When we went to London for a week, I dragged J to dinner with an ex-boyfriend from my semester abroad in college. The ex e-mailed once I was back home to tell me he was worried about me. It was crazy. Here was a sweet, sincere guy—someone who had nursed his mother through breast cancer, who refused to gossip or even tell white lies, who had a knack for smoothing away my neuroses, who made me feel safe, who willingly went to dinner with an ex-boyfriend while we were on vacation.
It felt strange to have to defend a guy who felt so right for me to friends who had tolerated men who were so wrong for me. Would they really rather see me with the one who dumped me over the phone with no explanation after two years? Or the one who cheated?
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I considered starting a bipartisan-couple support group. The slogan was obvious—"What would JC and MM do?" Maybe Carville and Matalin would keynote the inaugural conference. If not, there was always Shriver and Schwarzenegger.
And there were plenty of couples like us to recruit. I knew three personally. It was a relief to socialize with them, because the men could talk about Republican things, and the women could rest easy knowing that the evening would be free of people positioning themselves squarely against our partners in their quest to be crowned Best Liberal. Why were we putting ourselves through this, I wondered? What was the attraction?
When I asked Helen Fisher, anthropologist and author of Why We Love, she was stumped. "Our brain chemistry for attraction is so strong," she said. "It really could enable you to overlook the fact that someone has three heads." (She, it should be noted, is a Democrat.)
She added that there are no data to indicate that we'd be more or less attracted to someone of a similar political stripe. We do gravitate toward people who come from a similar socioeconomic level; who have comparable levels of intelligence, education, and good looks; and with whom we share a sense of humor and religious values.
She brought up what she calls a "love map"—a subconscious list we've been making since we were kids of what we're looking for in a mate. It may include a sense of humor like our father's, or a relationship with a lot of teasing. I wondered if that effortless feeling of familiarity with J was related to my parents being Republican.
Fisher also mentioned the social-exchange theory of attraction—that we want a person who can give us what we need and vice versa. This is the rich man/beautiful woman theory. The material exchanged can also be intellectual. Fisher, a scientist, values her own partner for his literary acumen. Which Love Language Do You Speak?
It's easy to list what I get from this exchange with J: He knows every joke from every Simpsons and Seinfeld episode. He's sentimental—he can't throw away birthday cards from five years ago. He's goofy—we have running jokes like the one about writing a musical called "Crazy Town" (long story).
He's careful and deliberate, when I am . . . well, neither. And, like me, he's passionate about what he believes. Maybe my attraction to J is like the appeal of a guy who's been engaged—you think that if he's been there, done that once, he's not afraid of commitment. With someone who's passionate about his beliefs, you know he has the capability to feel the same way about you.
J moved to Philadelphia. He's been here about a year, and it looks like, yes, Mr. Right is Mr. Right. Being with him hasn't changed my views, except that I'll never again jump to conclusions about someone based on their political affiliation. We're okay with continuing to cancel out each other's vote—at least on a national stage. (Philadelphia politics is its own hairy beast.) I'm not worried about how our future kids will vote—I think it'll be to their benefit to see both sides.
For the most part, my friends eventually discovered J's good qualities. The old friend with the beach house came around—and didn't throw sand. I don't think my English ex will ever stop worrying. (The Brits really hate Bush.)
I suppose there will always be the people who get to know J before finding out that he's Republican and then look at him as if his face is melting. And some friends and acquaintances do continue to funnel their rage toward the current administration and the ongoing war at J. At these moments, when I can manage to get a word in, what I try to tell them is what they're already preaching: Peace.
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Ed note: Reader, they married.