Q. I’m 45 and never married though a survivor of many relationships. I’m not petty — I can handle it if a guy is shorter, fatter, poorer, bald, etc. But I’ve recently met someone I’m wildly attracted to and there is a problem — major! I’m half laughing, half crying as I write this. He’s a diehard Republican; I’m an Obama girl. Clearly our politics are miles apart. Whenever he brings up the election I want to scream but settle for closing his mouth with a kiss. When the chemistry fades, is the relationship doomed to fall apart?— Ellen
A. So you’d prefer he were a bankrupt, pot-bellied midget rather than a McCain supporter! In this heated climate, as the election finally heads toward its swan song, many singles (especially women) maintain strong negative feelings about dating outside their party, according to Washington-based psychotherapist Toni Coleman, LCSW. The founder of the dating advice site Consum-mate.com, Coleman (herself an independent who supports Obama and is married to a staunch Republican) explains, "There seems to be an underlying belief that the values held by these two parties are very different."
A difference in worldviews broke up Katie Clarkson’s year-long bipartisan relationship. The 40-year-old New Jersey graphic artist shudders as she recalls, "I justified dating him because he classified himself as a Libertarian. But I dumped him after it became painfully clear there was a fundamental chasm in the ways we [each] view our neighbors and our responsibility toward them — he lives the lifestyle of a privileged white male — which became increasingly difficult to reconcile given the worsening situation in this country."
Can’t blue and red singles ever all just get along? In Obama-speak: Yes we can. A January 2008 survey by the social networking site Engage.com found that 85 percent of those polled are open to dating someone outside their party. Indeed, ardent Democrat Elaine Cole prides herself on subscribing to a "Republicans Are People, Too" philosophy. The divorced 50-year-old Texas events manager is currently dating someone from the other camp. She explains, "As long as you agree to disagree and not try to pound your ideologies down the other’s throat, the relationship can last." Most important: Keep your sense of humor. "I invited him to come over to watch Obama’s acceptance speech. We both got a good laugh out of that and made a date for a movie the following week." Still, despite the concerted effort the couple expend to respect one another, she admits, "It’s sometimes hard to stay calm."
Harder perhaps for Democrats? The Engage.com survey discovered that single Republicans cop to fewer qualms about crossing party lines for romance. Engage.com VP Trish McDermott says, "The issues that might potentially divide a couple may feel more pressing to Democrats. A Republican can believe in less government control yet want to kiss someone who feels the opposite."
Another possible reason for this divide is offered by political consultant James Carville: "Democrats are hotter!" Carville, the former President Clinton operative is of course married to Mary Matalin, former counselor to Vice President Cheney. Carville and Matalin’s passion for politics and their respective party positions has translated into an uber-successful "mixed" marriage.
The political may be personal, but the only way to make a relationship between ideological opposites work is to not personalize the differences between you. Debating is fine; disagreeing, also acceptable. Personally incorrect behavior would be straying into emotional territory by attacking each other’s beliefs.
Rather than having a knee-jerk negative reaction, look to being with an "other" as a learning opportunity. Elaine Cole says of her relationship with a political opposite, "Being with an intelligent, articulate Republican helps me have a clearer, more logical view about my beliefs. And there’s an amazing amount of common ground, many things we both believe in — like the need to find new ways drill for oil that won’t hurt the environment." Coleman adds, "Look to what the two of you have in common — and judge the relationship for its shared goals, similarities of lifestyles, basic values, and compatibility."
Still not sure a red/blue relationship is a good idea? Consider this: The divorce rate is just as high among same-party couples!
Do you have a tough question about dating or relationships?
E-mail Sherry at DatingExpert@More.com and your question might be featured in an upcoming column.
About Sherry Amatenstein
Sherry Amatenstein, LMSW, is the author of Love Lessons from Bad Breakups and Q&A Dating Book. She runs dating seminars around the country and does private coaching — not to help singles marry in 60 days, but to uncover their blocks. She has given relationship advice on the Early Show, Regis, Inside Edition, CBS News, VH1, BBC, and many other programs. Her philosophy is that the most important relationship you’ll ever have is with yourself.
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