It’s about knowing your limits.
What’s a deal breaker for you in a relationship? Distance? A person who does, or doesn’t, want kids? What about politics? Could you be in a long term relationship with someone whose politics wildly diverge from yours? How might said political differences impact your ability to be vulnerable, sexually and otherwise?
There are, of course, degrees of disagreement. “My wife and I probably disagree on the extent to which certain systems can be fixed,” R said. Fundamentally, though, she says, they are in the same place politically. J and her husband have “robust conversations” about the intricacies of social change, but, she points out, “that’s different than disagreeing on politics/policy.”
Genuine disagreement in politics, though, can be stressful, and many I spoke with felt that having a relationship with someone who was too far afield from them was not an option. “I’m not sure I could do it,” S told me. “My politics are so central to my identity and worldview, it’s hard for me to imagine someone who doesn’t share some of those big picture ideals.”
“My politics are an outgrowth of my moral principles. If you don’t share them, it’s not gonna work,” said K.
As part of an experiment in which she decided to date outside her comfort zone, Therese went on 4 dates with a man who was much older and more conservative. He attended a screening of her film, I Was a Teenage Feminist, and during the q/a, things soured. “He asked a question about abortion, the kind of question that anti-choice people seem to think is a ‘gotcha’ but really is just a dumb mischaracterization of the idea of ‘choice.’ I kind of laughed it off but the next day he emailed me to say we couldn’t date any more because he was uncomfortable with the conversations I had been having with the women at the festival.” It turns out that those conversations had been about menstruation, which he felt was inappropriate to discuss in public. They stopped seeing each other. “It was shortly after that I added the word ‘feminist‘ to my online dating profile!”
Of course, it’s not impossible for two people with radically different, or even mildly different politics to have a successful relationship. B’s parents, “a super-lefty Democrat” and a “Morning Joe-ish Republican” were happily married for decades before his death. T told me that her most meaningful relationships have been with people whose politics she did not share, which includes her current one, with a man who is a Conservative Mormon. The place where they differ the most, she says, is on abortion. “He struggled with it. He already knew we interpret the Bible differently. He isn’t pro-choice by any means but he lets me do my work judgment and barrier free (which includes having random women show up and me giving them pills). We don’t have conversations about it and I’ve noticed he doesn’t join the conversation anymore with the anti-side.”
While other women I talked to told me that they couldn’t have sex with a cis man who wasn’t pro-choice (one did tell me that when she suspected someone might be, she used “extra” birth control), T said that for the most part, she and her partner’s different views don’t inhibit their sexual relationship, even if it came to making decisions about pregnancy.
“I definitely won’t be having kids with him unless we both agree to it. He’d not handle it well, but would not try to prevent me from terminating if it were for my or the fetus’ health. We’re on the same wavelength as far as having a baby, so it wouldn’t be an issue.”
“You have to decide how important your views are to you,” says Dr. Megan Stubbs, a sex and relationships expert. “No couple agrees on everything together, so determine if there are some deal breakers that you just cannot live with. If something is non-negotiable, make that evident before you get too deep into the relationship.”
For Mara, a registered Democrat “extremely concerned about social injustice” deciding she could actually handle the fact that her boyfriend is a registered Republican has been a process. “In the past six months that we’ve been dating, we’ve talked a lot more about our political views. And in those talks, I can truly see that my boyfriend isn’t sexist, racist, or xenophobic. We both value the rights and lives of all individuals.”
If you do decide that you can handle having divergent views from your partner, says Stubbs, know that it’s going to continue to show up in the future. “Make sure you are both able to effectively communicate and are willing to listen to each other. You have to be willing to let it rest if they aren’t willing to change. Because if you want to make this work, which it totally can, your relationship, feelings, and commonality have to run deeper than surface level of individual beliefs.”