Two recent articles talking about the difficulty of being in relationships with people where sharp political differences are involved: a gay conservative writer for the New Republic writes about being dumped by his liberal boyfriend, and a guy writes to Salon‘s Cary Tennis about how he can’t stand to be around his Republican parents. I think I also recall a NY Times piece a while back about realtionships being strained on account of the partisan tensions of the Bush era.
When my wife and I first started dating our politics were pretty far apart, but I think we’ve actually come to agree about more things as we’ve been married. I’m not sure who’s yielded more ground, though! And it took me a while to figure out that when arguing about politics with your spouse, you don’t necessarily want to go for the jugular, i.e. the way you argue can be just as important as what you’re saying. I was kind of clueless about this because when I was in college my best friends and I used to have rowdy no-holds-barred arguments about politics, religion, you name it, infused by that undergraduate willingness to follow an idea wherever it led.
These days I usually find myself in polite (mostly liberal) circles where it’s either assumed that everyone agrees about most things or at the very least that no one wants to start a fight. Which is fair enough! There’s a time and place for everything, and the neighbor’d backyard barbeque may not be the place for a verbal throwdown over the Iraq war or abortion. But I do occasionally miss those epic battles of yore.
In some ways I think genuine closeness allows for more frank disagreement. You can speak your mind more freely with someone that you know already accepts you. You’re not as worried about appearing as a person with the “correct” views on everything.
But it does seem that there could be “deal-breakers,” though what they are will obviously vary from person to person. The writer of the Boston Globe piece linked above couldn’t understand why his liberal boyfriend couldn’t abide his support for the GOP. But it’s not tough to see that a gay man might take the GOP’s record on gay rights pretty personally: how do you have a relationship with someone who supports a political party that, in your view, is trying to deny you fundamental rights? Whether that’s a fair argument or not, it’s not difficult to see why someone might feel that strongly about it. On the other hand, most people won’t be moved to quite the same heights of passion by, say, the farm bill or tax credits.
So, how about you? Do you have friends, relatives, spouses, lovers with whom you disagree strongly about politics? How do you negotiate those differences? Heated arguments? Friendly ribbing? Polite silence? Are there “deal-breaker” issues where you couldn’t see yourself in a relationship or friendship with someone who took the opposing view?