Conservatives Dating Liberals: A Guide for the Perplexed

Dear Belladonna Rogers,

I, a McCain-voting, Rick Perry-supporting, longtime active Republican ever since I donned my first “I LIKE IKE” button, have fallen in love with a liberal.  We’ve been together for three months. She’s everything I ever dreamed of in a woman: very sexually attractive; highly intelligent (except for her politics); empathetic; kind; adored by my children (I’ve been a widower for two years, was married for 35, with four grown children) and loved by my grandchildren and we enjoy spending time together

Can this ever work in the long term?  If so, how?  Every time I see her Obama 2012 bumper sticker as her car recedes in the distance, my blood pressure rises 50 points.

Red Gent With Blue Lady in Austin, TX

Dear Red Gent,

Congratulations on finding the woman of your dreams -- sort of. Since you were married for 35 years, you know that any serious relationship involves compromises, although at first glance, it isn’t easy to see what the compromise would be between Rick Perry and Barack Obama.  Maybe…The Donald?

But yours is a serious question, so here’s my serious answer.

Any of several approaches may help you to make a go of this.  The first three are guaranteed to fail.  Why mention them at all?  Because they’ll be the most tempting to do and the most important to avoid.  Following them will be six positive methods that might make this relationship last.  After that, I’ll discuss some of the factors involved in your and Ms. Blue’s political preferences that may, I regret to say, bode ill for a long-term commitment.

Three Prohibitions:

(1) The one that stands absolutely no chance of success is trying to persuade Ms. Blue not to like Obama.  If she ever comes around to that view, it will have to be with no help from you.  Depending on her personality, she could react by doubling down and becoming the last Obamaphile on Earth (other than, of course, Barack Obama), or resenting your efforts as disrespectful of her, or in a worst-case scenario, turning off you.

(2) Similarly, don’t mutter under your breath anything like, “You’re so smart.  How could you ever vote for him?”  See, women hear things muttered under men’s breath, and we take offense.  Just because you say it quietly doesn’t mean it can’t be heard as clearly as if you had used a bullhorn.

(3) And don’t let this difference become fodder for bickering.  You knew she was an ObamaGal the minute you first saw her bumper sticker, so you went in with your eyes open. Don’t pick fights over this, as tempting as that will be, or use it as a wedge issue to complain about something else about Ms. Blue you may not like.  Keep politics out of your conversations.

Six Positive Approaches

(1) You could view this difference the way many couples view friends: there'll always be some whom one of you doesn’t like as much as the other does -- or doesn’t like at all.  So, you could try to think of Obama as Ms. Blue’s friend whom you don’t have to like, just as she doesn’t have to like Governor Perry.

(2) You could also try to think of your political preferences as akin to having differing hobbies: you like to go duck-hunting, but you don’t insist that she join you.  She enjoys shopping at Whole Foods Market, but you don’t have to tag along and be irritated by their self-righteous belief that their business is, in fact, a major religion, far holier than any actual faith.

(3) Speaking of religion, you could view this as similar to a difference of religion.  You wouldn’t seriously consider trying to persuade a practicing Catholic to convert to your religion.

(4) Many couples differ on sports: either they root for different teams or one is a fan and the other would rather watch grass grow than watch a professional sports event.  This is not, ordinarily, a cause for divorce.

(5) Another analogy that may help is to imagine that Obama is a relative of Ms. Blue’s whom you dislike, while Gov. Perry is like a cousin of yours Ms. B. doesn’t like.  These aren’t deal-breakers in relationships, even in marriages.  You just have to make sure that she doesn’t to sit next to Gov. Perry next Thanksgiving.

(6) In the '60s, there was an expression you may recall even if you didn’t use it yourself:  “giving each other space.”  It sounds as goofy today as it did then, but the idea behind it -- that each of you has a part of your life that you agree has a “No Trespassing” sign on it -- is a good one, if you can manage it.  You don’t intrude into her Obama euphoria, and she doesn’t encroach on your Lone Star principles.

* * *

As you’ve doubtless noticed, all six of these are based on a capacity that not everyone has: the ability to compartmentalize.  If you can manage it,  each of you would agree that your political preferences are off-limits for conversation, for teasing, for any mention at all.  This is because any mention will be demeaning to the other person.  There will always be an implication of, “How can you?”  and, referring to the 2008 election, “How could you?” You don’t want that poisonous undercurrent running through your relationship.

One problem that may make your social life with Ms. Blue particularly difficult is that her friends may be at least as Blue as she is, while yours may tend to agree with you.  How will you feel, and behave, at parties given by her friends, or over dinner with a couple of them? Have you already experienced the sense that you're an outsider, never quite trusted because of the McCain 2008 sticker on your car? How will she feel around your conservative buddies, the sole liberal in the room or at the table?  I've discussed this here and believe that it's usually an exercise in pain management. Here's one example of how opposing political views can affect a relationship:

The Inner Meaning of Political Preferences

The coping strategies I've suggested---no matter how seriously you try to apply them--- may not work for you, because the choice of a candidate  reflects deeper issues, which, in the long run, could open up a schism that turns into a chasm that finally dooms the relationship.  I say this not to be negative, but merely realistic.

It would be different if you and Ms. B had met 40 years ago, and had had 40 years together during which one of you became less enamored of the core values of the Democrat Party while the other retained a belief in them.  But during those 40 years you would have also raised your children together and had four decades of shared experiences.  So even if, in 2012, you were to vote for different candidates, you’d still have had an accumulated lifetime of love and loyalty, not to mention 14,600 nights together.  That adds up to a lot of intimacy.  If, at the end of those 40 years, you had found that you were voting for different candidates, that would be a relatively small drop in a very large water tower.

The problem you’re facing is that the relationship is new and while there’s much to enjoy -- not least, a woman in your life after two years of widowhood -- what you and Ms. Blue don’t have is those 40 years.  You’ve been together three months, which isn’t trivial but it isn’t the massive sweep of four decades, or even one. For you and Ms Blue to favor such differing candidates as Rick Perry and Barack Obama is a much larger drop in a much smaller receptacle than if you’d had 40 years of shared experiences preceding a difference of political opinion.

And there’s another thing.  The fact that you wrote to me for advice implies that this difference is important to you, as it would not be to a man for whom voting for president is something he does every four years but doesn’t think much about in the years between national elections.  The fact that you read suggests that following politics is part of your everyday life.  Politics is thus a far larger component of your daily existence than it is for a man for whom politics is like a white noise machine, whirring in the background of his consciousness, but that doesn’t rivet his attention 24/7.