I'M SITTING ON THE COUCH reading “Joe Biden, Unchained” in New York Magazine. My boyfriend sits opposite me, taking his 50th scroll of Drudge Report for the day.
It's like this, often.
Anytime we watch the news, one of us is up in arms about the station’s bias. Debates after dinner quickly escalate to arguments about healthcare. And we never fight, let alone scream. It only—only—gets heated when we talk politics.
How do we survive in this relationship, let alone through this election? How does any couple overcome such a fundamental difference? Once, when a co-worker discovered that my boyfriend is a Republican, he laughed, like he knew something I didn't (and still might not). You’ll never marry him, he explained, with an uncomfortable amount of confidence. When I consider the weight of dating a Romney supporter, and what that means, it seems like a minuscule aspect of our otherwise easy relationship.
Until it doesn't.
The next morning, the same co-worker sent me an email with a news story about a Democrat's wife who threw her Republican husband's absentee ballot in the garbage. I secretly fear it's a glimpse of the future. This will be my life, I shudder at my desk.
I fire up a G-Chat message, scared of what the answer might be, but too curious to stop myself from sending it:
are you pro-choice?
or pro life?'
The ebb and flow of our relationship usually follows the advent of new policies like an EKG reading. If bills go to vote, hurdles present themselves accordingly. There was the time when—after an otherwise lovely dinner in the West Village—we got into it over the Chick-fil-A controversy. He is pro gay-rights, but argued that the city of Chicago was wrong to even try to boycott a business for a CEO's beliefs. I argued that in ten years (or hopefully less), gay discrimination will be looked at through the same lens as racial discrimination. It's inherently wrong, I screamed. To say you’re in favor of it is one step from a hate crime!
I usually cope with our differences the only way I really know how: By ignoring him. Or, occasionally, backing down. Changing an opinion is the kind of painful process neither of us choose to endure. Instead, we pretend to listen, and make lazy attempts to consider the other's stance. But in the end, there's no meeting of the minds. There's a moving of the feet, as in, we walk away from tender subjects.
When I was gearing up to write this, my editor asked me where my boyfriend stands on abortion. Almost as bad as an answer I don't agree with is the reality that I have no idea where he stands on abortion. The truth is, I've avoided asking questions about abortion entirely, because I know that the wrong answer might matter. A lot. Maybe too much. When I get back to my computer, I fire up a G-Chat message, scared of what the answer might be, but too curious to stop myself:
Are you pro-choice
or pro life?
Pro-choice, it turns out. Sweet relief. We're still standing.
Election night, though, presents another problem entirely. The morning before, I point out that we need to find a bi-partisan or unaffiliated bar to watch the election in tomorrow. He had other ideas. “I honestly don’t think I want to watch it with you," he explained. "Whoever wins, we both lose. If Barack wins, I'll be furious and inconsolable. If you're around, smiling and happy, I'll literally hate you.”
He barely backs down when I protest, and then offers a solution, maybe the first political peace offering we've ever really had: “We have to set up rules."
"Regardless of the outcome, no cheering or rubbing it in one another’s faces. Fair? I’m dead serious about this." He describes election night as “fifty times more intense” than watching his football team—the Texas Longhorns—lose a game.
[Yeah, he’s from Texas. And yes: I've been told his parents are the definition of capital-C Conservative, and have been fairly warned to not talk politics when I meet them for the first time this Thanksgiving.]
Come election night, we're unable to find a bar we can agree on, so we settle for watching the results trickle in, together, in our living room. He's unwavering: We have to watch Fox News. So I deal with Shepard Smith's blithe optimism for Romney's prospects. Even as Obama snags several battleground states, Smith's grin is unwavering. Then Obama wins Pennsylvania. I glance at my boyfriend over the top of my laptop, and watch as his smile slides off his face. He is gritting his teeth, and a grimace slowly envelops his face.
I expect a tight race, recounts well into the next day, but suddenly Fox reports Obama as the projected winner. I attempt to conceal my glee, but a squeal of unadulterated pleasure escapes my lips. He glares at me. Don't, he warns. Fox cuts to Obama's convention in Chicago. He flips on Assassins Creed 3 and tells me to watch Obama's victory speech in the bedroom.
I do an awkward victory dance before skipping off to the bedroom. I feel his angry eyes on me. I revel in Obama's domination with co-workers, and fire off overzealous tweets. I watch Obama's speech on how the nation fell in love with Michelle like he did.
I'm alone, in bed, in tears.
Eventually, he joins me under the covers. He's upset. He's half of this country. And—get this shit— I console him. I wrap my arms around him, even as he tells me he's mad at America, and me, by proxy. I remember something Obama said during his speech earlier: "Each of us... pursue our own individual dreams. We rise or fall together...as one."
The two of us have many shared dreams, but some of his beliefs cut far right from my own. What's it mean for us moving forward?
But, hey, that's America, right? We're lucky enough to be able to assert our opinions in safety, separately but together.
Maybe he's right, about my heart controlling my politics, instead of pragmatic sense. Maybe I'm right, about his mind interfering with his compassion for other humans.
But, hey, that's America, right? We're lucky enough to be able to assert our opinions in safety, separately but together. If we lived in a country fraught with perils for trying to cross ideological lines—and there are plenty—either our beliefs would be silenced or they'd create the kind of social barriers that'd prevent us from ever sharing an apartment to begin with. I've got the right to love who I want, on my own terms. Even if he's an unsympathetic, compassion-lacking monster (in the voting booth), I still find something to love about him, something that goes beyond any of that. And it begins to show itself as the key to any of it working in the first place: At the end of the day, it's the respecting of one another's opinions (and the ability to separate our own from the other person) that matters. It's ending the day, despite our differences, sleeping in the same bed.
In many ways, there are fewer things more American.