The 2016 election year prompted many of my friends to install a new dating rule in their personal lives: dump Trump supporters. According to Pew Research Center, 58 percent of Hillary Clinton supporters say they would have a hard time respecting someone who supports Donald Trump, and four in 10 Trump supporters say they’d have a difficult time respecting anyone who’s still with her.
In the dating world, the president has emerged—in a weird, twisted way—as a sort of litmus test—another filter, you could say—for singles. In fact, 20 percent of couples say differing opinions on Trump have became a bigger stressor than money, according to a report released in April from Wakefield Research. Twenty-two percent of millennials have ended their relationships over political differences specifically.
I’m not shy about my political stance. I was born and raised in liberal Los Angeles by immigrant parents who proudly supported Mike Dukakis and Bill Clinton in 1988 and 1992. In November, I sported a Hillary-inspired pantsuit in the voting booth and teared up when I voted for a woman for president. I’m well aware that I live in a bubble (as a West Coaster who also writes and tells jokes for a living), but I am just as much as curious and eager to hear the other side (as a journalist always interested in finding truth). Plus, nobody is more insufferable than people who view their opinions as flawless—except maybe people those who feel that way about their abs. So I decided to go on a date with a Donald Trump supporter to see if, in 2017, dating across the political divide was even possible—or enjoyable.
Being with someone who see the world the same as you do is validating; it reinforces that your views are correct.
Before I started, the odds were already stacked against me, thanks to social psychology. As suggested above, people with extreme political differences either don’t get together often or, when they do, their relationships don’t last long. About one in 10 current married couples are a Democrat-Republican pair, according to a June 2016 study by FiveThirtyEight.com that analyzed party-registration patterns of married, heterosexual couples across 30 states. Researchers also found that male and female partners were registered with the same party in 70 percent of households.
That high figure shouldn’t surprise anybody: since the 1960s, studies have consistently shown that people are attracted to those most similar to them—what social scientists call assortative mating. And we don’t just go for people who hold similar attitudes, but also those who enjoy the same activities, come from similar backgrounds and are on our level of physical attractiveness.
We’re drawn to similarities for several reasons, but perhaps most important is the fact that being with someone who views the world the same way that you do is validating; it reinforces the sense that your views are correct. That’s something that always makes us feel good. Having a partner who is similar to you also offers some degree of security and predictability, because you know how they’ll likely to behave in the future. The negative effect of dissimilarity, actually, on attraction can overtake any positive effect of similarity.
So how does the science of attraction—and who we’re attracted to—play out in the dating scene today, when the only agreement our two reigning political parties can come to is that the other side sucks? I went looking for answers where every young person goes for clarity: a dating app.
FISHING FOR MR. RIGHT NOW
Living in Los Angeles—an artery to the heart of America’s mainstream media elite—and finding a MAGA maniac to date was tricky. Apps like Bumble tend to attract more liberal crowds, and even then, men don’t publicize their politics in their bios. I considered trying TrumpSingles.com (tag line: “Making Dating Great Again!”), because if Bumble was a playground for Hillary’s America, Trump Singles would be the same for his America. But the point of this wasn’t to pose as a Trump supporter and land a date as one. It was to see if a man who voted for Trump would be willing to go out with a woman who voted for Hillary.
And so, I settled on setting up a Match.com account, which has a spot for political beliefs in the profile questionnaire, meaning you can filter matches accordingly. Like Bumble, even Match gave me a limited, L.A.-based “conservative” database to select from. Match itself recently reported in February Trump isn’t a favorite among members; more than a third of single women on the site said they’d dump a Trumper after a first date.
After weeks of thoroughly searching for the right contender, I finally found him—in Orange County. Despite its glamorous reputation as the homeland of buxom housewives, pretty boys and Lauren Conrad, the OC is a historically conservative, milquetoast pocket between L.A. and San Diego cut more by strip malls than coastlines. Only recently has the sprawling county started to lean blue, due to increased Latino residents. In spite of having to make a 20-mile trek to see my match—which, as all Angelenos know, you just don’t do when you date in L.A.—I knew I would never find the right guy in my West Hollywood hood, which is basically a gay mecca. I didn’t want “left of center” or “right of center”; I wanted a purebred: 100 percent Trump supporter, 100 percent Mike Pence supporter, perhaps even 100 percent Betsy DeVos supporter.
I started the conversation like I do most of my conversations on dating apps: I commented on one of his pictures. Hours later and I still hadn’t received a response. As I was beginning to give up on this guy, he responded. We briefly chatted about dogs—I wanted to talk about something that had no chance of getting political—and then I suggested up we meet up to grab coffee or drinks. He agreed. Orange County, here I come.
THE FIRST DATE
After listening to two This American Life podcasts, I finally made it to the OC for my date. Although I knew I’d probably wouldn’t end up dating this guy long-term, I went into it as I would any other first date. We met up at a somewhat empty tapas bar, and he was surprisingly hotter than his photos let on. “Wow, you look better in person than you do in your pictures,” he, too, admitted to me. I couldn’t tell if he was being sincere or if it was just a line he always used to win over women. “Thank you, I was just thinking the same thing about you.”
As odd as it may sound, your political beliefs do influence how physically attracted you may be to someone. In a study called “The Politics of Beauty: The Effect of Partisan Bias on Physical Attraction,” published in the journal Political Behavior, researchers asked Americans in 2012, during that year’s presidential election, to rate the physical attractiveness of people labeled as either Mitt Romney or Barack Obama supporters. Those who identified as Republicans rated Obama supporters as less attractive across the board. Likewise, Democrats rated Romney supporters less attractive. And while men did not rate people within their same political parties higher, women did. “[Women might be] more discriminating than men when it comes to political compatibility,” researchers wrote.
I asked if he’d seen any good movies; ‘Kong: Skull Island,’ he said. He asked me the same. Without thinking, I answered 'Get Out.’
At the onset of our date, I tried my hardest not to broach politics, out of fear that I’d be mocked as a libtard feminist from West Hollywood. I don’t like to talk about politics on dates anyway, so for me, avoiding the topic felt normal. Luckily, we started by discussing our impressive list of commonalities: We both hate Google Maps, we both have nephews or nieces and we both like hockey. I began to think, “Holy shit, might this guy not be a sexist fucktard like his president? Could he actually be dateable?”
After some banter about the L.A. Kings and Anaheim Ducks, he ordered his second beer and then…brought up his ex. “You’re cool,” he said. “My ex hated all sports.” One of my biggest pet peeves is when men bring up their exes on first dates. I tried to change the subject, so I asked if he’d seen any good movies as of late. Kong: Skull Island, he said. He asked me the same and, without even thinking, I said I loved Get Out.
“Oh, I haven’t seen it. It’s a horror movie, right?”
“Yeah, but it’s a very different kind of horror movie. I highly recommend it. It was written and directed by Jordan Peele from Key and Peele. Do you watch that show?”
“No, I never heard of it, I don’t watch a lot of TV. Mainly I watch sports and the news.”
I decided to tell him how the news had been making me feel depressed lately.
“Why should it depress you?” he responded.
At this point, I was a little irked, but tried to keep it cool. “I’m worried about the state of our country, and the environment, and actually the world, frankly”. Without hesitation, he said, “I know the media says a lot of alarming things, but it’s important to stay chill and not be so alarmed by everything.”
I wanted to yell, “Are you fucking kidding me?!”, but I took a deep breath. “Well, they told my grandmother in Germany not to be alarmed when the Third Reich came to power, and she became the only surviving member of her family,” I replied.
At this point, I became angry that a straight white man from Orange County who was probably unaffected by the election was about to (probably) tell me to “calm down”—a sure fire way to piss off any woman, no matter the subject.
But then I reminded myself that this person had the integrity to go on a date with a Hillary voter, he decided to step outside his circle and toward mine. If my only response was to spew profanity at him, he’s going to retreat back into the mindset that got Trump elected in the first place.
So, in lieu of profanity, I give him a history lesson about my family, who came to Australia as refugees from Germany, and how that was the only way they survived the Holocaust. I made a connection to Trump’s Muslim band, and how him refusing to let refugees into America bothers me. “I see what you mean,” he said. “Issues that reflect what you’ve been through will always tug at your heartstrings.” He got quiet. “I’m sorry your family had to go through that.”
An awkward silence followed, so I diffused it by inquiring about his nieces. His eyes beamed with joy as he told me about how he had recently taken them to Disneyland, which was kind of adorable. It was getting late and frankly, the overdose of his cologne was making me nauseous. I thanked him for meeting me, hopped back in my hybrid and drove north to my liberal, rainbow bubble.
It turned out talking about his ex made him a weak first date—not his voting record.
THE DAY AFTER
Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by my dating experiment. My biggest turnoff? This Republican didn’t make me laugh once, and I’ve never had chemistry with people who can’t make me giggle. (I’m a comedian, mind you.) Beforehand, I imagined I’d go on a date with a red-hatted conspiracy theorist, not a decent-looking guy who seemed to make his nieces his priority. And even though we were separated by politics (and a long-ass drive), spending time with him forced me to, in a way, confront my own prejudices as well as how quickly I write off men. It turned out that his talking about his ex, his cologne and his overall lack of TV knowledge made him a weak first date—not his voting record.
Even though most of my single friends made a pact to avoid Trump voters socially after the election, psychology proves that it’s not impossible for even the most extreme sides to get along, even today. “Though difficult, we are able to form friendships and romances with people who belong to competing groups—including people from rival political groups—because of what sociologists call contact hypothesis,” says psychologist and sex educator Justin Lehmiller of The Kinsey Institute, who pens Playboy’s Hard Science sex column. “The hypothesis specifies that when people from different groups interact, the boundaries between them can break down and positive feelings can emerge if—and only if—certain conditions are met. For example, relationships are more likely to develop when people find themselves in cooperative situations working toward common goals. So, if, say, a Democrat and Republican decided to play a competitive game against one another on a first date, odds are it’s not going to turn out well. However, if they instead went rock-climbing and worked as a team, they’d stand a chance of putting their differences aside.” Thus explains why my Republican date’s love of being an uncle impressed me: I’m an aunt myself.
I never texted him after our date, and he didn’t text me either. That’s okay. Because these days, it’s easy for us to live in bubbles. We love our bubbles. We can follow and unfollow whomever we want on social media. We can watch whichever news channel spins the story in our favor.
But more than anything, we have to be willing—and eager—to step outside these comfort zones and safe spaces, and that’s what both I and my Republican date did. Because Democrats and Republicans live in such disparate worlds these days—some may even say separate realities—it’s hard to know how to invite people on the other side in, but it’s not that difficult. I did it with a dating app.
My Trump supporter dating experiment is long over. The election is over. Donald Trump is president. So let’s move on, and let’s get to work. It begins with setting the conversation for the next election—not swiping left on our adversaries’ faces.
Justin Lehmiller contributed to this report.