DEAR DR. NERDLOVE:
With another polarizing election behind us, it is pretty obvious that the political divide isn’t going to mend anytime soon. We all see it on dating apps when women write “don’t bother if you voted for [insert candidate here].” But my question isn’t about the view differences between myself and a potential lover… it’s about the view differences between her and the rest of my family.
A majority of my family (plus extended family) don’t exactly share the views I have when it comes to politics. Despite this and plenty of heated debates, we still manage to have a great relationship. However, when it comes to dating I’m concerned about being guilty by association.
I have sabotaged several communications with women who really liked me only because of the worry that I’d be pitting their political & social views against my family’s…. and eventually ruining both relationships. It’s a fear that has held me back so much that I even had to speak to a therapist about it. Am I overthinking this? How can my love life and family life live in harmony? I wouldn’t want to put her in an uncomfortable setting and can only dream of both parties really loving each other.
Thanks in advance!
Two Party System
DEAR TWO PARTY SYSTEM: Seeing as we’ve just come out of a historic election followed an equally historic attempted insurrection as Trump’s fanbase tried to take senators hostage and murder the House Majority leader AND Mike Pence in the span of three months… I think “political divide” is putting it a little too goddamn mildly.
But let’s leave that aside for a second.
What you’re doing, TPS, is what’s known as “borrowing trouble from the future”. You’ve taken this vague worry — that you and your future partner’s politics will conflict with your family’s and this will destroy your entire relationship — and turned it into prophecy. Either they won’t believe that you don’t have the same politics as them — that whole guilt by association thing — or that this potential future fight will be so horrific and all-consuming that you will lose both your family and your future partner.
Except… you don’t actually have any experience of this happening at all. You’ve got a lot of speculation, a lot of imagination and pretty much no actual experience with it in real life. And while I’m sure you can find any number of random anecdotes or Am I The A
hole posts on Reddit that may seem to back this fear up, those don’t actually count. Even leaving aside the ones that are pure creative writing exercises: the people involved aren’t your family, nor are they any future girlfriend. There’re reasons why the plural of “anecdote” isn’t “data”, after all.
But let’s look at the actual facts here. You and your family, despite having wildly different political views, have managed to keep your relationship strong. Like a lot of folks in mixed religious/atheist households, vegetarian/carnivore households or other diametrically opposed issues, you’re able to make things work, even your different stances make everyone want to grind their teeth into powder and smack the other up with a Howard Zinn omnibus. Assuming that you and/or your family aren’t, say, QAnons or COVID deniers, think that there were “very good people on both sides” at the Unite The Right event in Charlottesville or think that the attempted insurrection is an Antifa false-flag operation, it is theoretically possible to at least have a “we’re going to draw a line and we do not cross this line no matter how heated things get” sort of set up. That can go a long way to keeping a family as a family… even if you’re back to the “dual-wielding Disobedience and Democracy, roll for initiative” stage over dinner.
And I’d point out: there are lots of folks who date and marry people whose families are gold-plated s--theads. Sometimes everyone is able to come together or even help bring people around. Sometimes it ends with the couple deciding that they’re not going to spend time with the fam until said fam gets their act together.
But that’s all theoretical, not actual. One of the bigger things to realize is that this, presumably isn’t going to just be you throwing your new girlfriend into the deep end with no warning. Ignoring how long it may or may not take you to get to the “meet the family” stage, I can’t imagine that you wouldn’t be giving your theoretical future girlfriend a heads up that you’re the political black sheep of the family. Giving your squeeze the basic rundown of the family dynamic is — or should be — standard issue before bringing her to your cousin’s wedding/nephew’s bat mitzvah/little brother’s birthday. That gives you time to work out how you’re going to handle any thorny topics that need to be avoided or handled with care — political or otherwise.
And, I would hope it goes without saying, that I hope neither your family or anyone you date is the sort who goes out of their way to pick fights with folks over politics; that’s a headache of a different color entirely.
TL;DR: stop writing your break-up story before you’ve even had your first date. Focus on finding someone awesome that you click with, build a relationship to the point of actually introducing her to the folks, then figure out how to navigate family functions. And hey: it’s much easier to weather the slings and arrows of family political arguments when the two of you can present a united front and give each other the backup you need.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org