Dating in the run-up to the US Presidential election

Dating in the run-up to the US Presidential election

Some singles want to know if their potential matches are civically engaged, even on a basic level

A torn voting sign lies on the pavement, in Philadelphia. Credit: Reuters.

Rebecca Cibbarelli, 23, was texting with a man on Hinge while Sen. Kamala Harris and Vice President Mike Pence debated on her TV screen in early October. When she told her match what she was watching, he said he didn’t know who either of the people in the debate were, or which political office they were running for.

“We’ve been in a global pandemic for eight months, and there’s been so much social and political change,” said Cibbarelli, a mental health worker in Princeton Junction, New Jersey. “How have you not even taken interest in it when you’re stuck in the house? I was working 60 hours a week, I started school and I’m still keeping up.” Suffice it to say, things didn’t work out.

In a year marked by partisan debates over the coronavirus pandemic, widespread protests for Black Lives Matter and a presidential election, politics is reaching deep into the lives of Americans, affecting not only their families, schools, taxes and health care but also their dating habits.

Some singles want to know if their potential matches are civically engaged, even on a basic level. Others see their dates’ politics as indicators of compatibility.

A few daters expressed frustration about people who “virtue signal” — add phrases like Black Lives Matter to their profiles to show support for a cause — but do not seem to engage with the issues beyond their bios.

“You ask if they were at a protest, and it turns out that they weren’t or they give some sappy excuse for not being there,” said Jorge Clavo Abbass, 23, a graduate student and instructor at Ohio State University.

Data on Daters

In a survey, the dating app Bumble found that out of 50 factors women considered in a potential match, politics ranked ninth. (It came in behind smoking habits, family plans, life goals and relationship intent.) About 33-35% of all users said the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement have made them care more about the political views of their potential match, said Jemma Ahmed, Bumble’s head of insights.

“The conversations we have aren’t just about how our days are going anymore. They’re about unavoidable topics, like police brutality,” said Ashley Mack, 27, an aesthetician and surgery consultant in Sarasota, Florida.

Mack said that inaction in the face of this summer’s protests led her to end some of her platonic relationships. She also reassessed the qualities she looks for in a potential partner. “I’m more aware of things that are deal breakers for me and what I’ll tolerate,” Mack said. “You think long-term. What would they instill in your kid?”

On OkCupid, a dating site known for lengthy questionnaires that help people pin down potential partners, politics has become the most popular category. More than 1.2 million people who use OkCupid said they prefer to date people who share their political views. Women were more likely to say so than men. The platform recently began offering users a “voter badge,” a digital equivalent of an “I Voted” sticker.

People who have been out of the dating pool for a while may see this as a sea change. “For my generation and most generations before me, it was, ‘Do not talk politics until you’re down the path of a relationship,’” said Melissa Hobley, 40, OkCupid’s chief marketing officer. “Now it’s ‘I don’t even want to see you in my lineup of potential people to chat with if your politics on certain issues don’t align with mine, or if you are not a voter.’”

Political Deal Breakers

When Richard Schmitz, 31, a founder of a marketing agency, moved from New York to Scottsdale, Arizona, he said he was screened by a match. “I had a Hinge date who texted me, ‘Good morning, I think we need to get this out of the way,’” he said. She told him that most of her beliefs are very conservative, that she plans to vote for President Donald Trump, and that if her preference offends him, it is best for them not to meet.

Schmitz was pleasantly surprised. “In New York, it’s very normal and common to see a girl who has ‘If you vote Trump swipe left. Liberals only,’” he said. In Manhattan, he found his dating pool limited and turned to Filter Off, a platform that offers virtual speed dating sessions for people with specific interests, like veganism, the ketogenic diet or a political party. After his struggles in New York City, he said the text he received in Scottsdale was “refreshing.”

Living in New York, Pat Cassidy, 27, who works in investment banking, has found that a common deal breaker for potential dates is not necessarily his conservatism but whether he helped elect the current president. “The screening question is, ‘Did you vote for Trump or are you a Trump supporter?' ” he said.

Cassidy finds himself having to explain his politics, which are “right of center.” “Looking back five years, I do not know if I would have tried to explain myself that much pre-Trump,” he said. “I think the political climate generally has made me feel the need to be a bit more nuanced or tactical about how I position myself.”

As a proud Trump voter in New York City, Sam Baron, 31, who works in tech development, said he does not care about his dates’ politics, but they seem to care about his. “I dated a liberal once,” he said. “When she saw online that I loved Trump, she went way off the deep end on me.”

Recently, Jessica Zimmerman, 42, who owns a group practice for mental health counseling, has been rejecting men who do not see eye-to-eye with her on certain issues, like the separation of migrant children from their families at the US border.

“I’m a single mom and a business owner,” Zimmerman said. “I’m busy, and I hold my time somewhat sacred. I wouldn’t go on a date with someone who thinks that’s a policy we should uphold.”

Her political views have made dating a challenge in Indiana, a state Trump won easily in 2016. “I’m probably the minority where I live,” Zimmerman said. “In the past it didn’t profoundly affect dating. But the extreme divisiveness and the extreme policies have really brought a spotlight on politics.”

Finding Common Ground

Janine Owens, 38, who lives near Philadelphia and works in finance, will not categorically refuse to date someone based on their politics; though she is a registered Democrat, she does not always agree with the party’s policies. But early on, she will inquire how engaged her date is in local and national politics.

“Growing up, there were those unwritten rules of a first date,” she said. “Years ago I probably wouldn’t have brought up politics. Now, we’re definitely bringing it up in the first few weeks of dating.”

The pandemic, with its various pressures and the blue-versus-red debate around its management, has only sharpened existing political divisions.

“The pandemic has really impacted the way I date,” said Ann Nguyen, 25, who works in communications in Washington, DC “I’ve spent more time just talking to people.”

And what else is there to talk about? As Sarah Bettman, 31, who works in biotech in Santa Monica, California, put it, the pandemic “has to come up to a certain extent. When you’re talking about your day-to-day and your perspective on it, the politics and how it’s handled are an inevitable part of the conversation.”

Those conversations can make or break an early-stages relationship. “Dating during Covid, I’m putting myself at risk,” Cibbarelli said. “If we’re not in agreement to some extent, I’m not interested in breathing your air.”

For Elly Shariat, 38, a publicist in DC whose father and sister work at a hospital, the coronavirus has been a lightning rod in dating. “If I match with you and I see that you’re posting about attending an anti-mask rally, or you post something about masks being harmful and saying that we need to open up sports, that’s not just wrong and factually inaccurate,” Shariat said. “It’s a sign that someone is selfish. That lets me know that you won’t be giving in our relationship.”

Shariat, who did not take the role of politics in her dating life seriously before 2016, said she now leads with her values in her online profiles. “I’ve worked on Capitol Hill,” her bio reads. “I believe Black Lives Matter. I believe Covid-19 is real. And if you disagree with any of those we’re not a good match.”

She said some men have taken that as an invitation to troll her. “This guy told me that my own father and sister were lying to me about cases in the hospital,” Shariat said. “He said they must be getting money from big pharma.” When she told him that she did not think they were a good fit, he responded that she would never find love. Recently Shariat has been asking herself: “Do I take a pause until after this election? Do I move to another country to date?”

Nonetheless, she has no intention of hiding her opinions, nor of compromising her views. “I’m not necessarily looking for someone who mimics my beliefs,” she said. “But if you’re not actively speaking out against things going wrong and not working to make this world better, I don’t even want to have a drink with you.”

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