He’s really nice so far. We’re sitting in a Des Moines diner called Louie’s and talking about our families. A sweet smile dominates his face as he recalls c with his father when he was younger. His dad sold agricultural equipment, and that’s what he wants to do too. It’s a cute story. I let my guard down. Then he asks, “Do you want to know why I’m voting for Trump?”Me: “Um…sure.”Advertisement – Continue Reading BelowTrump Groupie: “I like that he’s different than the other candidates.”Me: “But…he says a lot of offensive stuff.”Trump Groupie: “Listen, the media is conspiring to make him look bad. If you actually went to one of his rallies, you would realize that he says a lot of great things.”Me: “What are some of the good things he says?”My date avoids answering, but loves Trump’s wall idea. He also tells me that birth control is a sin, that global warming isn’t real, and that the only reason there’s a pay gap is because women choose lower-paying jobs. He never once asks my opinion.
Most PopularLater, he texts me that I looked beautiful. I do not reply.
I’m listening to NPR when I’m forced to self-examine. The topic on the radio is the growing political divide in America. A caller mentions that many people refuse to date someone from the opposing party. He didn’t give statistics—I didn’t even catch the guy’s name—but it rings true to me. I’ve heard “I would never date a Republican” from several friends, and if I’m being honest, I’ve heard it from me, too. Honestly, I’m so far left that I freak out some Democrats; I think capitalism is bullshit, and I wish Bernie Sanders were my grandfather. I’ll admit: I have a bit of an aversion to dating across the aisle.But as the NPR caller claimed, it’s not an uncommon aversion. Apparently, political ideology is indeed a strong indicator of whether a couple will get together and stay together—an even stronger factor for mate selection than personality, according to a study done by Washington State University Vancouver. Hostility toward the opposite party is at an all-time high, too, which only compounds things. A 2014 Pew Research study shows that 20 years ago, 17 percent of Republicans had a “very unfavorable” view of Democrats. Now it’s 43 percent. Liberal antipathy isn’t much better: 38 percent of Democrats share that disgust, up from 16 percent.”The conservatives call liberals naïve and stupid. Liberals call conservatives fascist and stupid. That’s not constructive at all,” Peter Hatemi, a political science professor at Penn State University and co-author of the paper “The Politics of Mate Choice”told me. “You can respect someone’s difference in position without necessarily respecting that position they take.”Advertisement – Continue Reading BelowOf course, there’s a difference between respecting another person’s politics and falling in love with them. I wonder if I am reasonable enough to compromise if I really met the right person, all other things considered. My grandiose inner dialogue convinces me that I can overcome my preconceived notions despite the heated political climate (hello, election year), and so—in an effort to really test my empathy and my openness in the dating world—I vow to date only conservatives for the next month. It’s a chance for personal growth, and who knows? Maybe I’ll meet someone.
My first step: Find a Republican and convince him to grab coffee with me. It’s not an easy task. Most of the people I know are moderate or liberal. So I go to the site known for creating unlikely matches: Tinder.I have one rule. I have to be honest. If someone asks me if I’m liberal, I must say yes. But I can actively seek out those who I’m pretty damn sure are conservatives and start taking matters into my own hands. There’s only one thing to do: I stereotype my ass off. Gun in the picture? Swipe right. Bio says he’s in business or agriculture? Swipe right. Picture of him with any member of the Bush family? Definitely swipe right.Matching with people is easy. Verifying their political ideology without making it weird isn’t. One guy loves Ayn Rand (good start) but then later says he’s voting for Bernie (odd). Another is a libertarian, which I decide doesn’t count because I am most likely to get agitated over differences in social issues.Then I stumble upon the holy grail. A guy is pissed that Ted Cruz won the Iowa Caucus.Me: “Who do you think should have won?”Trump Guy: “Lol don’t judge me ok?”I guess that answers that. I ask him out to brunch. And that’s how I ended up listening quietly to a string of opinions that made me want to throw my omelet at his face.
My encounter with Trump Guy leaves me discouraged. My second date, with another guy, doesn’t go much better. He’s friendly until politics come up. This time, I argue. We bicker through most of breakfast. I vow never to see him again.Two dates, two strikes. I feel frustrated. Desperate. So desperate that I call a relationship coach. Toni Coleman lives in Washington, D.C., and laughs when I explain my project to her. “I’m sure the thought of being with a Trump supporter makes you ill,” she says. Yeah, something like that.Advertisement – Continue Reading Below”But I also see an awful lot of people make it work,” Coleman says. She mentions Mary Matalin, a Republican political strategist. She was George H.W. Bush’s political director in the 1992 election. Her boyfriend at the time? James Carville, a top strategist for Bill Clinton.
“She was trashing Clinton, and he was trashing Bush,” Coleman says. But the relationship thrived. “They’ve had a long-term marriage. They’re still very different in their political views, but they respect one another. It works for them,” Coleman says.I’m skeptical. Hatemi had also brought up Carville and Matalin, but called their relationship an outlier. I mention this to Coleman, and she concedes that relationships usually work better when similarities outweigh differences. “But political differences don’t necessarily represent other basic differences,” she argues.
Most PopularColeman says values often go deeper than politics. Matalin and Carville both agree that political involvement is important, and they bond over that belief, even though the details might be different. One person might be pro-choice, and the other might be pro-life, Coleman explains, but they can be united by the belief that human life is valuable.I ask Coleman what I should do to find those commonalities. “It’s best to get to know the person. Don’t bring up any controversial topics,” Coleman says. “Find out what their passions are. Learn a little bit about where they come from, where they’re going, how they see themselves. These are the things that really matter in terms of relationships, in my experience.”Her advice is pretty obvious. It leaves me feeling guilty. She’s telling me to shut up and listen to my dates before judging them. Shouldn’t I have learned that lesson long ago?
I match with a guy whose Tinder bio reads “political dabbler.” He tells me he appreciated my swiping advice.Me: “Did you follow directions?”Political Dabbler: “I certainly did.”Me: “Smart man. Tell me about yourself.”So he does. He likes whiskey and John Wayne movies, neither of which I have much experience in—I’m a strong, independent woman who likes her fruity drinks. He seems tolerant of my ignorance, though, and we eventually make it out for coffee.It goes…okay. I purposely steer us away from politics, and instead ask about his hobbies. Political Dabbler is into basketball, and if his March Madness knowledge is any indication, the passion is less dabble, more dunk. I have no idea what he’s talking about, and I don’t see a great love connection forming. But I also don’t want to scream after the date, and that seems like progress.
A friend sets me up with my fourth date. We meet for coffee. I find him immediately when I arrive—he’s good-looking and wears an approachable grin. He also seems legitimately interested in what I have to say. The conversation flows easily. We somehow end up talking about those tiny minimalist houses, and both agree that we would live in one. We then make fun of our mutual friend for being a slob.There’s a lull, and I realize that I never found out what he studies. I ask, and life throws me a curveball. He is planning to go to law school, and afterwards he wants to be…a politician.I freeze. I think of the odds Hatemi laid out. On average, this usually doesn’t work, I think. Then I wonder why I’m mulling over statistics on our first date.”Angela, I’m a firm believer that when you meet the right person, a lot of that other stuff falls away.” These were Coleman’s parting words to me. I think she’s almost right. That “other stuff” can fall away, but I need to let it go first.Me: “You’ll be like a blond Marco Rubio!”Future Politician: “And you’ll be the journalist criticizing my policies.”We sit across from one another, laughing. The date ends soon after—he has to go do some volunteer work. He says he’ll text me about hanging out again.I sit in my car afterwards. I feel exhilarated and proud. I connected with someone despite our different politics. Coleman’s words ring in my ears: “I think the key is, keep an open mind. If more people did that, it would be a kinder, gentler world.”Coleman is right. Maybe there would be less bickering and hatred in the U.S. if people like me stopped judging based only on politics. Maybe we would make progress as a country, or as people.
Sorry, diehard romantics. I don’t fall in love with Future Politician. He texts me a few days later about getting coffee again, but I am out of town. It fizzles. He doesn’t text me again. Our date was pleasant, but I’m not heartbroken. My epiphany overshadows any sadness. It feels good to grow.There are a few more coffee outings during that month of dating across the aisle. Some are fun, some are weird. One guy finds me on Facebook and knows everything about me by the time we arrive at the cafe. I don’t even make it out for drinks with another guy—an unsolicited dick pic halts any possible romance. But they are outliers, and I enjoy the company of most of the guys I meet.At the end of the month, I get another message. It’s from a clearly liberal dude who’d asked me out weeks ago, only to have me decline because of my Dating Republicans Only experiment.Hot Liberal: “If you’re allowed to go out with Democrats again, do you want to find time to get coffee?”I find time. We don’t talk politics that morning. Instead, I tell him about how much I love writing, and he talks about Shakespeare. We’re both into jazz, and we both babble endlessly about our younger sisters. He asks to see me again that night, and we quickly find ourselves capital-T Together. I didn’t fall for him because he leans left. I fell for him because he’s passionate about what he does. Because we made one another laugh and could talk for hours.Politics didn’t bring us together, and it didn’t keep us together. After a month of what I can only call too-much-too-fast, he broke things off, and I was back to searching for love. Except this time, I’m looking on both sides of the aisle. There are connections far more important than politics. I may not have personally proven it—but I believe it.The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Hearst Magazines.