Liberal Woman Seeks Conversation with Conservatives. Reply in Comments.
“Is he Republican?” I texted. My sister had gone on a coffee date with a “great guy” she’d met online — and I had to know how he voted.
“Didn’t come up. Besides, that’s third or fourth date conversation,” she shot back.
“What if he voted for Trump?!”
I absolutely would not date a Republican — especially not now. Our values and worldview simply wouldn’t align. I like Pussy Riot; they like pussy-grabbing: it would never work out. So I couldn’t understand why my sister would even waste a second on a first date if she hadn’t first vetted this crucial criteria. Granted, her political views are more moderate than my own, but she’s not one of them.
When I was a teenager in the early 1990s in a predominantly white middle-class neighborhood in Torrance, California, the inevitable question in a game of Truth amongst my girlfriends was, “would you date a [insert non-white] guy?” Some said yes and ventured into the greater LA area in search of diversity; some said no because then a white man wouldn’t marry them. Either way, we were all curious — and woefully prejudiced and ignorant to varying degrees.
I wasn’t consciously opposed to dating a person of color, but I felt uneasy about what I considered would amount to a difference in culture. I wanted to date someone whose family, heritage, food preferences, clothing, religion (or lack of), and musical tastes mirrored my own. Basically I wanted to date me with a penis. I also worried if people saw me with someone who didn’t reflect the budding identity I was carefully constructing — smart but pained alternative chick — then somehow I’d be diminished. My personhood was too fragile to withstand contrast.
Of course I’m ashamed to admit my small-minded protectionism, but my frailty was more a vestige of the reptilian brain than a moral defect. I hadn’t yet had the necessary experience to evolve higher thinking and strengthen my sense of self. For better or worse, we humans feel most comfortable around our “own kind.” And back then, that meant a small, achromatized pool in suburban America.
Still, when I was sixteen, I dated a boy who was half white-half Mexican, and defiantly scrawled “love sees no color” on my Peachy folder, next to the anarchy sign. After a few weeks of sneaking out to see him (my parents’ didn’t approve), he invited me to have dinner with his family. This seemed like a big move since my family didn’t even know he existed, but I agreed. For every mile we drove inland away from my more affluent beach community, my anxiety level ticked up a notch. But his family was welcoming, and I soon began to settle down — until his white mom served homemade tortillas in a tortillero. I pictured myself serving lasagna when I grew up.
This was never going to work out.
Today, I’m married to a half white, half Mexican man, and I serve homemade tortillas — and lasagna. Imagine that. Sometimes I even make empanadas, Vietnamese Spring Rolls, and vegan burgers. It turns out cultures aren’t mutually exclusive, and skin color is more a hint at it than a hallmark of it. In fact, my husband and I have been living abroad in over nineteen countries for the past eight years — a nomadic lifestyle that’s driven by my passion for otherness. The boundaries of my “own kind” have been stretched across mountains and oceans, a spectrum of skin colors and nations, even a legion of species. Okay fine, I might not date a bonobo (although I’ve heard they’re freaky in bed), but I can appreciate our commonality more than our difference.
And yet I would never date a Republican. Ever. In fact, given the choice, I’d choose the bonobo every time.
When I met my husband ten years ago, however, the big question never came up — although plenty of other ones did. We often played an email game called Pass the Note (more on this later), much like the childhood game of Truth. We probed superficial preferences as well as deeply revered values to understand one another better. We asked about favorite sexual positions, formulated theoretical what-if situations, and confessed our biggest regrets and secret fears. We even discussed social and environmental issues like global warming and immigration. But we didn’t talk politics. How he voted just wasn’t that important to me; I certainly didn’t think it would define his character or indicate how well we’d get along.
So what has changed in the past decade? How have I become so prejudiced against Republicans?
I could site hundreds of things they’ve done to draw this wedge between “us” and “them” — how they’ve politicized everything from my vagina to the health of the planet, how they’ve demonized intellectualism and corporatized our government — but if I look closer, the truth is I have fiercely defined myself as a liberal, and dating a Republican would challenge what I want people to believe about me, what I want to believe about myself.
Basically, if dating sites existed back when I was a teenager, my profile would’ve said, “I’m half Sicilian, I love Boone’s Farm (Strawberry Hill!), Depeche Mode, and bonfires on the beach.” Today, it would say, “I’m a staunch liberal. I love writing, red wine (cabernet sauvignon!), and traveling the world.”
But what does being a liberal mean? That I’m a good person — an intelligent, kind and tolerant woman who reuses, reduces, and recycles — whereas conservatives are bad hombres — ignorant, mean and intolerant planet killers? It’s as ridiculous as believing that Mexican immigrants are drug lords and rapists, and American-Muslims want Sharia law imposed — yet that’s what I’ve come to believe today. And I feel shittier for it. I’m filled with too much hatred, stuck in a lingering post-election depression.
And, just like in high school, I am not alone in this prejudice. My social media feeds are filled with snarky comments about them. Terrified, angry, and heartbroken, we liberals are hurtling our outrage across the great political chasm — but, really, it just boomerangs back into our own newsfeed.
Even worse, this “naked partisanship” is threatening our democracy; in his farewell address, President Obama warns how it has us “talking past each other…making common ground and compromise impossible.”
I am the leftist flipside of the populist coin I despise. In all of my hard assumptions about people who vote differently than I do, I’ve ended the conversation between us, allowing a dangerous and divisive demagogue to fill the silence.
So, in 2017, to challenge my prejudice, I’ve decided to swipe Right. I’m going to date Republicans — lots of them. Of course since I’m happily married and monogamous, these “dates’ will be virtual and strictly platonic, but my intention will be no less amorous. Just as my husband and I courted with thoughtful questions and listened with a willingness to relate, I will open my heart to conservatives.
So, if you’re the red elephant in the room right now, and you’re interested in this experiment, let’s play Pass the Note.
- Introduce yourself in the comments
- Answer the question below
- Then ask one back
- You must answer honestly
- You must answer your own question, after your partner (me, in this case) answers
If you’re a liberal like me, follow the same rules, but play with other conservatives in the comments feed. If things go right, this will be a (non-political) party!
My first question: How would you describe your values without using politicized words like liberal, conservative, etc…?
My answer to my own question (henceforth I will answer after hearing replies):
I believe in kindness and generosity. I believe in adhering to truth and justice, protecting those who are vulnerable, and giving equal opportunity. I respect life on this planet. I believe in accountability and making reparations for wrongs. I believe we are all part of the same eco-system, and I pledge my allegiance to earth, not nations, to earthlings, not humans.
Of course, these conversations will not be easy for me or my brave counterparts. Surely we’ll want to punch each other in the face quite often. Like a lot. But, I have to trust that if we root our identity in our shared humanity rather than populist rhetoric, we will find some common ground, right?
So who’s ready to halt this slide towards the wrong side of history? United we stand, divided we fall! C’mon all you political swingers, let’s get to know each other. You know you’re curious :)
And if it doesn’t work out? There’s always the bonobos.
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