Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Would You Sleep with a Republican? The Difference Between Lovers and Friends

This Feministe post titled "Sleeping with the (Political) Enemy" was really interesting to me. Author Jill had this to say about the idea that people of opposing political parties who are married find common ground through bipartisanship and respect for one another's ideas: 
But I think that’s kind of bullshit. 
Obviously people can marry whoever they want, and this is just, like, my opinion man. But don’t marry someone who votes Republican. Don’t even sex someone who votes Republican. Why? Because the Republican party is hostile to women’s humanity. The Republican party is hostile to women having the most fundamental rights to their own bodies. The Republican party is hostile to gay people even existing, let alone enjoying the same rights and privileges as straight citizens. The Republican party campaigns on racism. 
Don’t sleep with that guy. 
This isn’t “just” politics. This is real peoples’ bodies and real peoples’ rights and real peoples’ lives.
Donkey VS Elephant!

I'm interested because, before this election, I've never really thought of it that way. 

I'm a staunch proponent of agonism and the idea that iron sharpens iron. I believe that disagreements are an important part of becoming a stronger thinker, and I really appreciate debate with those around me. If I'm trying to argue with you, it's probably a sign that I respect you. 

I have extremely close friends who I love dearly who vote pretty much the exact opposite of me. I value their friendship no less. I'll admit that there are times when I consciously don't talk politics with these people because the inevitability of the disagreement is somewhat exhausting, but it's also because we have plenty of other things to talk about. 

So it's been my stance that yes, two people can love one another, respect one another, and still hold completely different political views. 

Then this happened. That's a link to my post about the Todd Akin comment on "legitimate" rape. He followed that gem up by calling his opponent a dog who wasn't acting "ladylike" enough for his liking. Couple that with his desire to get rid of school lunch programs and it all adds up to a candidate that I just can't understand supporting. I understand not supporting McCaskill. I understand not believing what I believe. I just don't understand believing what Todd Akin believes. 

Luckily, he didn't win, so maybe the absolutely visceral reaction I have against him will just get to fade quietly away. 

But it was in my mind as I read the Feministe post. Could I marry someone who voted for that man? And if the answer is no, does that mean I'd divorce my husband if he'd cast his vote for him yesterday?

Marriage is Mutable, but What Change Can We Sustain

Right there in the most common marriage vows, we recognize that marriage is an unstable beast. "For better or worse; for richer or poorer; in sickness and in health." We agree that we're marrying not only the person who stands before us on that day, but also the person that person will become. We recognize that people and circumstances change. 

Some changes, though, are easier to stomach than others. 

If my husband had cast his vote for Todd Akin yesterday (which, I am very confident, he did not), that would have signified a change not just in his political party affiliation, but in his very essence. The problem would not be that his vote had an "R" next to it while mine had a "D." The problem would be that a vote for that candidate is--in some form or another--an endorsement of his beliefs. The man that I married did not endorse any of those beliefs, so that vote would represent a very drastic departure from where we started. 

I would not expect my husband to remain married to me if I suddenly started voting for people who actively attacked civil rights or supported the KKK, either. (Of course, in this case, Todd Akin represents that point of view, too.)

I expect the principles that my husband and I share in our marriage to align in some very fundamental ways. We are, after all, a life unit, and many of these principles are key to how I live my life. How can I enter into a unit with someone who is trying to de-rail what I'm doing with my life?

Why Are Friendships Different?

But I don't hold my friendships up to the same standard, and I've been having a hard time articulating why. I don't know that I would divorce my husband for voting for Todd Akin, but I do know that if he was the type of person who cast a vote for Todd Akin, I would not have married him. 

But there are a substantial number of residents of my state that did exactly that today, and I am friends with some of them (some of them may even be reading this though, probably not. That iron sharpens iron opinion doesn't seem that popular). I am related to even more of them. And I love them, and I care about them, and I value those ties. 

Jill--the author of the Feministe post--seems to be parsing out this difference, too. A commenter takes issue with the suggestion that you shouldn't be friends with the "enemy" and Jill replies that that's not what she said:
I have relatives and loved ones who are conservative Republicans. I love them despite their politics. There is no implied commentary about having platonic familial relationships with Republican relatives and other loved ones. 
I’m talking about making a sexual and romantic and in some cases legally binding commitment to a person who doesn’t believe women should have a full set of rights. Who doesn’t believe LGBT people should have a full set of rights. Who doesn’t believe immigrants should have a full set of rights. I am saying, part of what I believe builds strong romantic relationships is mutual respect; I believe that someone who is anti-choice, or who votes Republican because they think that their financial self-interest is more important than basic human rights, does not fully respect women, and is not a person one should voluntarily partner with."
She goes on to explain that there is a difference between platonic and romantic ties:
Platonic relationships can take on a wide variety of purposes and faces. Relationships that are both romantic and sexual involve the body, and the very rights that Republicans are trying to strip away. For many people, romantic/sexual long-term relationships or marriages are the most intimate relationships, and often involve co-parenting children. I think that does make them fundamentally different than, say, friendships (and I say that as someone for whom friendships have been significantly more important and sustaining than any romantic relationship I’ve had).
It reminded me of a picture I saw on a friend's Tumblr the other day.

From here.

"Never Sleep with Someone You Wouldn't Want to Be"

Is that good advice? Are our romantic entanglements really just ways to seek out duplicates of ourselves? Is the difference between a friend and a lover that friends are people we cannot see ourselves becoming?

There is truth and wisdom in that statement, but it falls flat for me. I do not want to be my husband, and I did not marry him in an ill-fated attempt to do so. I want to be no one but myself, and him and I differ in many ways--those differences are part of what make us work. His laid-back demeanor calms me down when I'm stressing over nothing; my nit-picking obsessiveness attention to detail helps him see things he'd overlook otherwise. We use our differences to our advantage, and they are part of what makes us a good team.

At the same time, while I don't think that I should only marry someone who I would want to be, I do think that I should only marry someone I would want to be joined to and associated with. And that standard is different for friendships.

Friendships are Like Gymnastics; Marriage is Like Synchronized Swimming

Let's use a metaphor. If relationships are like a sport, then marriage is like synchronized swimming while friendships are like Olympic gymnastics. While every individual on the gymnastic team is rooting for one another, they're also trying to hone their own personal bests, and they each have different skill sets. Synchronized swimmers, though, have to be--well--in synch. They have to practice their movements together. They have to align. While individual swimmers are going to have their own strengths and weaknesses, those differences don't show up in the competition and--perhaps most importantly--one cannot win without the other.

The members of the Team USA gymnastic group benefited from each other's successes, but they focused most on their own particular skill. One person's success also did not guarantee everyone's success, just as one person's failure didn't disqualify other member's from getting individual gold. Sure, synchronized swimmers may very well have individual abilities that could merit them their own gold medal, but then it's for an entirely different sport. If they want to win synchronized swimming, being good on their own isn't good enough.

So What About Sex?

Using that metaphor, I can see an argument for holding marriages and committed relationships up to a different standard than friendships. But Jill also says "Don't even sex someone who votes Republican."

I've been with my husband for almost a decade, and I haven't dated since I was 18 (which, as I talked about before, was before I even knew to identify myself as a feminist, so my decisions about the dating game before that weren't particularly identity-conscious). I'm way out of the loop when it comes to making decisions about who to date and why, but I do think that people can (and should, if they want to) have sex with someone without planning to marry and/or commit to that person.

Which standard do you hold those people up to? Are they gymnasts or synchronized swimmers? Does the very act of sex change the nature of the relationship in a way that requires an alignment of fundamental principles? What's the difference between friends and lovers?

1 comment:

  1. It's an interesting thing to examine - that voting Republican is aligning yourself with such disgusting views and attempts to enshrine those views in law, yet in negotiating our reality liberals have to find a line as to how much we're willing to share of yourself with such people (rather that just not at all).

    Yet. It's mind-boggling to me because as a NZer our right wing is considerably left of... well, it seems kinda left of your left in some ways. But Republicans are shockingly openly bigoted, I don't understand how so many people support them.

    Personally I could be friends, even good friends, with someone conservative so long as they genuinely believed it was for the good of everyone. I might think that's idiotic, but we can have common ground.

    I have a friend that votes left because she's gay. She's a British import and she embodies all the painful stereotypes of the anti-immigrant (haha, irony, right?), classist, bootstraps rubbish. I am always torn about being her friend but we've been friends for a long time and I feel like maybe I can be a good influence?

    As for sex, realistically I don't think that's a problem either because basically, either the topic will come up in which case bigoted peeps tend to turn me right off. Or it won't, and I'll never know. :P

    I think Jill's right about relationships however. To vote Republican right now means you're either bigoted as hell, or don't care that the party you're supporting is. I just don't see how you can intermesh your life like that, even if you're not very political. If your partner is voting against women's bodily autonomy, actually having a social safety net, human rights for gay people, and laws designed to keep non-white people down, chances are, they are hurting you or someone you know. Seriously. It means something!

    So, to answer your final paragraph: to me sex is very distinct from any form of relationship. Once it becomes a relationship, friendship or friends-with-benefits, I think you can have a relationship with someone who votes Republican, but only really if they're deluding themselves about what Republicans stand for or it's going to leak into your relationship. If you're in a close romantic relationship I don't see how it's possible, and I would strongly advise against it.

    Family of course is different because they're hard to cut off, though I also support that course of action if they are boundary-crossing arseholes. :P