Dec 16, 2020

Love Across the Aisle

Reporting Texas

Amidst a time of an ever-widening political divide in this country, two people from opposing political parties somehow managed to come together by a force much stronger than hate: love.

I met John a year ago in October 2019 on a dating app. He is tall, handsome, but most importantly, incredibly sweet and compassionate. John is a pseudonym for someone I need to protect in a time of great derision. He is politically conservative and also a musician here in Austin, which is a pretty liberal scene.

“I know a few guys who were in bands that kicked them out when they found out they were conservative; I just can’t risk that happening to me,” John said. “I would be so depressed if I couldn’t do my music anymore because of my political beliefs.”

Texas may be a red state, but Austin is a blue city. During the 2016 presidential election, 65.7% of votes in Travis County were for Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton, while 52.2% of Texas as a whole voted for Donald Trump, helping him to secure the presidency with Texas’ whopping 38 electoral votes.

There is a chance Texas may some year soon become a swing state as the major Texas cities continue to grow and remain liberal. In Texas this year during the 2020 presidential election, votes for president-elect Joe Biden came closer to the number of votes for Trump than Clinton did in 2016. Trump came in at 52% while Joe Biden came in at 46.5% in comparison to Clinton’s 43.2% in 2016. Although Trump won Texas, he lost the presidential election.

When I first realized that John was conservative, I was put off by it. I braced myself for signs of racism and homophobia and general ignorance. However, as I got to know his character, I realized that I was doing the very thing that I vehemently opposed and had assumed was running rampant within the Republican party; I was judging and stereotyping someone without even getting to know him first.

The cognitive dissonance I experienced from that realization is what drove this new determination in me to try to understand in a non-judgmental manner how John sees the world.

John mentioned to me that his fear of judgment for his conservative views typically reaches beyond his music career and into his love life as well. We had been seeing each other for a couple of months when he anxiously said to me one day, “I have something I need to tell you.” Judging by the way he was visibly sweating, I was expecting something horrible.

“I really like you a lot and I really hope you’ll still see me after I tell you this, but honestly I won’t be surprised if you never want to see me again.” he said.

He took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and said, “I voted for Donald Trump. And I’m probably going to vote for him again.”

He opened his eyes, visibly bracing himself for my reaction. I told him that I already knew and I still wanted to spend time with him. I explained to him that I suspected he might be conservative after he had shared with me his passion for hunting and gun rights a few weeks before.

After asking him why he was so nervous to tell me, he explained he had been on countless dates that ended poorly after he told girls he met that he’s conservative.

“One time a girl even poured a drink on my head after I told her,” he said. “I just stood up and left without saying anything.”

I was appalled.

A so-called liberal woman treating him that way. The thoughts I returned to the most were, “Isn’t my party the compassionate one? The empathetic one? The one that cares about the feelings of other people? How could these girls from the Democratic Party be so cruel?”

I was shocked and suddenly thrust into a world and a perspective I had never seen before. My entire life I was told by my father and the left leaning media we consumed that most conservatives are selfish, racist, ignorant, homophobic and hypocritically religious. And now here I was sitting across from the kindest, most considerate person I had ever dated, after previously dating exclusively liberals.

Over the past year, we’ve continued to see each other and have grown a deep love for one other rooted in respect. We’ve never raised our voices at each other; we’ve never called each other names and we always express genuine concern for each other’s feelings.

As tensions between conservatives and liberals continue to rise even after one of history’s most contentious U.S. elections,  John and I were able to maintain our relationship and remain respectful of each other even though we once again voted for opposing candidates.

The fact that we have been able to maintain such a healthy relationship when often times two people from opposing political parties can rarely even have a pleasant conversation gives me hope for others who wish to see a world filled with more empathy.

We both feel very strongly about our political beliefs. But we make a point to never make the other person feel like we’re attacking each other’s beliefs when we discuss the things we disagree about. Being able to truly listen and genuinely  understand the way someone feels, while being respectful of how that person feels even if you disagree, is a skill that seems lost among politicians and citizens alike these days.

“If everyone in the world was as open minded and as understanding as you’ve been with me this past year,” John said to me, “we’d be able to get a lot more done in this country, and people would be a heck of a lot nicer to each other, too.”