First let me explain that we have been together for nine years and married for the past five. My new husband was a confirmed Greek-American bachelor (my parents would be so proud…) I had known for more than 20 years, and without going into the ‘back story’ on how our union occurred, suffice it to say that getting to know and love nearly every other aspect of my husband’s personality, I was not prepared to find that we were politically at odds with one another.
It was around the first election of George Bush, then, that I found we had our differences in perception about candidates, issues, and both the lessons of America’s past as well as our vision for the country’s future. And at first, both of us were in disbelief that we could be so attracted to one another on so many levels but where politics and issues were concerned, it was as if we spoke foreign languages to one another other than Greek.
We likened ourselves to the everyday-people versions Shriver and Schwarzenegger or Matalin and Carville, regardless of which sex leaned which way. And if they could hold firm to their convictions on such a public stage, we decided that there was no reason we couldn’t learn the same sense of civility. But I can tell you that the road to this fragile sense of peace and respect we now hold dear was not so easy to accomplish at first.
Loud, slanted ‘discussions’ took place in our early days. Although we were never reduced to name-calling or heavy insults, it became clear which news stations we watched, which blogs we read, and who we considered to be the ‘expert sources’ on things all came into play. For a while we walked on eggshells with one another, trying hard not to let it affect the rest of what we found delightful in our couple-dom.
Let’s face it; verbal sparring can be so draining. A spirited debate with a stranger or casual friend might actually be fun, but when you’re testy with the one you hold close at night, the person who hands you romantic cards and gives you flowers at all the right times and still talks about how great you are, it stops being invigorating. It somehow turns personal and disrespectful and can begin to color everything you feel about him or her, instead of merely lending insight into who that person is.
Oh, we are not without our sense of humor about it, which more often comes into play when we are in the company of other couples, some of whom have the same ‘political-combatant’ roles with one another (it’s actually hilarious when that takes place, because then you’ve actually got a team mate.)
So what have we learned from all this and how did we come to this point of extreme civility? We learned that despite our midlife belief system, wrought through the decades by our upbringing, our experiences and our environment, there was no way we could change each other’s mind anyway. No article, no TV program, no news broadcast recorded on our DVR and shown to the other would suddenly turn a progressive liberal into a staunch conservative and or vice-versa. We weren’t in our 20s, when we might be open to a completely new set of criteria. Our lives had led us down the paths in which we found ourselves at the time we got together romantically, and truth be told, why would we want to change that person we found so damned appealing to begin with?
It occurs to me that much of politics in the (far) past was conducted civilly and that the arts of compromise, negotiation and a meeting-of-the-minds was considered a mark of an intelligent society, willing to work out its problems as it evolved into a higher form. Although the people who supported each side of the spectrum had their vociferous puppet mouthpieces, politicians in general seemed to hold a great amount of respect for one another. In the ’60s, I don’t remember the disgustingly dirty politics, the name-calling and the direct insults being thrown around. Oh, the feelings were there, but the expression of them was so much subtler. Perhaps that’s because we didn’t have 24/7 cable ‘entertainment news’ and ‘talking heads’ on panel shows that tried to convince us they were experts in those days – who knows? We had Huntley-Brinkley, Walter Cronkite, and our trusty newspapers to report hard news. Those entities considered us intelligent enough to take the news of the day and interpret it. No one told us what to think (except, perhaps, our parents), and I liked that just fine.
As you may have noticed, I have not revealed which of us leans which way. Sure, I could make this into a bully pulpit to tell you what I believe and why, but in the end, there is only one thing that is important. We. Voted. And it is that one ballot cast that might either cancel out each other’s, or it might just take the place of thousands of people’s votes — those who held the same beliefs we did but didn’t bother participating in the electoral process. The amount of weight attached to that one vote for either team might have made a big difference in the big scheme of things.
And so we remain friends, lovers, and political opposites. By now I think anything else might be boring. Besides, if one of us ends up being wrong about what we believe, we can honestly say that we did not get to that point by having been browbeaten by the people we cherish most in life.