Dating Across the Aisle in the Age of Trump

The common sentiment that “politics makes strange bedfellows” has taken on a darker twist in our Trumpian world. The last presidential election opened up a gaping wound in our country that has bitterly divided many friends, families and lovers. There are increasing reports of marriages and relationships on the verge of dissolution, or that have fallen part altogether, because of irreconcilable political differences. A 2017 survey conducted by Wakefield Research found 22 percent of Americans (including 35 percent of millennials) knew a couple whose relationship or marriage had been adversely affected by Trump’s election.

Houston-based sex therapist Mary Jo Rapini has noted that the lack of definitive leadership currently found in American government has been spilling over into people’s love lives. Political feuds have become lovers' quarrels. Further, the toxicity of social media is agitating couples.

“When they’re fighting, they bring in their phones and show me their texts,” explains Rapini. “Social media has become a big part of it. It’s a problem with the conflicts they have, what’s posted. It’s a problem with the trust issue in a relationship. There are a lot more emotional affairs and infidelity. People are overworked, they're overstressed, they're worried about what's happening with their futures.” She also adds: “We used to talk about sex all the time. We don't talk about that anymore.”

An intense dating encounter inspired actor, writer, and singer Samia Mounts to create her podcast Make America Relate Again, the first season of which found the liberal performer debating topical issues with conservatives to better understand them. The event in question occurred after she met someone at a Boston wedding on New Year’s Eve 2016. “He was super cool, super charming, checked all the boxes, and then I [later] found out that he voted for Trump,” recalls Mounts. “I couldn't deal with it, and I ended up being really mean to him and yelling at him in a bar, even though he was so, so sweet to me. He was willing to listen to me. I wasn't willing to listen to him.”

Concern over women’s rights under Trump fueled her rage. “The anger that I felt and how uncontrollable it was in that particular situation was what made me decide to make this podcast,” explains Mounts. She soon relocated to Korea because of the toxic social environment in the States. A year later, the man contacted her to see how she was doing, and she apologized for the way she acted.
I just don't know how you maintain an erection for somebody who has ideas that make you furious.
“I don't think I would've dated him, but I wish I had treated him better,” says Mounts. “I wish I hadn't been such a bitch because I believe in compassion for people, and I wasn't compassionate in that situation.” While her podcast has grounded Mounts and helped her let go of her anger, she still cannot date anyone super conservative or a Trump supporter. “I just don't know how you maintain an erection for somebody who has ideas that make you furious.”

Lila Donnolo, founder of a sex-positive house in Brooklyn and host of the Horizontal With Lila podcast, was in a year-long relationship with a man whom she originally thought was more aligned with liberal beliefs. He was sexually open, and he was into meditation, crystals and reiki (which, it turned out, helped him cope as a recovering alcoholic). Like any couple, they had differences. Six years his senior, she does not want children whereas he does. She says that there were also concerns about how his rigidly conservative family might respond to her free-spirited nature, and they also had differing thoughts on kinkiness. He wanted to try some group play situations, whereas she felt they were not ready as a couple for that.

“We were together when Trump was elected,” recollects Donnolo, the daughter of a Brazilian immigrant, which contrasted with his wealthy white upbringing. “I was devastated. It's the first time I can remember when I had woken up in the morning crying. I called him looking for support, and he was questioning me as to why I felt that way.” All she wanted was a hug and consolation, but he did not understand why she was upset because he felt that Trump and Clinton were not much different.

Donnolo reports that their split was ultimately propelled by his anger management issues, and she realized they were not compatible. Their political differences certainly widened their growing divide. “To me, most Republican politics are unconscionable,” says Donnolo. “So to have that person as my lover, I started to close up physically toward him after that. We [originally] had pretty hot sex, and by the time we broke up, I was almost not even kissing him. I basically shut down. He felt that I was not truly liberal because I didn't respect viewpoints other than my own.” Donnolo says that he did not deceive her about his views. “I just never asked him because I assumed that he was like me,” she says.
How can you look at someone that supported the man who said these [misogynistic] things and trust them to be decent toward you?
Felicia Canales, a 32-year-old leasing agent, says she proudly wears a “Make America Great Again” baseball cap on her online dating profile, which has drawn criticism from some people. She also lost some friendships because of her pro-Trump stance. But her dating experiences have been varied.

“I actually meet guys who will be Democrat and hate Trump,” says Canales. “I don't know if it's because they want to date me, but they turn over a new leaf and are leaning more towards Trump.” She adds someone she has seen recently shifted his political perspective more toward hers after they began dating. Canales remarks that during the election things were harder than now. One man she dated tried to debate her about Trump every morning.

“It wasn't a problem because I'm pretty laidback, but it can be a problem for other people,” says Canales. “I remember another time I met this guy, and we were talking about politics during the election. He was just so upset by my point of view that he just got up and left. 'You're hot, you're nice, but I wouldn't date anybody with your point of view.' And just left. I was like, 'Oh my God.'”

Emotions have been running high since Trump took over, and that has been the cause of much dating turmoil. “As soon as Trump was elected president, it seems like half the country lost their minds and have been very very angry since then,” says adult film star Ashley Sinclair. “I personally couldn't be intimately involved with someone who was so weak that an election would affect them to the point where they lost self-respect and control.”

While not affiliated with a political party, Sinclair describes herself as a constitutionalist and capitalist whose views “mostly align with conservatism except in some probably very obvious areas,” and her partner's beliefs align with hers. Sinclair was raised and lives in the Bible Belt, and she believes in treating others as people first before making an informed decision on whether to be friends, business associates, or intimate.

“I receive friction all the time, especially from many in the adult industry,” remarks Sinclair. “However, there are some very mature professionals who care more about their business than my political beliefs, and I've been able to work well with them regardless. I see things as if we have more in common than we disagree on, and when we focus on that, magic is made.”
It seems that no matter what political side one favors these days, the onslaught of media is wearing down people and their sex drives.
As a New York City-based liberal, 26-year-old video producer Tom Caswell has not dealt with dating drama on the political front, but when he went home to visit childhood friends in rural Delaware, he saw a widened rift between many of them.

“I knew people who were with each other for a long time,” says Caswell. “They were totally on track to be the high school sweethearts that got married, but now one of them, usually the female, was living here in New York. [They] obviously had a more liberal mindset. When I talked to them, the election was not what broke them up, but it was just like: ‘We have such a vast difference in how we view society and how we view where we're going as a people.’ It had driven an irreparable wedge between them.”

Caswell also recalls hearing from a moderately conservative female friend who went on a date with a Trump supporter who played coy with his political stance until she pulled it out of him. “She didn't leave right then and there,” he recalls. But she had no plans to let her date walk her home or invite him back. “How can you look at someone that supported the man who said these [misogynistic] things and trust them to be decent toward you?”

New York couple Briar and Matthew Sambolin have experienced marital friction over their political divide but still make their union work. She is a liberal, and although he has traditionally leaned Democrat, he proudly voted for Trump in this last election. Matthew has recently been working as an operations manager for a major conservative radio station, and he admits that has probably helped sway his beliefs. But he also declares that many of his views—such as supporting Planned Parenthood and gay rights—are more on the left. Different relatives of theirs have divergent political views as well.

“Me and my wife respect our views,” explains 36-year-old Matthew, who is half Puerto Rican and half Jewish. “We share some views on a couple of topics where we both feel the same way. But I basically tell people, look, I shouldn't be defined by my political beliefs. There's a lot more to me than just that. I'm not a proud Trump supporter. I'm not wearing a Make America Great Again hat, but I'm very happy with the job he's done thus far and am happily going to reelect him.”

By contrast, 30-year-old Briar, who is half Salvadoran, was horrified by the election of Trump and his values, and she has had some liberal friends who have since spewed anger at her for being with him. But she keeps her political angst in check with her husband. “I know my husband, I know his values, I know his points of view on things,” says Briar. “I respect him, and I've been with him for 10 years. But if I was single, and I saw him on a dating app with a MAGA hat, I probably wouldn't even get to know him to know that his views might be different.”

“Everyone labels Trump supporters as racist, xenophobic and homophobic, and I'm not any of those things,” asserts Matthew. “I come from a multicultural family. I'm for immigration and for immigration reform. I didn't believe in the Muslim ban. Even though I voted for Trump, morally you can't support everything this guy says. He does say some stupid shit. You just have to call him out on it.”

Sometimes even couples who share similar views can feel political fatigue. A 46-year-old urban professional, Roger* lives with his girlfriend, a fellow liberal Democrat who also loathes Trump. While they have marched and protested together against his various policies, she cannot maintain his level of outrage on a daily basis. “I've found that my girlfriend gets upset when I talk more aggressively or display more anger and frustration about Trump,” admits Roger. “It almost seems like she doesn't want to talk about it too much because she knows it will just get her extremely angry and feel frustrated and relatively powerless to do anything about it.”

“She's talked about the danger of getting high on your own self-righteous anger, which I also acknowledge is a pitfall of this whole topic,” continues Roger. “But I feel that I'm being reasonable and not just becoming a one-man 24-7 ranting machine.” He tones down his rhetoric around her now. It seems that no matter what political side one favors these days, the onslaught of media is wearing down people and their sex drives.

“We’re all tired,” says Rapini. “We just want to shut off the news, the media. There are more fantasies about escapism than I have ever witnessed as a therapist. “ Rapini concurs that politics have become “the true libido killer” and that couples are more concerned with their ability to connect than with their sex lives. She notes that couples who have been married a long time are faring better than those who are currently dating or not very serious. “I think what we're doing that may be unfair is we’re assuming, because they’re a Republican or a Democrat, [that they possess] certain traits that may not be true,” says Rapini. “A lot of what turns us off about the opposite side is what we're projecting onto them.”

The ultimate question is: Where do we go from here?