Religion and politics are two things I was taught to avoid discussing, especially early in a relationship or at any gathering where severely differing opinions might be present. You didn't talk about gun control — at least never in favor of it — around Uncle Mack, and you sure as hell didn't mention anything about being pro-choice at any family gathering.
The only right church was the Baptist one. Even those Methodists down the street were a little too progressive, and for the love of all that is holy, don't get grandpa started on the Catholics.
After maturing beyond my upbringing, I'm going to tell you just the opposite: Talk about politics and religion early in your relationship, even on the first date. Match.com recently released a survey that stated if politics were discussed on the first date, the chance of a second date happening would be boosted by 91 percent.
A political discussion isn't important because you want to be sure you agree with the person sitting across from you. Whether you agree or not is irrelevant in many ways. Republicans and Democrats marry each other, as do atheists and devout Christians.
“If two people agree on everything, one of them is unnecessary,” said one of my teachers once. It's true. But, a person's political views do reveal many things about him or her, and these things are all important in relationships:
At a rally in my hometown in 2014, I witnessed a large group of people protesting the acceptance of immigrants into our state. For the most part, the objection was that taking care of our own veterans was more important than taking in refugees. These statements made it seem as if there was only one choice between the two, and no way to take care of both.
About 150 residents of Murrieta, California — who blocked a bus filled with immigrant children — carried signs saying, “Return to sender” and “America has been invaded.” The mayor of the town questioned why these migrant families were being "dumped on" his town by the federal government.
The issue is not the protest itself. It is the negative tone used.
People often fail to see people, and instead, they see problems. It's the nature of the protest that is worrisome, and the lack of compassion and willingness to come up with a more humane solution.
It doesn't matter which side of the immigration debate you or your date may land on. The thing that is revealed by his or her reaction to issues and the actions he or she subsequently takes is if he or she is empathetic and compassionate or angry and fearful.
Equal pay for women and discrimination due to race, gender and sexual orientation are all prevalent in the news today. The way a person reacts to these issues, regardless of his or her political stance, reveals how he or she feels about the way others are treated.
Potentially, this reveals a lot about the way a person might treat you or your friends and family who may be a little different. It also might reveal how he or she feels about fairness in general. This is something you may want to know as early as possible in any relationship.
Perhaps most importantly, any kind of debate reveals how the other person handles conflict.
- Does he or she actively listen, or does he or she just wait for his or her turn to speak?
- Does he or she talk over you or interrupt?
- Is he or she passionate or passive about his or her opinions?
- Does he or she acknowledge the validity of your conflicting opinions?
- Is he or she open to discussion or set in his or her ways?
It's not always the conflicts themselves that turn into roadblocks in relationships, but rather how the conflicts are resolved, and whether agreeing to disagree on some points is acceptable. Active listening, compromise and other issues with communication are vital. An early conflict — even if it's friendly in nature — showcases those abilities or a lack thereof.
Should you have a political discussion on your first date? Well, if not on the first date, it should certainly happen early on in your relationship. So, how do you start the discussion?
1. Bern the salad.
Small talk is out of the way, and the salads or appetizers have been ordered. Instead of going deeper into childhood memories or boring details about your job, mention current events.
Bring up Bernie's latest view on minimum wage or free public college, and wait for a reaction. More than likely, you will get one, even if it's “I don't want to talk about politics.”
While this can set the tone for the date, it can also serve to quickly take the discussion deeper. This allows you to see more of the other person's character.
2. Trump the dessert.
Don't want to change the mood early in the date, or are things going well? Wait until the last bite of the entree has been consumed. If the rest of the evening has gone well, a good discussion can help determine if there should be a repeat performance.
If things have been a little on the dull side, a lively discussion to end the evening could salvage what would otherwise be a total loss. Who knows? It might even loosen the other person up, and you may see a side of him or her you would not have seen earlier: a side you might like.
Of course, the political discussion strategy will not work for every first date. But this year — an election year — you can almost surely work it in. A good discussion is a great tool for learning more about the person you are sitting across from, whether that's how he or she communicates or what level of intelligence and political savvy he or she possesses.