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Can you be in a relationship with someone who has different politics to you?

We spoke to the people trying to form a coalition of chaos in the bedroom

Can you be in a relationship with someone who has different politics to you?
28 June 2017

With research showing opposing political views led to nearly 2.7 million people in the UK ending a relationship in 2016, forging a meaningful relationship with someone whose political views differ to your own can end in embarrassment, a break down in trust, or the realisation that you had totally the wrong idea about someone you thought you knew. Or it might just add a sexy new wrinkle to your dynamic.

“My girlfriend and I met just after the Labour leadership election was announced in 2015,” Laurie tells me. “We argued about it on our first date. I was backing Liz Kendall; she was backing Corbyn. Politically we agree on very little. I’m a social democrat, and she’s a socialist. I love New Labour; she thinks Blair is worse than the devil. But the best thing is: we love it.

“We’re essentially on the same side, but just completely disagree about how you change things. But it’s given us so many great conversations and debates.”

But not all such ideological disagreements result in a romantic tête-à-tête. Not every couple shares a subtle, stimulating conversation about nuance, like My Dinner With Andre only you shag at the end. And not all first dates are so up-front about affiliation.

"I just feel that Liz Kendall is the anti-austerity candidate" ('My Dinner with Andre' by New Yorker Films)

“I didn’t know about our differing political views when we started dating,” says Janae about her current boyfriend. “It's really just come to light in more detail from the past election and current political climate. I'm Labour. He voted Conservative but only because UKIP folded…

“Lately, it's made me see him differently as it has become more out in the open,” she adds. “Chats in the pub have definitely become more heated.”

Joshua was going out with his now ex-girlfriend for years before their political beliefs came up in conversation. “I think she always knew that I wasn't as left-wing as her, but she didn't think I was an actual Tory.”

Describing himself as not-your-average “dyed-in-the-wool shit-haircut who loves Thatcher”, Joshua says that, for a long time, he simply found the Conservative party the most palatable on offer. “I remember we were driving somewhere, listening to the radio, when I said I couldn't believe how anyone could see Ed Miliband as the prime minister.” His response was met with total silence. “From then on,” he says, “every time I raised anything political, it was tuts, sighs, and pained expressions. She treated me like I was a child; too stupid to know that her opinions were the only correct ones.”

“I once dated a guy who told he was going to vote UKIP ,” says Brenda, a Malaysian immigrant who lives in London. “I was very unhappy with that. I thought it was a joke but he was adamant that they'd be ‘fighting for workers’ rights’.”

The things people end up arguing over can range from the abstract to the severe; differences in opinion based on research and reason or a knee-jerk response to side with the thing that helps them out most, even to the detriment of others. These things can speak to the wider narrative of relationships.

“My wife was never that into politics,” says Steve, from Yorkshire, “but I know she has voted Lib Dem at one point; I think it was for Clegg in 2010. Now she has a good job and earns good money and [in the last election] she voted Conservative, mainly down to how she perceived Corbyn's manifesto pledge of taxing high earners to pay for Labour spending would affect her personally.

“This seemed daft as the increase in tax wouldn't be that much against the benefits we could potentially receive going forwards,” Steve admits. His partner’s choices haven’t caused arguments per se, but it has been a source of disappointment for him. “Our local A&E is under threat of closure, and it is something that saved our daughter's life a couple of years ago. I dread to think what would've happened had it been closed and the nearest one been over six miles away.”

Others have found such choices even harder to ignore. Amy is a Remain-voting Labour supporter and her boyfriend of three-and-a-half years a Brexit-voting Tory. “At first, we kind of just assumed we thought the same,” she says, “but I also think we both started more in the middle and then swept outwards quite drastically…”

“[The difference] has got worse over time,” she adds. “And now, I can't help but feel his voting has human rights issues, not just a question of which is a better economics policy. I try to vote for who is going to protect and help the most people, reduce inequality the most, etc. I hate that this might come across as ‘the left taking the morally righteous road’, but I do end up thinking less of him or thinking that perhaps he lacks empathy.”

She admits that now she feels more critical of him, more suspicious of his "jokes", and that it has caused a strain on their relationship. “He definitely resents me for the goody-two-shoes stuff,” Amy says. “As soon as I started to be more pro-content warnings, checking my privilege, and being mindful of cultural appropriation, I think he suddenly felt – as a privileged white male – very much the victim.”

The lines each of us draw in the sand, where our forgiveness ends, differ from person to person. Amy now says she’s been “saved by the bell” as her partner is moving to a new job on the other side of the world. A lucky escape. “We’ve both decided that we are way too young to try make that work,” she says, “but I wouldn't be surprised if this decision was slightly easier to come to because of his politics. In the meantime, I’ll just avoid talking about it with him... and avoid hanging out with him and his friends.”

“I'm not going to pretend that it's the first time I've got stick for being Tory,” says Joshua about the demise of his relationship. “However, you’d assume that if you've been going out with someone for literal years then they should know you well enough to not be surprised if you hold a different view to theirs.

“We didn't break up over it, but we had a lot of arguments. She would call me evil; I would say she was ignorant and closed-minded and we wouldn't speak for a while. It was a fucking pain in the arse.”

Of her UKIP-supporting ex, Brenda says: “Knowing him I don't think he really attempted to be fully informed about the situation, but didn't intend to hurt my feelings. Admittedly I was strangely besotted so it hurt but I balanced it out with how much I fancied him. I dated him for a few months after that, then ended it when he insulted my sister.”

However, Janae is more optimistic for her UKIP-sympathising Tory boyfriend. “I think the other things we have in common – our other hobbies – shape us more as a couple than our political alliances,” she says. “I would still date him even if I just met him now and found out his views. People can be different and still have a lasting relationship… until we have kids.

“I think it's incredibly important to listen to people with opposing views or you just become more intolerant. I value his opinion (even if it is wrong....) although I think I'll always end up having more leverage with any kids we have,” she laughs. “But to be honest, maybe having two parents with such opposing views will make them more well-rounded: a bunch of little left-wing capitalists.”

“At the end of the day, how much does it even matter?” says Joshua. “I'm not running for office, I'm not trying to change the country... I just fail to see how my views affect who I am as a mate or a boyfriend or anything else.”

Some names in this story have been changed.