Each week, Dr. Took-One-Psych-Class-Sophomore-Year will be answering Colorado College’s questions about the one thing that most perplexes our student body, Love on the Block. This week, we ask about what to do when political differences get in the way of romance, driving people apart who might otherwise be compatible: do irreconcilable political differences make for red flags? Email your burning questions about love, sex, and relationships to Catalyst@ColoradoCollege.edu for a totally free, totally anonymous consultation in these very pages.
Dear Dr. Took-One-Psych-Class-Sophomore-Year,
I’m a politically active person, and I pride myself on my progressive views. I strongly believe that healthcare is a human right, that it is the duty of the federal government to combat structurally ingrained oppression against minorities, and that the administration currently in power is failing the American people. On this campus, I do not think I am alone in this. I’ve been dating a guy for a few weeks now, and I have always been clear about my views and values. At first, he seemed apolitical or uninterested, changing the subject whenever I brought up politics. But lately, he has become more vocal, and it’s now obvious that he is pretty much a conservative; he supports the current administration, which I find appalling. After some of his comments, I feel like breaking up with him, but then I think that maybe political differences shouldn’t be taken that seriously (or that I should have seen it earlier). Otherwise, I like him, but I feel trapped dating someone whose values I don’t think I share. What should I do?
It seems to be the common opinion of people who have lived considerably longer than we have that we are currently experiencing more, or more intense, political division than ever before. Such people seem to think that the American experiment is dissolving before our eyes, and that we are no longer capable of the kind of bipartisan conversation, let alone legislation, that made possible the great successes of our past.
If our elders are right about this, it may be because social media and targeted advertising campaigns have destroyed our ability to maintain dialogue with those we’re told to detest. Or it may be because those who have been left out, excluded, or maligned have found ways to employ our greater connectedness to speak up with more force or visibility. In any case, the identity of the political and the personal today feels less like of a feminist wake-up call and more like an obvious reality. We may find it easier to disavow those on ‘the other side’ if we aren’t acquainted with them, but today’s politics can end friendships and tear apart families in ways that, so say the elders, were previously unheard of.
When we discover that someone we previously knew and liked votes in a way we find disagreeable, there may be room for profitable conversation; we can learn a great deal from those with whom we profoundly disagree, so long as our disagreements are just that. But when we discover that someone who we previously liked holds views we find repugnant, or morally outrageous, or votes with moral abandon, we might very well feel justified in reassessing our previous feelings, and perhaps in ending our relationship with them.
In some cases, it may be fine to ‘agree to disagree.’ There might not be very much on the line, or it might be unclear who is in the right. In some other cases, this kind of relativism seems out of the question, and it looks as if reassessing our previous judgments of the other person is sensible. A relationship we’d previously found worthwhile now seems intolerable.
You’re going to have to assess, on the basis of your own convictions, whether your relationship with the guy you’ve been dating is in the former or latter category. If you can agree that it’s all right not to see things the same way, and if the relationship remains worthwhile for you (which is really what matters), then there’s no reason to end things. If you find this guy’s beliefs genuinely repugnant, that’s as good of a reason as any to move on.
Certain political views may well fall under the same heading as a belief that it’s okay to lie or cheat, and if you’d break up with someone for believing such things, or acting on such beliefs, it’s reasonable to break up with someone for those political views, or for voting in accordance with them.
I also think that it isn’t a bad idea to get clear about someone’s political views from the start, since these might speak volumes about their character. Some people will advise you not to talk about politics, religion, or past relationships on a first date — this is bad advice. One of the aims of getting to know someone romantically is to figure out if they have values or vices that would make any romantic connection unthinkable for you later on. If certain political views fall under this description it is worth making sure someone doesn’t hold them from the beginning.
Should you keep dating this guy? Not if you can no longer respect him, and not if knowledge of his views turns romantic desire into a feeling of imprisonment. It’s O.K. to end things because of someone’s politics; just ask yourself if you find them offensive for good reason and to the point that you’re no longer interested. And the next time around break a rule and talk politics on the first date. Good luck!
Dear Dr. Took-One-Psych-Class-Sophomore-Year