In Trump's America, should you bring up politics on the first date?

Jenna Birch
Contributing Writer
Yahoo Lifestyle
Illustrated by Thoka Maer for Yahoo Lifestyle
Illustrated by Thoka Maer for Yahoo Lifestyle

If you’re an faithful reader of this column, you likely know that I’m not one to play by romantic “rules.” But in the classic, unspoken dating-etiquette canon, there’s typically a trifecta of topics people are told to avoid in the early days of dating: exes, religion, and politics. Today, I want to discuss the politics of bringing up politics with a prospective partner.

In the current highly contentious political climate, daters are eager to cut to the chase with respect to their political dealbreakers. If you peruse profiles on dating apps or sites, you’re likely to see tons of people who do not even want to connect with those who have differing political beliefs. According to my informal Instagram polling on the subject, roughly 40 percent claim that diverging social or political opinions are dealbreakers.

Lily is one such woman. On recent first and second dates, she was already discussing the political issues of the day with two separate men. With the first guy, a heated exchange over  the New York Times’ coverage of climate change killed all sparks (and hopes of another date). With the second, they disagreed about who exactly should take the primary role in educating the masses about privilege and systemic racism. “I wondered too if my being Latina is what sparked his interest, if he thought I’d have things to teach him,” she explains. “He actually dumped me, to be totally transparent.”

However, this isn’t all bad. If politics are important to you, as they are to many, seeing if your date’s views align with yours can actually create mutual butterflies — or quickly kill a relationship that might be better off dead. In fact, 54 percent of the people I polled were pro-politics on first dates. Should you be too? Let’s discuss.

Illustrated by Thoka Maer for Yahoo Lifestyle <br>
Illustrated by Thoka Maer for Yahoo Lifestyle

The more it matters to you, the sooner you should bring it up.

There are those who are socially conscious and very politically involved. Issues such as women’s rights, school shootings, education, the environment, immigration, and more factor heavily into the way they see the world and operate within it. There are those who are a bit more agnostic in their political beliefs; less glued to what’s happening, or uninterested in firmly committing to a party or side. And there are those who think politics are private. No matter where you fall on the spectrum, it’s fine. But finding someone who’s closely aligned with your intensity level is going to minimize conflict.

You know how high the issue of politics ranks on your list of dealbreakers, and you should proceed accordingly. If you prefer someone who is tightly aligned with your core political values, you should bring it up sooner rather than later. Assume there isn’t going to be a “right” time to bring it up, and look for a natural way to open the conversation — maybe you read a great article on immigration before your date, or there was a conference-room debate at work about gun violence. If you find yourself circumventing your day-to-day feelings on politically bent subjects, you should bring it up.

Aim for open-minded discussion, not debates.

Especially in the early days of dating a new person, you shouldn’t be looking to cause arguments or persuade someone to believe what you believe. You should, however, be looking to (1) have fun; (2) understand your date’s point of view on myriad important subjects; and (3) decide if you’re cool with that.

You date, in part, to gauge compatibility. You do not date to “educate the masses,” so keep that in mind when you discuss politics with prospective partners. Be respectful of all beliefs, and ask thoughtful questions to educate yourself on their opinions. If they wind up seeing an issue in a new way as a result of great, open-minded discussion, that’s amazing. But do not enter a politics-related dating conversation with the goal of converting your partner to your side. That’ll turn into unsavory conflict in a hurry.

Know where your “line” is, and state it.

Depending on what you’re looking for — casual dating partner, life partner, or anything in between — you may have some different feelings. For instance, maybe you’re a liberal who is cool with casually dating a conservative person, but you really cannot see a long-term future with someone who doesn’t share your values. Or maybe you’re a moderate who prefers someone open-minded, instead of a person firmly planted on one side for all issues. Want whatever you want, but be honest about it.

Once you’ve realized how someone leans politically, as well as how you feel about it in the bigger picture, you should state that clearly and directly — even if that’s “I’m having a lot of fun with you right now, but I can’t see this going anywhere long-term because we differ so heavily in our politics.” Politics may or may not be a dealbreaker for them, but dating someone without the hope of a potential future might be. Let each person make their own decision about you based on all the data.

Don’t let discomfort scare you from having important conversations, but don’t force the conversations either.

Long story short: I am a staunch advocate of going rogue with the old rules and getting your political beliefs on the table early. I could not be happier that some people are straight-up listing their religious and political dealbreakers right away in their dating profiles. I think it’s an important strategy to filter in the prospects you want to meet, while filtering out those who are simply incompatible. Even if you’re getting fewer matches overall, those you do match with will likely be better suited for you.

That said, if politics are low on the lineup of issues that really matter to you, then forget about it. No need to worry about something that feels like it doesn’t have a natural home in your dating life.

Jenna Birch is the author of  The Love Gap: A Radical Plan to Win in Life and Love (out now, from Grand Central Life & Style). Her relationship column appears on Yahoo every Monday. To ask her a question, which may appear in an upcoming post, send an email to jen.birch@sbcglobal.net with “Yahoo question” in the subject line.

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