Marriage across the red-blue divide

A wife and husband argue about politics, but they now move seamlessly from dialogue to dinner.

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My mother grew up on the plains of Saskatchewan. My father comes from the mountains of Rajasthan in India. So I thought I knew about cross-cultural relationships when I entered into one of my own: I married a Republican. I soon found the culture clash between a red and a blue voter rivaled that of my parents.

Mike and I began our relationship about a month before the last presidential election. Bored at work and inundated with election coverage, we would argue by instant messaging for hours in a manner that makes lipstick-on-a-pig accusations sound thoughtful. These sessions frequently ended with Mike annoying me by saying that some conservative blogger was hot, and not in the she-gets-lots-of-hits type of way.

Next came a long silence, during which we couldn't discuss our political beliefs or even watch the news together. I would sit in my car after work listening to NPR, and Mike would stay up late to watch Fox News. This was about the same time that many of my friends abandoned me for dating a "fascist" and began guessing how long it would be before I started voting like Mike.

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Sad to find that my friends didn't see me as an independent, free-thinking woman, I sought compatriots who also straddled the political line. A liberal friend from college who writes for Fox News deals with this type of intolerance by virtue of his paycheck, instead of his romantic partners. He stopped telling people where he works because he was tired of defending himself at parties.

Through time, a wedding, and a looming addition to the family, Mike and I found that our different strengths and backgrounds generally worked to our advantage, so we revisited politics.

We started with gun control. Mike shoots trap and skeet. His experience with guns began at age 11 when his mother bought him a much-coveted BB gun on the condition that he remove a bird that had nested in their attic. (He failed, but he had his gun.) I had once refused to even touch a plastic gun during a high school theater workshop.

As we discussed the Second Amendment, this time in a face-to-face conversation, I realized that his support for gun access was not based on vigilantism or misplaced aggression, but rather on his desire for protection and his concept of freedom. I began to see how our political views grew out of our personal histories.

Mike's mother keeps a merchant's log from her 17th-century ancestor preserved in a glass case. Mike's grandfather died in Tunisia 19 days before his father's birth. Because of his mother's passion for history and his father's loss, tales of heroism and America's sacrifice were Mike's bedtime stories. He loves America because it stands up to tyranny in the world.

My American experience began with two parents who immigrated here in the 1960s. My father, having chosen to keep his turban and beard, doesn't look like just another American. One evening, while returning home from his job in Chicago on the L train, some teenagers began taunting him, calling him "Ayatollah."

Another time, I overheard my father warn my mother that during her upcoming interview for citizenship, she might be asked uncomfortable questions, such as whether she had ever been a prostitute. Despite these stories, or perhaps because of them, I love America for its promise of liberty and justice for all who find their way here.

Although Mike and I want the same basic things, our perspectives cause us to prioritize national issues in very different ways.

I can't say that Mike and I have attained transcendent political consciousness over the past four years. Figures such as George W. Bush, Hillary Clinton, and Sarah Palin polarize our household along with the rest of the nation. Some conversations go well; others leave us bruised. Having gotten to know Mike, however, I understand where his beliefs come from. And these days, we move pretty seamlessly from dialogue into dinner.

The ugliness of each political season reminds me that when we simplify the race into a red side and a blue side, we forget that we are all on the same side. As America's culture wars rage, it comforts me that one of my "liberal" beliefs has stood the tests of my mixed marriage: the belief that with love and an open heart, we can respect each other's views enough to keep working toward our common goals.

Consider how you might treat your political opponent differently if you happened to be married to him – because in some sense, all Americans are bound together just as strongly.

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