A recent piece in The Wall Street Journal by Elizabeth Williamson brings up the topic of interpolitical dating. Can you, if you are a Democrat, even, perhaps, not an actively campaigning one, but one who would certainly never deign to vote for Mitt Romney, consider in good faith a Republican as a possible suitor? Can you, if you are a Republican, ever love someone who believes in the presidency of Barack Obama? Are such politically star-crossed lovers as Mary Matalin and James Carville a relationship unicorn? In Williamson's piece, which features photos of a blonde, hyper-coiffed businesswoman in an evening gown (only dates Republicans!) and a sort of casual-looking black cotton-shirt-clad neurosurgeon who also writes erotic nonfiction (only dates Democrats!), a matchmaker named Barbie Adler (undisclosed) speaks to the idea that now, in our especially fraught pre-election time, "politically active singles won't cross party lines." At the Daily Beast, Megan McArdle responds to this news in horror, finding it "pretty deeply disturbing."
McArdle's concerns: We're all so busy surrounding ourselves with people just like ourselves that no one will go out on a limb and disagree (or befriend anyone who would). The slippery slope is soon, she fears: "Keep this up, and we're headed for a world in which Democrats and Republicans view intermarriage the way the Hasidic do," she writes. But also, what of the ongoing quest for love? Is our staunch dating divide keeping us from finding people we'd be happy with? "I've dated liberals, conservatives, and libertarians, and as far as I can tell there is absolutely no correlation between one's political views and one's potential as dating material," she writes. "The most self-centered, uncompassionate jerk I ever dated was a Democrat, and the one with the greatest difficulty keeping a job was a Republican."
Well, of course some Republicans are unemployed and some Democrats are jerks. That's not about politics, that's about stereotypes of political parties. What we do know is that Republicans vote Republican, generally, and Democrats vote Democrat. Read into that what you will.
McArdle finishes with the battle cry of the lovelorn: "It's hard enough to find someone who is attractive, good to you, and fun to be around. Why on earth would you make it harder by refusing to consider anyone whose opinion on the relative merits of national health care programs differs from yours?"
Why, indeed? Why rule people out just for believing in a silly little thing like who they believe they (and, by proxy, probably you, given that it's the only reasonable choice) should vote for?
Let's go back to Williamson for a moment, who explains, "Being a member of the opposite party often beats religious difference, unattractiveness, and low educational and professional attainment on Ms. Adler's clients' list of turnoffs." In hers, but not hers alone, "The trend holds with less-expensive services, too, including OK Cupid, a free service found by a group of Harvard math majors, and Match.com, which surveyed 5,000 singles this year and learned that 95 percent of them haven't changed their political opinions because of a relationship." (That sounds a little different unless we know that these politically-opposite couples actually broke up, but let's move forward with this thinking anyway.) The point is, not only is your significant other unlikely to change your mind, you're unlikely to want to date the sort of significant other who would attempt to do so. And that means you don't really want to date someone who believes strongly in the opposite political view, because they fundamentally believe differently than you. The question is whether that failure to embrace the comfort of disagreement is really a bad thing.
When I was a kid, too young to understand the import of this bit of wisdom, my dad informed me that there were certain crucial points of agreement for any relationship—not that relationships where such agreement didn't exist couldn't survive, but that it would be harder to see eye-to-eye for the long haul with someone whom you fundamentally disagreed with on matters like religion, having children (and perhaps how many), how you hoped to raise those kids, money (the sort of life you hoped to have and ambitions to get there), sex (I rolled my eyes especially at the time at this), and politics. When you're looking for someone to date and maybe fall in love with, you want someone who shares a certain set of values, simply. And politics, or how you want to vote and why, the things you believe in terms of the future of America, women's rights, healthcare, the economy—these are all pretty big things, big things to agree or disagree on. Is it wrong to want the comfort of going home to someone to whom you can say, honestly, "I adore Joe Biden, did you see what he said today?" Or, alternatively, someone who will agree with you that Paul Ryan is a force with which to be reckoned?
Interestingly, Adler had an easier time pairing up couples of contrasting politics in L.A., D.C., and New York—maybe because in those places, where who will win has pretty much been determined already, the voters know exactly where their party stands in the overall ecosystem. Things are different, she says, in swing states. There's a lot more to lose, maybe.
But I'd counter McArdle's concern that we're on the verge of breaking into a society of two separate marriageable parties with a couple of points. One, perhaps the political party divide is something we should not fear but celebrate in that both women and men can choose exactly what they want, here—gone are the old days where women couldn't vote at all, or were expected to follow their husband's lead. At the same time, my Dad voted for Bush at one point ages ago, and not only my mother but my entire family criticized him quite liberally for that—eventually, he saw things our way. But second to that, to some extent, it's good that we're all feeling pretty strongly about politics. It's an election year, after all. These are important things we're talking about. They're way more fundamental than where to go to dinner, or what you should watch on TV for the night. And like-mindedness, the feeling of comfort that that brings in friendships and relationships, is not a small thing.
There's also more to a person than political labels, but as much as we shouldn't limit ourselves or generalize or be small-minded about anything, those labels do tell us something, and it's as silly to ignore that as it is to say you will only date people who ascribe to one party or another. It's also silly to just ascribe to one view or another (about politics, about anything) without thinking. But maybe this is especially true if you're a person looking for love in, as Williamson points out, a voting gender gap: "a recent recent Wall Street Journal poll shows that 53 percent of men support Mr. Romney, while 51 percent of women back Mr. Obama. Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg pointed out last week that 70 percent of unmarried women voted for Mr. Obama in 2008."
Still, as much as we know we shouldn't judge before we get to know someone, isn't that exactly what dating, where the first and maybe, if that goes well, second impression is everything, is all about? We shouldn't be too hasty, we should give people a chance—but we should also be aware of what we like and what we don't like, and what we want and definitely do NOT want. What is love, anyway, or a sustainable relationship, if it's not acknowledging those things (about politics or about whatever), and finding someone who feels at least companionably similar? It could be argued that that is, in fact, what makes another person "attractive, good to you, and fun to be around." At the end of the debate, if you want someone with whom you can mock the candidate you dislike, well, that's your prerogative. I doubt that it's going to mean the end of the human race, or a world of segregated political couples. As for the undecideds and those who flourish in a state of perpetual mutual conflict, we wish them a very happy life together. Different campaigns for different folks.