Everything changes when you fall in love. That was the case for me, at least—I gave so many parts of myself away, compromising my values for a guy who’d barely read a book in his life. We had hardly anything in common aside from a few of the same bands in our Spotify playlists, and I was always known to be the more outspoken one. But when it came to politics, I found that we were on opposite sides of the spectrum—or he took no side at all.
I was beginning to be more vocal on Instagram about social issues when I got into this relationship. I enjoyed reading and participating in online discourse, casually talking politics with my friends, debating my older brother on different social theories. I naturally disliked anyone whose beliefs radically contrasted mine, and that saved me from a lot of potentially mentally-draining friendships. But when I caught feelings for a boy whose idea of humor lied in niche meme accounts and casual misogyny, I became a stranger to my morals. The façade of a simple, apolitical relationship was immensely appealing to me back then. If I had to shut up about feminism and civil rights so we could lay in bed and listen to music together in peace, I thought, then I happily would.
My ex would often subtly criticize me for speaking out on topics he found annoying or uninteresting for the duration of our six-month relationship. Whenever I posted on social media or tried to start conversations with him about social justice, he’d passive-aggressively intervene. I’d say a thing or two, shrug, and then laugh at whatever ignorant joke he’d told to make light of the situation. “It’s not a big deal,” he’d say. “I don’t understand why you care about this so much.” I was (and still am) a passionate, pro-choice, mostly anti-capitalist feminist. He, on the other hand, perpetuated internalized racism through his “dark sense of humor,” and I pretended to be okay with all the dark memes he sent me for both our sakes. It made me uncomfortable, and I often felt guilty for betraying my beliefs, but back then, I thought I like this boy so much that nothing I believe in should matter more than my love for him.
Really, I haven’t had any worthwhile experiences dating my political opposites. But I now know what to expect from an ideal significant other because of these relationships, whether or not our politics clash. Mutual respect and understanding are the foundations of any relationship, but there’s a unique boundary for political discussions. Everybody’s different: while some may enjoy heated intellectual debates with their partners and even find that attractive and stimulating, others (like me) would storm out in frustration or, in worse cases, cry like a child.
I recently asked a handful of friends for their take on dating with political differences. What I gathered is that how you tackle clashing politics in romance truly depends on who you are and where you come from. Some of my friends were merely apathetic. Some believed that political differences make for engaging discussions wherein partners can separate politics from their love lives. But you have to have a certain amount of privilege to make that distinction—to have personal experiences so exemplary that you aren’t, to some extent, defined by your politics.
When you’re in love, do you even bother thinking about the moral upper hand? That depends on how you approach politics in the first place. Is it a part of you? Does it reflect who you are as a person? Or do you feel no personal connection to your political beliefs at all? If my partner didn’t support some of the progressive ideas that I propagate, would I like him less, after all the love and affection he’d given me?
There are, of course, political values that are simply non-negotiable. Do yourself a favor and look for lovers whose beliefs don’t fundamentally disrespect your very existence—your race, gender, sexuality, religion, class. Your politics become a lot more personal in this sense: you shouldn’t pursue someone who believes in policies that harm you or those close to you. If my boyfriend blamed what I was wearing when I told him I’d gotten catcalled, for example, I could easily ditch him. If I spoke ardently on LGBT rights in defense of my lesbian friends’ struggles and my boyfriend disagreed or was “neutral,” my feelings for him would definitely shift. In this case, I feel that love wouldn’t even be nearly enough to sustain a relationship, if any real love can come out of such extreme opposites at all.
But why do we find ourselves attracted to our political opposites in the first place? Somebody I spoke to believes that love transcends all values, even political ones. Love is universal, he said, and anyone from any part of the political spectrum can experience it. “You can choose to love someone just because you’re a free and rational economic agent. Or you can love someone because you’re a part of a larger community. Or you can love someone because you see yourself as a conservative patriot.”
That conversation made me think of how Karl Marx argued that human nature’s essence is in our drive to create products that give us social and individual satisfaction, instead of the traditional conception of human nature as a species that “incarnates itself in each individual.” We are reflections of the social relations we are born into and the ones in which we choose to engage. When we look at it this way, we can understand that human nature isn’t static or permanent; there’s no golden rule for how to date your political opposites. There’s no set standard for the role politics play in relationship dynamics. You choose who you love, and you love them because you want to. Maybe, despite all your differences and contradicting values, you see a part of yourself—detached from politics—in them.
How you and your partner approach politics, boundaries, and non-negotiable beliefs is all on you and your identities. Some of us can look past politics when we’re in love because romance can be so immense and encompassing, while others may find that their politics is such an indispensable part of them that it would be impossible to sacrifice that for someone else. Know who you are and what you stand for before you enter any relationship, and remember that politics is draining—true love is not.
By Jordinna Joaquin
Illustration by Teresa Woodcock