Of Party Lines And Love…

Can you date someone whose politics clash with yours? Here’s how and when you can make it work.

By Margot Carmichael Lester

hink the sparring between the candidates is tense? Imagine if you were arguing the issues with someone you were dating!

“The biggest challenge in that situation is the difference in values and what that means for your future,” says Erica Sheksley, a liberal political communications consultant who dated and lived with a
Ultimately that can start to wear down on you…
Republican/Libertarian. “We would disagree about what a marriage should mean, for example, or on how we wanted to live our lives, raise our children or even whether or not you should give money to a homeless person on the street. Ultimately that can start to wear down on you — constantly having to fight over things that you believe at your core.”

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Mary Matalin and James Carville’s union is high-profile proof that folks of different political stripes can get along… and even get married. And research indicates that almost two-thirds (63 percent) of singles surveyed during earlier elections said they’d talk about politics on a first date. (Democrats were more likely than Republicans to say this.) Just over half (57 percent) of those respondents would go so far as to marry someone with dramatically different political leanings.

How can you keep yourself in the running if your date has different views on candidates and issues? Read on for a few helpful tips.

Don’t expect change.
“The biggest mistake that daters of different parties can make is to believe that their partner will change his or her political views to accommodate them,” says political consultant David Johnson, CEO of Strategic Vision in Atlanta, GA. “Do not enter the relationship expecting to persuade your partner to change his or her viewpoint. Learn to respectfully disagree.”

Look for common ground.
Instead of focusing on what you don’t agree on, dig deeper to find the larger issues where you do agree. “One person may believe that welfare is wrong and one person may believe welfare is right, but ultimately, you may both believe that people need
Make sure you have enough shared values to make it work.
help somehow to get out of poverty,” Sheksley says. “Make sure you have enough shared values to make it work. You need to be able to separate the differences in your political views on policy from your core values.”

Agree to disagree.
“Disagree with the politics, not with the date,” suggests Leslie Ungar, founder of Electric Impulse Communications, Inc., an Akron, OH-based firm that provides communications coaching to executives and other professionals. This approach isn’t for the faint of heart, however. “It requires constant and consistent affirmation of the date and the relationship’s potential before going in for each kill,” she says, laughing. “Although I am a communications expert, I once resorted during a first dinner date to threatening to stab my date with my fork if he repeated his stance one more time.”

Keep it to yourself.
“I fell for Sue before I knew her party preference,” says Jack Hardy, a dyed-in-the-wool Republican from Newport, RI. “There was so much about her that I appreciated and respected that we just agreed not to discuss politics much. It’s been challenging during the campaign, but we gently remind each other when one of us starts to stray into those waters… and that keeps it smooth sailing.”

Though these approaches are definitely doable, each requires a high level of self-awareness, discipline and a strong desire to make the relationship work. “If you’re really passionate about your politics, it’s going to be tough, but love does conquer all — even partisan politics,” Hardy laughs.

Margot Carmichael Lester, a freelance writer living in a blue precinct in a red state, also writes for Go, My Midwest and The Los Angeles Business Journal.
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