For almost thirty years, I’ve been introducing men and women to each other and watching happily as thousands of them have found the relationship they had been seeking. Throughout that time, clients have rarely, if ever, mentioned political affiliation as a deal-breaker in finding a mate. Religion, geographic location, whether they have kids or not, whether they have been married or not, and whether they share similar lifestyles, yes. Politics, no.
All that changed with the last presidential election. Suddenly people are becoming very black-and-white about whom they will even sit down with. I read over 100 profiles a day on online dating sites, and for the first time ever I am seeing statements like, “I am not interested in anybody who voted for [pick your candidate].” In the past, people have told me they identified as middle-of-the-road and were willing to talk to people of either party. In today’s polarized environment, there doesn’t appear to be any halfway point, and certainly no talking.
I grew up in a household where one parent was a lifelong Democrat, the other a staunch Republican. Almost fifty years later, they are still happily married, even if their ballots don’t always look the same. A 2016 study out of Yale University found that about 70% of people marry someone who shares political affiliation. That means three out of ten people don’t. The study didn’t go into how those marriages succeed, but one can imagine that they either don’t care too much about politics, respect each other’s opinion--even when it differs from theirs--or just decide not to talk politics and focus instead on the other successful factors in their relationship.
So why is that becoming so difficult now? People have always had their own values and ethics, but why are they attaching politics so strongly to those factors now? The political climate has definitely become polarized like never before. There is a sense that you have to stand on the far end of the see saw to balance out whatever you see as a problem in the other party’s platform. Truly middle-of-the-road voices are being drowned out, or branded as weak on issues by both sides.
Maybe the problem is less political leaning and more how it is presented. Rather than commercial soundbites or 140-character Tweets, what we need is calm, open-minded discussions about our views, why we have them, how they were formed, and why we might hold them especially close. We don’t have to agree on everything, but listening to the other side can educate us about the way issues are perceived and give us a chance to question or confirm our own beliefs.
This only works if both parties are willing, of course, but such a dialogue would go a long way not only toward a more peaceful co-existence, but in my line of work, it would open up (again) broader possibilities for finding love. No one has to fall in love with someone of the opposite political persuasion, but it can’t hurt to have a discussion over coffee.