Should we be surprised that politics is a relationship dealbreaker?

Article by Nicola Heath /
Sydney Morning Herald  /
September 21, 2017  /
Click here to view original  /

Online daters are rejecting potential suitors based on their politics, sex therapist Bettina Arndt wrote on the weekend.

“I had a client who gave one prospect the chop when he mentioned he listened to Alan Jones. Many others are horrified by dates who speak favourably of any Trump policies,” she writes.

I rarely agree with Arndt, a sex therapist of 30 years standing who advocates for husbands doing it tough and is critical of the idea that women enjoy casual sex.

But I found myself nodding along as I read her piece about politics and sex. Like the women she describes, I am ‘left-leaning’ and unlikely to ever sleep with a supporter of Tony Abbott.

That opposing political views constitute a deal-breaker seems so self-evident to me that I’m surprised it’s newsworthy.

It’s not that I want everyone to think the same way. Heterodoxy should be a feature of public debate in our diverse community.

Too often we tear down people in ad hominem attacks when we disagree with their views, instead of engaging with their ideas. Recall The Australian‘s sustained assault on Yassmin Abdel-Magied for a seven-word Facebook post, or the death threats Germaine Greer received in 2012 for her controversial comments about transgender women.

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In these instances, an edifying public debate could have helped us learn from each other and appreciate our differences.

In an article published in the aftermath of the Greer scandal, University of Melbourne lecturer Lauren Rosewarne cautioned that we should not be scared to ask questions.

“We should be able to discuss these issues in a non-hostile environment, where people don’t have to feel like they are going to be attacked for being sexist or transphobic or homophobic simply because they are struggling to understand what is, for many people, a ‘new’ issue. This isn’t how a society evolves,” she told journalist Jill Stark.

While I can tolerate the existence of a person whose views sit on the other end of the political spectrum to my own, it doesn’t mean I want to marry them.

My husband and I don’t agree about everything. Our home is regularly filled with robust discussions covering all sorts of topics.

But we agree on the basics and I can’t imagine how our relationship could have lasted this long (almost 15 years) if we didn’t.

My political views reflect how I see the world. If I care deeply enough to write letters to politicians about Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers or compose impassioned Facebook posts about the importance of addressing climate change, why would I bind myself to someone whose views on these issues conflicted with my own?

And while I try to appreciate heterodoxy, some things aren’t up for debate. That’s why I couldn’t be with someone who didn’t support marriage equality (it’s a matter of human rights) or supported Trump (too many reasons to list).

I ask my husband if he feels the same way. “It’s complicated,” he says, equivocating. “Maybe she’s a moderate.”

He says it’s not a deal-breaker. I throw a few hypotheticals at him and soon get an inkling that perhaps politics is more important to me than him.

He raises the existence of degrees of difference – a legitimate point. It’s hard to imagine a right-wing conservative like Cory Bernardi shacking up with someone whose views align with Greens senator and confirmed leftist Sarah Hanson-Young, but a centrist union between moderates like Chris Bowen and Julie Bishop could work.

While I welcome differences in other parts of my relationship with my husband (we have opposing views on motor sport and netball), I don’t know how you raise children with someone whose values are fundamentally different to your own.

The sleeplessness and stress of parenthood breeds conflict among the most intimate of allies. I couldn’t see myself arguing with a climate change denier over whose turn it was to settle the baby without cracks soon appearing in the relationship.

Some men find women who have strong political views very irritating, writes Arndt. But today women are more outspoken about their views. And that’s a good thing – perhaps their political discernment will help prevent romantic mismatches that could end up in divorce.

So, here’s to swiping left on right-wing voters.