Around 19 years old, I took what I now tell myself was a more mature look at my life and decided on some important standards that needed to be fulfilled. More specifically, I started thinking about my love life: What kind of partner am I looking for? What characteristics are important to me? Who am I compatible with and how does my family fall into place? And obviously most importantly, what would my “Notebook” ending kiss look like? As I answered these questions, I started to consider which qualities were absolutely essential in a potential partner, and I came up with a list. Well, ish.
My expectations for an ideal partner aren’t probably far from yours (nor from a Disney princess’s for that matter). He should be respectful, smart, engaging, open-minded and caring. He must appreciate Chinese culture, and just liking Panda Express doesn’t cut it. I’d like for us to be great friends, support each other and communicate well with one another. These are all important qualities, but there’s one more.
I’m a very liberal person. I consider myself an activist and feminist. I plan on making a career in social justice and political advocacy. So it probably doesn’t surprise you that “liberal” falls into my list of crucial characteristics. I work at the Women’s Center for goodness sakes. He obviously needs to be pro-choice, pro-feminism and pro-Obama.
Well, I guess my highly conservative, pro-life former partner from Tennessee who studies finance (shocker!) and reads incessantly about the economy and voted for Mitt Romney and thinks America will fall into the DEPTHS OF DESPAIR during Obama’s second term didn’t quite cut it, huh? Ifyousayitinonebreathitisnotsobad.
Whenever I shared this tidbit with friends or mentors, I was met with “GASP! What?!” or a side-cocked head and puzzled expression. It was usually followed by “How is that working out for ya?” or “Interesting … didn’t see that one coming.” Ha. Trust me, neither did I.
We’re different. Maybe that’s weird. I certainly had my doubts. But maybe it’s okay. Maybe it’s okay to become really close to someone who thinks differently than you and who is willing to challenge you. He didn’t blindly take what I said or how I thought and agree with me; he forced me to think twice to truly recognize my individual point of view. On a similar note, I challenged him to think more open-mindedly about race and gender relations, privilege and the power of stories. I realized that being conservative didn’t mean being incompatible or disrespectful. It just meant, well, different from me.
My like for him didn’t delegitimize my passion for liberal politics (far from it), nor did it mean it was my responsibility to “enlighten” him. Entering a relationship or friendship with that mindset would leave any sane human being absolutely exhausted and disappointed. At the same time, however, I didn’t hide the fact that I wished he would have supported several of my beliefs, nor did I cover up my anger or disbelief when some sexist scandal hit the news. He recognized that my responses to racism, sexism and stereotypes are a part of who I am, and I learned that his commitment to the free market is a part of who he is. Our desire to move forward allowed us to engage and talk about uncomfortable topics. We learned how to address touchy subjects together and respectfully challenge each other, which meant no smirking. We were open-minded and willing to understand each other’s points of view. (“Wait, Jaimie, can you explain what you mean by feminism?” #progress.)
Before, it was so simple for me to write someone off when they didn’t share my views (screw you, Mittens), but once I invested in a strong relationship with someone, and once I started to throw my biases and assumptions out the window, writing someone off as ignorant or insensitive would really just make me ignorant, insensitive and hypocritical. But similarly, for him to write me off as “too” sensitive or as someone who blew things out of proportion would have been pointless as well. Although we are no longer together, I can’t say it was due to political differences. Luckily, he’s still one of my closest friends.
Recent events on campus have really challenged the entire student body. They have demonstrated that people react differently to the same thing, and that generalizations, attacks and undermining stories affect real people. But when we begin to tear down our defensive walls, we not only learn more about our friends, partners and fellow peers, but also tap into things we didn’t know about ourselves. My past relationship has taught me that this is not just one person or one party’s responsibility, but everyone’s. Maybe rather than writing each other off, we can learn how to communicate. We can discover that we all embody unique backgrounds that delve deeper than the generalizations that characterize conservatives, liberals, fraternity men, Asian women, Duke students and more. And in that process of this discovery, no smirking please.
Jaimie Woo is a Trinity senior. Her column runs every other Monday. You can follow her on Twitter @jwoo9913.