Most Americans think today’s strongest tensions lie between Democrats and Republicans, according to a Pew Research study. And in DC, where there’s already a lot of social sorting along party membership, the growing hyper-partisanship extends to even the most sacred of spaces: millennial dating.
Washington has the most singles actively dating and using dating apps, according to a recent Time Out ranking, so it’s not surprising that political standoffs would take place in packed bars and Bumble conversations. The League, a selective dating app, says its DC users are 15 times more likely to mention politics in their bios since the 2016 presidential election, and one-third say they wouldn’t date someone with contrasting political beliefs.
In a city as overwhelmingly Democratic as DC, the combination of lingering anger over Hillary Clinton‘s loss and President Trump‘s existence makes it tricky for conservatives to date across party lines.
“A lot of times you’ll connect with someone [on an app] and they’ll Google you, find out you worked for Trump’s campaign, and then it’s pretty much all downhill from there,” says a Trump Administration official.
People who work in right-wing media say they don’t have it any better.
“The political divide has gotten so wide that a lot of younger liberals don’t have any interest in meeting conservatives,” says a reporter at a conservative media company. Working for a right-wing publication is such an obstacle to dating in DC, he doesn’t put his employer on any dating apps and avoids talking about it until meeting someone face-to-face, he says.
“The policies and these things that are attached to the right whether or not you’re a supporter of Trump have been pre-supposed on you, and it’s like a black mark,” says another reporter at the same outlet, who describes himself as a moderate conservative.
He once brought a woman back to his place, and while checking out his bookshelf, she noticed some books by conservative thinkers, he says. “She was like, ‘Oh no. First question: Did you vote for Trump?’,” the reporter says. He told her no, but that he was conservative. “She was like ‘I have to get out of here. I can’t see you,’ and left.”
While Republicans say the line between textbook conservatism and Trumpism is blurred frequently, most Democrats I spoke with say they can distinguish a difference between those in favor of the administration and Never Trump-ers.
“If you’re dating someone and they say ‘I think we should have lower marginal tax rates,’ that’s different than dating someone who doesn’t think a woman should have a right to terminate an unwanted pregnancy,” says a single woman at a progressive nonprofit. “There’s a spectrum there.”
Most of the self-identifying progressives I talked with said they could tell how far right a man or woman leaned based on their dating-app photos—”Make America Great Again” hats are an obvious tell, but some also listed photos of US flag paraphernalia, hunting gear, or fratty beach parties as turn-offs.
Conversely, a young White House staffer says she typically looks for someone from the South when swiping through profiles, as she thinks they’ll be more receptive to her support of the President. She swipes left on anyone who went to a small, liberal-arts college or has a photo “wearing one of those pink hats on their heads” at the Women’s March, she says, as she thinks they wouldn’t be compatible.
But sometimes you just can’t tell until you encounter a subject in the wild.
When she first moved to DC, a former Obama White House staffer who now works at the Aspen Institute was set up on a date with a Republican who worked on Capitol Hill. “We had a really nice time, but at the end of the date, he told me he didn’t believe in global warming,” she says. “I started laughing, because I’m from Colorado and didn’t realize people actually didn’t believe in global warming. But he was serious.”
They didn’t go out again.
Republicans say it’s liberals who are more likely to turn down someone across the aisle. “Democrats are usually more vocal” about their opposition, the Trump staffer says, and therefore quicker to demonize all conservatives.
“I feel like they look at me and are like, here’s a tall white dude with brown hair wearing loafers, and he probably has a picture of Reagan and the NRA in his bedroom or something,” says one of the reporters from the conservative media company. “I just think they have a very hyperbolic view of what a conservative is.”
But some are able to make it work, like two congressional staffers who identified themselves as Kate, a Democrat who voted for Clinton, and Bill, a Trump-supporting Republican. Kate spent her childhood learning about the GOP from Democrats instead of from the source, she says, which tinged her perspective growing up. Dating Bill has helped her see past the stereotypes, she says.
“He and I have a shared set of fundamental values, and our political parties have different ideas about how to achieve those values,” she says. “It’s frustrating when you have friends that are stuck in their spaces and won’t step out and get to know a person.”
Partisan matchmaking aside, most young daters I spoke to are hopeful that things will eventually simmer down, and Washington can dial back its partisan sorting.
It might be too late, though, if the advice one young woman working in left-wing politics got from her parents is the norm: “I remember growing up, and my parents were pretty active Democrats,” she says, “and they were like, ‘We don’t care who you bring home as long as he’s not a Republican.’ “