In the past, and in some cultures in the present, who you marry or choose as a life partner has been defined by more than just attraction. Race, religion, class, occupation have all played a role in defining the appropriateness of a potential match.
I grew up in a culture that was very prescriptive about what constituted a “suitable” partner. It was a given that any relationships had to be heterosexual, and from there the list included that they had to be Indian – ideally from Gujarat, Muslim, no older than 25 (I should have been married by 23 at the latest), university-educated, tall, good-looking, and from the right kind of family.
If anyone has watched Bridgerton recently, just change the outfits to saris, and the music to Bollywood, and you get the picture.
Naturally, these rules and restrictions relaxed as I grew up and I now live with my white, non-Indian, atheist partner of the past decade. I like to think this demonstrates how liberal-minded I’ve always been – love knows no boundaries, I’m not prejudiced in any way!
But when a university friend was dating someone who professed to be right wing, these lofty open-minded values came crumbling down. I genuinely couldn’t understand how she, as a very left-wing individual, could find anything attractive in someone who believed things that fundamentally contradicted her own beliefs.
This guy didn’t believe in welfare payments for the unemployed. He wanted to privatise services that we believed needed to be government-owned and operated, like public hospitals and transport. He thought poor people made bad choices, and rich people deserved to be taxed less.
He was also funny, generous, thoughtful, and loyal. But, for me, all of those qualities were redundant given his political beliefs.
A decade on, I’m still just as perplexed by the people around me who are in relationships with partners with firmly opposing political views. One friend messaged me recently to bemoan the fact that her fiancé thinks feminism is irrelevant and divisive. Another is with a guy who is alarmingly into conspiracy theories and may have fleetingly professed his allegiance to Trump.
For me, these are total deal-breakers. But I’m also aware of how prejudiced that sounds.
As a small ‘L’ liberal, shouldn’t I be all for opposing views and a diversity of opinions in my social sphere? I guess I’m a capital ‘H’ Hypocrite too, because I actually can’t manage to stay engaged in conversation with people who have fundamentally different values to me.
Part of me questions how I would even have spent enough time around a right-wing or conservative person to form an attraction to them, given I can count on one hand the number of people in my circle who aren’t left-leaning.
My partner and I don’t agree on everything. We often have political debates but they’re really focussed on the details of issues where we agree on the core of the topic. Our ethics are grounded in the same logic, so everything else is just window dressing.
For my friends in relationships with less similarly-minded partners, I wonder how they will negotiate when their values come to bear on the big decisions in life – how to raise their children, where to invest their money, where they live and what they buy?
At some point, attraction takes a back seat in a relationship in favour of a shared daily life that is built on a foundation of hundreds of small decisions – how difficult is it to keep this foundation structurally sound when the decisions are being made from two very different starting points?
Is this just a practical acknowledgement of the importance of shared values to a functioning relationship – or am I just prejudiced when it comes to political beliefs?