The Last Taboos

What we all think about, but never talk about

Love Him, Hate His Politics

How a Liberal/Conservative romance endures

This November fifth, like every Election Day for the last three decades, I’ll show up faithfully at my polling place rain or shine, even if there’s another Hurricane Sandy in New York City. Once again, I’ll be pulling the levers for some people I actually agree with, for some I’m not crazy about, and for others I’ve barely heard of. As long as they’re Democrats, they can count on my support.

It’s a matter of moral obligation, not just civic duty: I’ve got to cancel out my husband’s vote.

For thirty-three years I’ve been happily married to a man with whom I violently disagree on every conceivable political issue, including abortion, gun control, and assisted suicide. I thought the recent government shutdown was absurd, infantile, and destructive; he was a fan. And not only is he a conservative Republican, he’s a professional conservative Republican, a Senior Editor of National Review, the leading journal of conservative opinion in the country.

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So why don’t we both just agree to stay home on Election Day? Because, even though I trust him with my life, I don’t trust him, and would never ask him, not to vote his conscience. It took our first decade together for me to accept that not even my considerable powers of persuasion as a psychotherapist—not to mention the self-evident correctness of my positions—would never make him change his mind, but, alas, it is so; he never even tried to change mine.

Other than my father, I never even knew any Republicans growing up, and certainly never had one for a boyfriend. But in my late twenties I joined a Renaissance singing group, and there he was—tall, clever, with intense blue eyes and a lyrical baritone. I couldn’t resist. I’d known and been treated abominably by too many men who shared all my opinions to let his convictions get in the way, and I’ve never regretted it. Our wedding was a bipartisan affair. My mentor, one of the early victims of the McCarthyite purges, gave me away, and my husband’s publisher, one of McCarthy’s most avid enforcers, gave a reading. Somehow everyone behaved, setting a trend that we have emulated with only a few brief exceptions ever since.

How have we managed not to kill each other? Open-mindedness has surprisingly little to do with it, and civility, self-control and mutual appreciation of what we have in common a great deal. It also helps that we have an enormous amount in common in every other arena; we are both professional writers, psychologically-minded, esthetic, nature-loving, and close-binding. Our temperaments are both similar and complementary, and we enjoy a rare degree of mutual appreciation, lack of envy, and boundless delight in each other’s company. He expresses his opinions in writing or with his colleagues, not in conversation with me, and I do the same. Over the years I have also come to know many of these colleagues—who disagree with me as much as he does—and count them as friends. It stretches the mind.

We rarely fight, at least about public policy, having learned over the years never to begin sentences when discussing the headlines with “Do you really support [fill in the blank]?” I reserve my opinions for my like-minded friends, and if they ask me, as they often do, how my charming and sensitive husband can possibly hold the opinions he does, I suggest they ask him directly. It takes tact and dexterity, but doesn’t marriage require these things of everybody? Doesn’t every couple have profound, even fundamental, disagreements, even if they vote the same ticket at the polls?

So I’m sorry for the growing number of people who look for love only on websites segregated, like TV networks, by redness or blueness. It’s really no better than a match by astrological sign, or any other external criteria, because the political beliefs people subscribe to say surprisingly little about their characters. They will never discover, as I did, that it’s possible to find a soulmate with whom the only thing you don’t have in common is politics.

Jeanne Safer, Ph.D., a psychotherapist in New York City for 40 years, is the author of 5 books on taboo topics.

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