I wasn’t sure why I bothered, I rarely looked at the account. When it came to finding a meaningful relationship, the recent move to St. Petersburg, Florida, had been worse than moving to New York City was 10 years earlier. But I didn’t make the change in my profile to winnow potential partners so much as to announce how sickened I was by the president-elect.
Two days after the election, I crumpled over in yoga class, reeling from chest pain. After Googling the symptoms — soreness around my heart, difficulty breathing, numbness in my left arm — I took myself to the emergency room. There I was diagnosed with costochondritis, which sounded (and seemed) like a fancy form of hypochondria, but is in fact a swelling of the cartilage around the sternum brought on by anxiety.
“Anything stressful happening?” the doctor asked.
Was she kidding? Anything stressful? How about this election equaling the end of my personhood as a woman? A shove into cement for all women who’ve experienced sexual abuse? The horror of an inarticulate man with a microphone? Who wasn’t feeling stressed out?
Then again, this was Florida, a red state I’d never planned to call home. But when my mother died, I needed sunshine and a break from Manhattan. The relocation was meant to be temporary. Then it turned out that Florida was good for work. I had just enough business to keep me afloat, with ample time for my own writing, friends, and beach-going. The simple fact that I could drive to the grocery store felt luxurious after 10 years in the city.
It mattered little that the dating scene was disastrous; I’d been single for most of the decade since my ex ended our marriage over the phone. I preferred being on my own to being in a union that had any room for secrets.
So it was a real surprise when my edit drew fresh attention to my account. After all, one of my profile pictures was of me with a Hillary Clinton cut-out, taken at the Democratic headquarters in St. Petersburg. Didn’t most men look only at the pictures?
“You voted for Trump?” came a message.
What? I clicked. Cute guy. No pictures of guns and only one on a boat with a dead fish. In the realm of online profiles near me, this made him a screaming liberal. He must be joking, I decided.
“Oh hells no!” I replied.
Then nothing more from him, but that didn’t bother me for two reasons. If I’d learned anything from online dating over the past 10 years, it was to not take anything personally. And secondly, I was getting plenty of other messages.
Sadly, the missives began to feel mind-numbingly similar — “Hey” — and once again I found I couldn’t bear to read how another man in his 40s lived for the weekends and couldn’t wait to retire. Besides, my health had moved front and center on the priority list.
In the name of reducing my anxiety, I went onto Facebook and left all the political groups I’d joined. Then I went onto Twitter and unfollowed political accounts and newsgroups. Finally, I told my IRL friends that I was stepping back from talking politics.
These were awkward conversations. We LOVED tearing through the foibles of our president-elect, and I was a ringleader. But these conversations got me riled up, and I couldn’t see any other way to de-stress.
I worked from home at jobs I chose. Thanks to Obamacare, the only anxiety-producing thing in my life was that the liberal ideals I’d campaigned for since high school had just been crushed, just when I’d finally let myself believe that a highly competent woman would win the day. The fact that she did not prevail over such an ignoramus was not something I could discuss lightly.
Then came the revelation.
“Just then -- yes, while logged in for the purpose of deactivating my profile — came the most intriguing message I’d ever gotten in 10 years of online dating.”
As more messages poured in on my dating account, I realized that my profile message was unclear. They saw “keep scrolling” as “keep reading.” Finally, it was time to delete.
When I glanced at my accumulated messages, I could see that some had read my message as I’d meant it, but nobody I was into. Something about this election had brought on a fresh surge of desperation in us all, and I was looking forward to the break. And just then — yes, while logged in for the purpose of deactivating my profile — came the most intriguing message I’d ever gotten in 10 years of online dating.
His opening line was, “Nice use of the parenthetical.”
NICE USE OF THE PARENTHETICAL?
This guy Paul not only knew what such a thing was, he’d actually read my profile closely enough to find the parentheses. I had to write this guy back. After a few witty back-and-forths, we moved to text messages. The conversation kept rolling, until he mentioned something about Pinot and pizza.
“Could be a dealbreaker,” I wrote. “I haven’t had a drink since college.”
I’ve learned it’s best to get deal-breakers out of the way immediately. He said it wasn’t, so I asked what was. He wrote:
“Not really sure ... getting shit for not texting/calling every 5 minutes. Trying to make me find Jesus. No physical, emotional, or intellectual attraction. Extremism. Putting toilet paper on the roll backwards. That’s all that comes to mind. You?”
I was already a little bit in love.
“My only deal-breaker is lack of ability to communicate. Things, unanticipated things, will surface.”
“Things?” Paul asked.
“Who knows what things?” I wrote. “You do need somewhat of a shared value structure, but there will be variances there. I don’t need a replica of me, I’m already here.”
The messages flew. This was over Thanksgiving, so we had more time than usual to flirt via text. He was funny without being overly familiar, interesting and interested, so he didn’t seem full of himself, and we discussed how both of us had made our way in life without much parental support.
That’s when the conversation shifted.
I told him my dad wasn’t a monster, but that he’d voted for Trump. That’s when he let me know that he, too, had read my profile differently than I’d intended. “I actually did vote for him.”
On the one hand I was horrified. And yet. While canvassing for Hillary, I’d developed a genuine interest in objections to the most qualified candidate ever. I wanted to hear what he had to say.
Paul said he liked Trump’s economic policies better, which struck me as ill-informed. I ranted at him about said policies, but still didn’t cut off the conversation.
“I voted for Bill but I’m not a fan of either of the Clintons,” he wrote.
Again, I couldn’t end the conversation because he hadn’t said the magic words, “I hate Hillary.” In my book, that’s usually not-so-secret code for, “I hate women.” Then he told me he wasn’t sure he’d have voted for Trump if he’d actually thought he had a chance of winning. That gave me pause.
I desperately did not want to talk about politics — my chest pains had eased considerably since the news drought. And I did want to meet this guy. I’d come to trust myself enough in the dating world to know that if we went out, I’d spot a misogynist quickly. Nothing about him said “classist woman-hating racist,” so what was my objection? Legislation I wasn’t going to talk about?
After a moment’s reflection, it felt like the most natural thing in the world to reply. “Already we have a thing,” I texted, feeling my heart soften. “And I like how we’re able to talk through it.”
“We are very different, but Paul has shown me time and again how much he respects and values women, me most of all. He’s the only man I’ve ever been with who views my time as equally valuable.”
Our first date was furniture shopping. If he was cheap, had bad taste, or was rude to the salespeople, I was ready to bail. “This one,” he said, sitting on a gorgeous retro modern couch. “Can you treat it for stains? She’s a total slob,” he joked, pointing at me. I love nothing more than the way he plucks the unexpected from thin air in even the most stressful situations, making them lighter.
The second time I saw him, he came to a storytelling show I host. I doubted he’d make it, since it was late on a school night, but I was disappointed when I didn’t see him. Until he found me at intermission. “Your opening song was hilarious,” he said.
The fact that he’d been there without needing anything from me was impressive, but when he finished the night with a rendition of Frank Sinatra’s “Fly Me to the Moon,” I was all but on the second date with him.
After we’d been dating a while, it was time for the real test — taking him to the studio where I study yoga. Would he talk during class, or try to touch me?
“Listen, I don’t have reason to think we won’t be together awhile, or I wouldn’t be bringing you here at all,” I told him. “But this is my yoga studio. No matter what happens with us, I claim this place.”
The next day he told me I’d earned his colleague’s seal of approval for that comment. Not only was he talking about me to his peers, he wasn’t afraid to show himself in a submissive stance. I swooned.
We are very different, but Paul has shown me time and again how much he respects and values women, me most of all. He’s the only man I’ve ever been with who views my time as equally valuable. He’s remarkably unthreatened by my work, he even pitches in at every story show, making sure they run smoothly. In short, I could not have dreamed up a more supportive partner.
The other day in a yoga class the teacher said, “Through the practice, we learn to see what binds all beings, rather than what separates us.” This feels more important now than ever before.
My news block did not shield me entirely from world events, or my friends. If I was a person of color, someone with DACA status, or of different sexual orientations, I wouldn’t have the privilege of working through my feelings to reach for Paul across the aisle, and I have no intention of forgetting that. But I’ve seen too many families torn apart because of a lack of willingness to listen and engage, when the fact is that whatever differences surfaced after the election had been there all along.
Next month, when Paul and I get married, there will be variety among the guests, as well — some rabid Republicans, others die-hard Democrats. No one will refuse to celebrate love over political differences. I am proud to be among them.
I never would have believed I could’ve fallen in love with someone who voted for Donald Trump, but by learning to put love above all else, the pains in my heart — physical and emotional — have finally disappeared.