Over many years, I have worked as a community organizer for the U.S. Latinx/o/a/Hispanic people, and am currently writing a book about it. And while the story I am about to tell is deeply personal, will probably tick off some of my movement colleagues — or at the very least, shock them — I am going to share it in support of Living Room Conversations.
Living Room Conversations is a burgeoning national movement to heal divisions one conversation at a time. The website includes toolkits to host or participate in conversations with family, friends, or neighbors with opposing viewpoints. Considering how politically divided the nation is right now, people who don’t know anyone from the other political party or ideology, can simply join an online conversation at LivingRoomConversations.org.
Over the last five years or so, I’ve participated in LRC conversations related to a wide range of topics such as climate change, immigration, homelessness, and crony capitalism. I’ve gained a lot from these get togethers and discussions, including personal growth and relationships that have informed my work. One of the participants of the immigration conversation, a libertarian woman, agreed with me on expanding immigrant rights that oftentimes I would share my campaigns with her.
I had the opportunity to utilize my LRC experiences and learnings when I recently divorced and received solace in the loving arms of…a Trump supporter. In the throes of grief following the end of a 21-year relationship — 17 years married — I’d done many things that had left family and friends shaking their heads. But none brought more disbelief than my brief dalliance with the Trump supporter.
I am an outspoken Latinx woman, and long-time immigrant rights activist, who, on the eve of my 41st birthday found myself feeling lonely. Two months had passed since my ex-husband had moved out of the house, and I was desperate to fill the void. I engaged in a lot of hook ups. (I don’t recommend that.) I drank heavily. (I also don’t recommend that.) Craving a deeper and more meaningful connection, I opened a Match account. The Trump supporter jumped out at me.
His picture had floated across my screen as an 83 percent “match.” He was a year older than me, and a handsome gentleman with shadow on his face, an infectious smile, and sports jersey. I read his profile, which was very simple, yet spoke to my heart. His goal in life was to be the best dad he could be to his two daughters, and he enjoyed beer and sports. I wrote to him.
As it turned out, he too, was separated after a 21-year relationship with his college sweetheart. Like me, he was a transplant in the Bay Area of California. I am originally from the east coast, while he hailed from the midwest. Then he dropped the bomb. “I noticed that you are a career liberal. Just so you know, I am a conservative.”
A wave of fear came over me. This man does not share my values! I am a horrible person for even talking to him! I should walk away. Yet, my gut told me to stay put. I have family members who are Trump supporters. Perhaps it is because we are Latinos/Hispanics and we prize family above all else, but we adore each other despite our political differences.
Also, I’d had positive experiences participating in LRC conversations. Perhaps these meaningful connections mixed in with the loneliness of the moment led me to tell the conservative on Match that I didn’t care about his politics. He took me out for my birthday.
For the first six weeks of our relationship, we enjoyed a fiery passion that I hadn’t experienced in years. We’d argue over politics, but also make love, and grieve over the demise of our marriages. Shortly thereafter, my conservative lover met another woman on Match, who is his current partner, and seemingly a better fit. She is not from the United States, and does not care at all about politics. She also has two daughters, and lives near him in the suburbs. I live a half hour to 45 minutes away in a city.
My relationship with the conservative then shifted to a deep and meaningful friendship that continues to this day. For at least a year, we would text, Facetime, and call each other with regularity to flirt — :) — and console each other during the painstaking process of healing from a divorce. In spirit, he was with me as I’d attend my children’s soccer games and piano recitals as a newly single woman. We’d exchange pictures of our kids to celebrate their achievements.
“You are such a great mom!” he’d text in response to a photo of my beaming then-11-year-old daughter holding up a trophy.
I’d also wish him well and compliment him as a dad when his daughters had sports tournaments. His oldest was exceptionally good, and one of the top scorers of her team.
We’d share our dating stories with one another, our grief and anger towards our exes, and exchange jokes and Netflix recommendations to pick each other up. We’d even word-smith each other’s texts to potential dates as we were both new to the world of singles. We’d text each other on all holidays, a painful time during a divorce.
While I am breaking the silence on this friendship in a public way, initially, I’d share only with my closest friends, and always couched the relationship as a “hook up.” Even then, some of my movement colleagues would shake their heads and ask, “Why would anyone vote for Trump?”
I’ve asked myself that question many times, especially since I’d, too, fallen into deep depression following Trump’s election. Considering the magnitude of the world’s problems such as inequality and climate change, I still believe that he is taking us backwards as a nation. To be fair, based on extensive research I’ve done for the book that I am writing, he isn’t the source of this nation’s problems. He is the symptom of a corrupt and white supremacist political and economic system in the United States. Voting him out of the White House alone, while significant, won’t root out all of the U.S. and world’s problems. Only a social movement that completely guts and transforms our democracy so that it includes everyone, and places people and planet above profits, will.
While my book takes on Trump’s and an enabling conservative movement’s divisive and harmful politics to both people and planet, for the purposes of this piece, I want to separate Trump the man and our political system. Trump is only as strong as his base — his supporters — many of whom are white supremacists. One only need to read the sick note left behind by a white male gunman who killed Hispanic families at a Walmart in El Paso. The gunman used language such as “invaders” to describe Hispanic people, language that eerily mirrored Trump’s at one of his rallies in Panama City, Florida.
However, if I’ve learned anything from my conservative friend, no one is born to hate. But every single one of us — Trump included — is driven by a very visceral emotion: fear. When I asked my friend why he had voted for Trump, he replied — word-for-word via text — “First and foremost he wasn’t Hillary Clinton. If you recall my first choice was Ted Cruz. This left me with the candidate closest to my conservative beliefs.
“Secondly…I do believe that we as a country have shifted way to (sic) far left. As a Christian White traditional male the craziness of the Democrats make me feel like everything I do is wrong.”
While I am a woman of color whose political beliefs do not align with my white male friend’s, I could relate to the experience of feeling alone in my positions. In no other time have I felt judged and misunderstood — marriage itself is a politicized institution! — than during a divorce. During my darkest moments, I couldn’t see the light without him as he, too, was experiencing divorce as a Catholic man, and completely understood where I was coming from, and knew what to say to help me heal.
While we are no longer in regular contact because our paths have diverged — he has a steady relationship while I am enjoying my newfound freedom and liberation — he was a crucial part of the most painful and intense year of my life. He will forever be etched in my heart and memories.
I owe much gratitude to Living Room Conversations for helping open my mind to explore the depths of a relationship with someone who does not hold my political points of view. I also feel that such personal and authentic experiences can inform the work, and transform our country — and world! — for the better.
I see a niche for LRC to hold space for divorcing people, singles, or even marriages that are faltering and need an outside perspective and energy. Oftentimes, well-meaning people in our close circles hold our exact same points of view when it comes to institutions like marriage that they may not consider other possibilities for coupling. Our chosen family and friends may not know what to say if our marriages are faltering, or tell us what we want to hear out of fear of alienating us — their community, their side.
We are so divided as a country, that everything from marriage counseling to dating apps are now separate along political lines. Non-believers won’t go to a marriage counselor who self-identifies as religious or vice versa. Dating profiles now list a person’s political persuasion — and people actually stipulate that they won’t date someone from the opposing political party — to ensure that we all remain in our siloes. I can’t imagine a more isolating, closed off, and less interesting way to live. It’s also not a winning strategy for the country, or the world.
As I’ve learned through grief and joy, no matter how we self-identify politically, we all want the exact same thing: to love and be loved in return.