefs, values, and morals. These are popular and important topics, and they’re topics that often deepen the split between individuals. We want to feel validated, so it makes sense to surround ourselves with those who lean similarly to us.
But if you are involved with politics, you may come to realize that intentions don’t quite matter; political identity heavily affects how you are perceived, and your intended meanings can get lost in translation. As such, a declaration of political affiliation has become akin to a diagnosis, as if stating whether you lean toward the left wing or the right wing answers fundamental questions about your morality.
In saying this, I would be remiss if I didn’t address the obvious argument — moral values and principles are often strongly linked to political affiliation, and the people whom we are intimately involved with should hold the same values as we do. Healthy debate is good — perhaps even enticing to some — but those who are fundamentally different from you in their politics are likely to also be fundamentally different in non-political ways. The process of translating your intentions and values can become laborious, which once again explains why we are more inclined to seek out those who are ideologically aligned with us.
Since we often use our fundamental moral values to guide our politics, we may have a difficult time connecting with those who lean toward the opposite direction. By interconnecting the two, we may struggle more significantly in suspending reality when choosing a potential partner — we face an impasse when it comes to choosing between politics and love.
There are political extremes in all corners of the compass, and as a result, it is up to each individual to determine how much weight partisanship holds for them — especially if their politics are tied to their values. If virtues and ethics see eye to eye, perhaps partisan opposition can be welcomed in romantic relationships, but some people truly cannot afford the luxury of dating along partisan lines in fear of their own safety. Others are not particularly involved in politics and have no intentions of changing that fact.
Drawing from personal experiences, again, is all that I can offer due to the lack of documentable bipartisan couples that I could find. Having explicitly conversed about politics with people I’m interested in, I’ve very quickly realized that I may be able to endure some opposition when it comes to the political ideology of my romantic interests.
I never thought that I’d fall for someone whose views were so much more extreme than mine — until I met someone who fit exactly that description. In grappling with this dilemma, I’ve realized that there can indeed exist a space where opposition can be a healthy and productive part of a relationship, as long as your fundamental values align well.
Is love enough?
There’s an archaic expression attributed to a Roman poet that goes “omnia vincit amor” — “love conquers all.” It’s the idea that regardless of the power of a seemingly immutable force, love can overcome it.
This expression asks the big question that overshadows everything: is love enough? In fear of squandering a happy relationship, sociopolitics may be avoided in conversation or glazed over, but perhaps there exists some middle ground where bipartisanship can be maintained healthily. Politics are undoubtedly significant, but they aren’t everything — it’s possible to put in place clear boundaries with your partner in order to make things work. While love on its own might not be enough to conquer such a vast divide, qualities like active listening, strong communication, and respect — which should be the hallmarks of any romantic relationship — may be up for the challenge.
It may certainly be easier to handle disagreements over fiscal policy than social issues, as many of the latter are deeply personal, subjective, and tied tightly to individual morals. But in the end, it all boils down to treating others with kindness and decency. Putting aside our desire to win an argument in favour of respecting and learning from opposition opens numerous doors — not only romantically but also socially.
I acknowledge that there’s an extent to which individual morals and values cannot be overshadowed by even the deepest, most passionate love. However, I also believe that we can achieve a certain degree of open-mindedness and communication — one that can easily trump any tension that bipartisanship may bring.