There’s a delightful scene in Spiderman: Far From Home:
“You look really pretty,” Peter Parker tells MJ, his voice nearly shaking. They stand in a theatre as an orchestra warms up.
“And therefore I have value?” MJ replies, peering at her crush from the corner of her eye.
“No,” Peter says quickly. “No, that’s not what I meant at all, I was just –“
“I’m messing with you.” A devilish smile crosses her face. “Thank you. You look pretty, too.”
To me, the moment hints at the need to insulate love from politics. In my own experience and in conversations with others, I’ve come across the perhaps not-uncommon question of how, in an age when politics has ventured into (some would say infected or poisoned) every aspect of life, do partners prevent division and discomfort? There are probably various answers, because there are various combinations of human beings and ideologies, but I’ll focus on what interests me the most and what the above scene most closely speaks to: love on the Left.
For partnerships of Leftists, or liberals, or liberals and Leftists, political disagreements may be rare (perhaps less so for the latter). But arguments and tensions can arise even if you and your partner(s) fall on the same place on the spectrum, because we are all, nevertheless, individuals with unique perspectives who favor different reasoning, tactics, policies, and so on. If this has never happened to you in your current relationship, you’ve either found something splendidly exceptional or simply not given it enough time. I recently spoke to a friend, D, who is engaged to E. They are both liberals, but D is at times spoken to as if this wasn’t the case, as if an education is in order, even over things they essentially agree on but approach in slightly different ways. Arguments can ensue. For me personally, there exists plenty of fodder for disagreements with someone likeminded: I’m fiercely against a Democratic expansion of the Supreme Court, and have in other ways critiqued fellow Leftists. This is what nuanced, independent thinkers are supposed to do, but it can create those “Christ, my person isn’t a true believer” moments.
If partners choose to engage in political dialogue (more on that choice in a moment), it’s probably a fine idea for both to make a strong verbal commitment to give the other person the benefit of the doubt. That’s a rule that a scene from a silly superhero movie reminded me of. MJ offered this to Peter, while at the same time making a joke based in feminist criticism. She could have bit off his head in earnest. Had she been talking to a cat-caller on the street, a toxic stranger on the internet, a twit on Twitter, she probably would have. But this isn’t a nobody, it’s someone she likes. Her potential partner and relationship are thus insulated from politics. She assumes or believes that Peter doesn’t value her just for her looks. He isn’t made to represent the ugliness of men. There’s a grace extended to Peter that others may not get or deserve. Obviously, we tend to do this with people we know, like family and friends. We know they’re probably coming from a good place, they’ve earned that grace, and so on. (There may be a case to extend this mercy to all people, until compelled to retract it, among other solutions, in the interests of cooling the national temperature and keeping us from tearing each other to pieces, but we’ll leave that aside.)
But thinking and talking about all this, which we often fail to do, seems important. How do I protect my relationship from politics? Hey, could we give each other the benefit of the doubt? Arguments between likeminded significant others can be birthed or worsened by not assuming the best right from the start. Each person should suppose, for example, that an education is not in order. I call it seeing scaffolding beneath ideas. If your person posits a belief, whether too radical or reactionary, that shocks your conscience, your first instinct might be to argue, “That’s obviously wrong/terrible, due to Reasons 1, 2, 3, and 4.” You know, to bite your lover’s head off. But this isn’t some faceless idiot on the screen. Instead, assume they know those reasons already — because they probably do — and reached their conclusion anyway. Imagine that Reasons 1-4 are already there, the education is already there, forming the scaffolding to this other idea. Instead of immediately correcting them, ask them how they reached that perspective, given their understanding of Reasons 1-4 (if they’ve never heard of those, then proceed with an education). No progressive partner wants to be misrepresented, to hear that they only think this way because they don’t understand something, are a man and therefore think in dreadful male ways (like Peter and the joke), and so on: you think that because you’re a woman, white or black, straight or gay, poor or wealthy, too far Left or not far enough, not a true believer. Someone’s knowledge, beliefs, or identity-based perspective can be flawed, yes — suppose it’s not until proven otherwise. These things determine one’s mode of thought; suppose it’s in a positive way first. “Well, well, well, sounds like the straight white man wants to be shielded from critique!” God, yes. With your lover, I think it’s nice to be seen as a human being first. I certainly want to be seen as a human being before being seen as a man, for instance. I don’t want to represent or stand in for men in any fashion. A disgusting thought. Some will say that’s an attempt to stand apart from men to pretend my views aren’t impacted in negative ways by my maleness — to avoid the valid criticisms of maleness and thus myself. Perhaps so. But maybe others also wish to be seen as a human being before a woman, a human being before an African American, a human being before a Leftist. Because politics has engulfed everything, there are so few places left where this is possible. It may not be doable or even desirable to look at other people or all people in this way, but having one person to do it with is lovely. Or a few, for the polyamorous. It’s a tempting suggestion, to shield our love from politics, to transcend it in some way (Anne Hathaway, in an Interstellar line that was wildly inappropriate for her scientist character, said that love was the one thing that transcended time and space — ending with “politics” would have made more sense). One way of doing that is to assume the best in your partner, and see before you an individual beyond belief systems, beyond identity, beyond ignorance. Again, until forced to do otherwise. All this can be tough for Leftists and liberals, because we’re so often at each other’s throats, racing to be the most pure or woke, and so on. There exists little humility. We want to lecture, not listen. Debate, not discuss. It’s a habit that can bleed into relationships, but small changes can reduce unwanted tensions and conflict. (If it’s wanted, if it keeps things spicy, I apologize for wasting your time. Enjoy the make-up sex.)
I do not know if rightwing lovers experience comparable fights, but I imagine all this could be helpful to them as well. They have their own independent thinkers and failed true believers.
An even better way to protect your relationship from politics is to simply refuse to speak of such things. Purposefully avoid the disagreements. This may be best for those dating across the ideological divide (though offering the benefit of the doubt would still be best for the Right-Left pairings or groupings that choose to engage in discourse). This may be surprising, but this is generally my preferred method, whether I’m dating someone who thinks as I do or rather differently. (I of course have a proclivity for a partner who shares my values, but I have dated and probably still could date conservatives, if they were of the anti-Trump variety. Some people are too far removed from my beliefs to be of interest, which is natural. This article is not arguing one should stay with a partner who turns out to have terrible views or supports a terrible man. This is also why “respect each other’s views” is a guideline unworthy of mention. Apart from being too obvious, it at some point should not be done.) Perhaps it’s because so much of my work, writing, and reading has to do with politics. I would rather unplug and not discuss such things with a mate, nor with many close friends and family members. Though it happens every now and then. If partners together commit to making this a general policy, it can be quite successful. And why not? While I see the appeal of learning and growing with your person through meaningful discussion of the issues, it risks having something come between you, and having an oasis from the noise and nightmare sounds even better, just as loving your partner for who they are sounds much less stressful than trying to change them.