There was recently a discussion here and there about whether one should or should not date across ideological lines. James Kirchick complains about how difficult it is being a gay libertarian-conservative when so much of your dating market is some degree of liberal. Ilya Somin comments on Kirchick’s piece with a list of reasons that people often overestimate the undesirability of cross-ideological dating as well as a list of more defensible concerns.

I think that Somin has it mostly right.

I believe that the people overestimate the importance of ideological harmony in relationships is because we invest far too much of our self-image into our politics (or maybe vice-versa). Somin believes that we too often confuse what we believe with how we behave. I would say that we are more likely to confuse what we believe with who we fundamentally are. When I hear people say that they would not date someone that voted for the other guy (and I have heard it), the underlying reason does not seem to be so much that they believe different things, but that their beliefs make them different kinds of people.

I’m not going to get on my high horse about how we shouldn’t make judgments about people based on their political beliefs. To be honest, a lot of the time you can. But those tend to be the loudest ones and not usually representative of the whole. Most people I meet don’t know what my political views are or how I voted (indeed, most seem to think that I hold whatever views they do and voted however they did). But that other guy that can’t shut up about America is a rogue nation or that a lot of our nation’s problems can be traced to liberal-supported minority groups? Yeah, you know exactly where he stands. It’s not hard to start getting the impression that everyone that votes the same way as he does thinks the same way and is the same way.

There are times when it is better not to become intimate with someone from the opposite side of the political spectrum. I had one non-relationship in college that couldn’t take off because she was an activist for causes that I did not believe in. It’s really, really hard to make a relationship work when you oppose their goal in life. There are also other factors that inform our political views that should also inform our dating habits. For instance, religion significantly influences how one votes and how one socializes and otherwise lives their life. Sometimes a philosophy can cause problems wherein one partner believes that the other is missing that last sense of enlightenment and is somehow on a lesser philosophical or spiritual plane. Or people think about things in a particular way. For instance, I have a number of rather unconventional ideas of the way that the world is. Not radical, just a bit unusual. You might be absolutely, positively amazed at how some people react when confronted with ideas that they’ve never really heard before. Some people get excited, others look at you like you’re the antichrist.

These are relatively minor exceptions, though. On the whole it is beyond foolish to try to go out and find someone that thinks exactly like you do. In fact, if you do find someone that does it probably means that neither of you are thinking individually and are both getting your thoughts, word-for-word, from a third party. And you should be afraid.

The most common cross-ideological relationship is the conservative guy and the liberal woman. That’s because men are on the whole more conservative (as defined by contemporary politics) and women are more liberal (ditto). In fact, one of the reasons that cross-ideological dating is so important is that without it we have a lot of conservative men that can’t find a woman and a lot of conservative women that can’t find a man. Market inefficiencies that we just cannot have.


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4 Responses to Ideological Harmony in Relationships

  1. Webmaster says:

    Most of what I’ve heard on that score has been along the lines of an inability to date someone from the opposite spectrum as well – but invariably in those conversations, it was then followed up with “because they are racist/insensitive/uncaring/etc.”

    I think a large amount of that may have to do with the polarized politics today; it’s not about civil disagreements, but tarring the opposition with the blackest brush possible. The hope of someone expressing a “can’t date X” philosophy is not that they don’t want to date someone like that; it’s that by expressing this and putting down the other side, somehow that will convince them to change their position. It also has the side “benefit” of self-reinforcement; if the opposition is unenlightened/racist/stupid, then by inference the person expressing such sentiment is enlightened, “tolerant and diverse”, and smart.

  2. Peter says:

    What can be just as awkward as a major ideological difference is the situation that arises when one partner is heavily interested in and involved with political matters, whether liberal or conservative doesn’t matter, and the other partner doesn’t much care about politics at all. The “involved” partner will be frustrated at the other one’s seeming indifference, while the “uninvolved” partner will feel left out and sometimes ignored.

  3. trumwill says:

    The hope of someone expressing a “can’t date X” philosophy is not that they don’t want to date someone like that; it’s that by expressing this and putting down the other side, somehow that will convince them to change their position.

    I think that’s true some of the time, but I’d say less than half. A lot of people on the right really do believe that people on the left are apologists for immorality and/or laziness. A lot of people on the left really do believe that people on the right are racist or sexist. They don’t just say these things when non-committals are around to convince or opponents are around to browbeat into agreement. In fact, some are less rather than more inclined to air such beliefs in mixed company. Most of the time, in my opinion, it’s not a rhetorical trick. If it’s a trick, it’s a trick they use to believe that they are smarter or better than the people that disagree with them. I think what you consider to be a “side benefit” is actually the primary one.

    That goes back into my point about liberals and conservatives often believing that people that agree with them are a different sort of person (smarter, more moral, more common sensical, more compassionate, etc.) rather than someone that thinks similarly.

  4. trumwill says:

    You’re right, Peter. In fact, just about any time that someone is personally invested in activity that the other person is indifferent (but not hostile) to it can cause problems. Sometimes, though, it can make things more smooth because the person always has a sympathetic (albeit dispassionate) ear. My ex-girlfriend Julie was pretty indifferent to politics and while we were together she more or less took on most of my political views. When we broke up she became apathetic again. I think I prefer dealing with Clancy in this regard. She’s opinionated and often disagrees with me, but it makes for more interesting conversation. I could see someone preferring a chameleon like Julie, though.

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