Ah, Valentine’s Day. For many singles, it’s time for well-meaning loved ones to pester singles about dating. Time to suppress aching feelings when walking past Tiffany’s. Time to slurp pink punch and stumble home alone.
As a rather happily single New Yorker, those things don’t worry me. You see, I’ve become pickier about men. Surrounded by liberals here in the home of hipster Brooklyn and Occupy Wall Street, as a conservative with years of dating lefties, I’m unabashedly declaring my freedom.
“You unromantic cur, how dare you discriminate against someone for their political beliefs?” collectivist America shouts. “You’re shutting yourself off to the magical, unknowable algorithmic elixir of love! Good riddance!”
Here in the Big Apple, I meet conservative guys who say they’re shot down by liberal women over politics. Conservative author S.E. Cupp gives lusty details of a young Manhattan man (an amalgam of several people) who fails to seduce a woman who “can’t get off under a poster of George W. Bush.” Yes, that’s weird you have his visage in your room, but buck up, Dubya fan! You dodged unsexy pillow talk about why one-percenters are the devil and how Che Guevara is a hottie.
Obviously, not all liberal women are that hardline (including many close friends of mine). And there’s no point stereotyping liberals as nonshowering, socks-with-sandals, wussy granola types. That’s as lame as stereotyping conservatives as gun-obsessed, uncreative, heartless jerks who enjoy tossing orphans into the streets.
I’ve dated guys from a smorgasbord of racial and ethnic backgrounds, but that’s a separate matter. Unlike race, being liberal is a choice, just like being conservative is a choice. No baby pops out a liberal or conservative; it’s a state of mind he adopts later on. He may be conditioned from birth, but there comes a time when he chooses Chomsky over Hayek.
My political beliefs stem from data analysis, academic pursuits and travels abroad. Plenty of my close liberal friends who have similar backgrounds come to polar-opposite conclusions, and that’s dandy. But it doesn’t mean I want that cognitive processing around me 24/7 in the most intimate of unions. Tolerance does not equal tenderness. Romance is a union of body, mind and soul, and when we’re out of sync on politics, it’s a huge mental obstacle.
Social scientist Robert Putnam of Harvard University — certainly no Dr. Phil — theorizes in his book Bowling Alone about bridging vs. bonding social capital. Bonding means ties between people like yourself (e.g., same gender or ideology), and bridging means ties with people unlike yourself. Of course, we’re all human beings who need both types of social capital, and everyone determines which social factors matter most in the home, the epicenter of bonding.
Politics consumes much of my life, which makes it basically a deal breaker for me. That doesn’t mean political compromise isn’t possible — it’s just not easy for a political analyst whose bacon comes from arguing for a cause. Home life is exhausting when bridging trumps bonding about your life’s work. It’s like a chef who won’t date fruitarians: the discrimination seems reasonable, since cooking and sharing a diverse palette of meals dominates his life.
There are couples who work on opposite sides of the political aisle, and it’s beautiful for them. There aren’t as many conservative women with liberal men, a natural outgrowth of party affiliation by gender (women tend to identify as donkeys and men as elephants), but one example is James Carville and Mary Matalin. Yet the Carville-Matalin marriage is a national curiosity precisely because it’s so rare!
Naomi Riley, author of 'Til Faith Do Us Part: How Interfaith Marriage Is Transforming America, reports that “Inter-political party marriages are far less common than interfaith marriages and slightly more common than interracial ones: Only 18% of married Americans have a spouse who claims a different political affiliation, compared with at least a third of Americans who are in interfaith marriages.”
Thus it’s possible but improbable that I’ll seriously date a liberal. If he’s moderate or apolitical, that’s great. He needn’t work in politics, and preferably he doesn’t. But after years of willful ignorance about compatibility, I’ve returned to the belief that successful relationships come when people are “equally yoked.” It's a bit ironic for me, an agnostic, to quote the Bible, but, hey, the book has enough wisdom to last so long. For me, "equally yoked" means a couple is compatible on what matters most to each of them, whether that’s religion, location, kids or fidelity. When there’s fundamental incompatibility, it’s a recipe for conflict.
This may be a chicken-or-egg matter, but culture and ideology profoundly shape behavior. When a man’s strongly held values clash with mine, I'd rather say “Adios!” than worry that disagreement about which movie to watch on Netflix on Friday night could devolve into heated sparring about entitlement reform, Afghanistan or charter schools.
Life’s too short to get stuck with someone better left in the “friend” category. Of course, political compatibility is necessary but not sufficient. He must love dogs — or be open to someday having a pocket beagle in the house. But I’d be willing to settle for a corgi or even a Lab. Who says women can’t compromise?
Sheffield, a contributor to Forbes, is a writer in Manhattan.