Sometimes I agree to go on dates with men who aren’t usually my type. I don’t mean that I’m engaging in risky behavior, but under this philosophy, I found myself holding hands with a man in the back of a cab as he told me he voted for Donald Trump in Indiana during the 2016 presidential election.
We were on a third date, and he asked me if his honest vote was a deal breaker. I smiled at him, and said that it might be. Still, we were on the way to the second bar of the evening, and I didn’t immediately turn and run home. It was the middle of winter in 2017, and I was feeling stung from Hillary Clinton’s loss. I blame a five-pound weight gain that year on Donald Trump. Now, I blame a lot more on Donald Trump, too.
The evening continued, and so did my thinking that I shouldn’t say no to someone simply because they’re a Republican. We moved on to talking about something else – my interest in decimating the way millennials are portrayed perhaps, or maybe we talked about how the Chicago Blackhawks were unlikely to win another Stanley Cup that year. When the night came to an end, he took me home in an Uber and dropped me off at the door before asking if he could come up to use the bathroom. We had met on the dating app Bumble, and I had decided there wasn’t really a chance he was coming up to fool around. It was likely to be the last date, but I said yes and let him come upstairs anyway. It was then he started projectile vomiting in my bathroom, and was so sick he ended up crashing on the futon outside my bedroom. When I went off to work in the morning, he went to a clinic and was treated for the flu.
When I think back on how miserable that night was, how desperately I wanted that person to not be in my apartment, I remember I was kind to him through the whole ordeal. I asked him if I could help, if he needed anything, but also if I could call him an Uber home. He didn’t even apologize, and, unsurprisingly, he never called me again.
I mention my kindness only because this is the kind of unforeseen experience I was looking for when I downloaded Bumble – without the vomit. I made the conscious choice to be open-minded with the men I met in 2017, in part because I was looking down the barrel of a dreadfully sad year. After the November election, I felt devastated, with the same heavy heartbeat that’s familiar only after a significant breakup. I remember the shock of the results coming in on election day, and I remember retreating to my bedroom, away from the television, after it was announced by the DNC that no, Mrs. Clinton would not speaking that night, even to concede. Maybe even she was too stunned by what happened.
In the following months, I regained my strength quickly, but the national conversation shifted to focus on the divide in America. The divide between Trump voters and Hillary supporters, Republicans and Democrats, urban and rural populations, minorities and white men in power. And the divide between men and women.
The divide had never been greater in America, is what all the pundits said. And no one could agree whose fault it was. No one expected Donald to win. It was clear that I could blame our loss on the divide, and I thought I could start to fix it by listening and working as hard as I could to understand how someone could make the choice to vote for him over her.
So when I went back to dating on apps like Tinder and Bumble, I didn’t want to close down the opportunity to learn something. Could I love a Republican? I wanted to know if the divide could start to close by engaging directly with it, over coffee or drinks or burgers.
Allies only need apply
After a year of tapping my experiment, which included dozens of first dates and one relationship that had nothing to do with an app, I’m ending it. The results are in, and I have decided, no, I don’t have to love a Republican. I simply do not want to. It is an exhausting affair to compromise on anything more serious than what to have for dinner. We women are exhausted. And now, I say I only want an ally.
This isn’t a novel concept I’ve stumbled upon. Women are often told they have too many items on their checklist for the perfect man. However, throwing out the list altogether makes it much easier to narrow down again.
Still, I’m afraid of announcing this notion aloud. Not everyone wants to talk about politics, particularly on a first, second, or even third date. Some people don’t want to talk about it all, even though everyone has something to say. I forced it upon nearly every new date I had in the last year, sometimes actively looking for my opposition so I could question it and understand it better. Though I never made a judgment on a man when he said he didn’t vote or that he didn’t have an opinion on politics, I engaged heavily with those who held opposing views and values.
I wanted to learn new information about the other side and I wanted to learn more for myself. And I wanted to find love.
What I found is that this area of American life is vitally important to me, and is increasingly pertinent to my generation. There are more stories in the media about women getting up and leaving a man who voted for Donald in the middle of a date. These people exist because the stakes have never been higher. Even the Fox News talkingheads who decry our choices as actions of a millennial snowflake who can’t take the truth of the election – #notmypresident – are acknowledging that dating has changed under the Trump era.
The election results were so astonishing that a conversation about it was almost inevitable in 2017, even between strangers. What was once a taboo topic was thrust under the spotlight, and the revelation was ugly.
I tried to tell myself that even if there wasn’t a love match, meeting a stranger on my own for a drink and having a two-hour conversation about anything was valuable. If we never saw each other again, that experience improved me.
But now, I wonder if I should have gotten up and left.
Why, on another try, did I sit through three dates with a man who told me he wasn’t totally sure he believed in evolution? How did I end up sitting on the edge of his bed and watching as he pulled out every gun he owned to show me where they were hidden?
I stayed and listened because I wanted to know the other side of the Second Amendment argument. I wanted to know a gun owner because none of my friends or family fell into that category. But I never asked to see those guns. I never felt comfortable seeing them, and I told him I didn’t like it when he pulled out the first one from his bedside table. He pulled out another one anyway – a shotgun in a case, from behind the bed. He smiled because he didn’t understand that I was afraid and I was never going to see this as cool or sexy.
I never responded when he asked me out again.
When I had to clean up the vomit of the Indiana man, my roommate laughed at me and asked me how the date went. It was horrible, I told her. I don’t know if that experience was one that happened because I was too young and naïve to say no, or because I had agreed to let a Republican in. I wonder if my interest was misguided, because looking for insight never helped me get over my November loss.
Today, I’m tired of believing that I need to change anything about my values because the divide between a man and myself is what led to Donald Trump’s victory. The only experiences that made me feel better involved fighting. I stood with hundreds of thousands of women and men and children at the Women’s March in Chicago, and I marched to Trump Tower to glower at the imposing building. I willed myself to be stronger because I was arm in arm with allies.
In the last few months, a new revolt has taken shape, as powerful men are finally being held accountable for their actions. The Harvey Weinstein effect is in full motion, and I feel more powerful than ever to say no. It’s not my job to close to divide by proving I can love a Republican who voted for a reality TV star to be President of my country. And I don’t have to take any more time to see if I can, or to understand if that’s not reason enough to say no.
Today, I don’t have a checklist for a perfect match, but to me, there’s nothing hotter about a man who will look me in the eyes and say, “I’m with her.”