Only Human with Joan Axelrod-Contrada: Dating across the aisle: Can we see past politics in our relationships?

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For the Gazette

Published: 05-09-2024 12:57 PM

Every time I hear “One Tribe” by the Black Eyed Peas my idealistic and dance-happy sides unite in sonic bliss.

I picture everyone coming together in some magic club beaming the feel-good vibes of the boundary-busting band, washing away all our political divides. With its diverse membership, the band fuses the catchiness of pop with the rhythmic speech of rap and syncopated grooves of funk. We can all move to the same beat. Ideological leanings be damned. We’re all one; we’re all human.

So, hearing this song again, I had to face up to some uncomfortable truths. Good intentions notwithstanding, my behavior might be, well, a tad flawed. Yes, as much as I might want to believe in One Tribe, I’m part of the growing trend of people who refuse to date outside their own political group.

Yikes, what does that say about me? Here I am dancing around my kitchen to “One Tribe” even though I’ve divided dating prospects into My Kind and The Other. On the one hand, I want unity. But, on the other, I refuse to bridge the political divide.

My rationale for this supposed contradiction is simple. Relationships are hard enough, why complicate them by adding another layer of conflict? Mostly, I stand by my decision. However, I’m getting a little less self-righteous about it, thanks to a report I saw on PBS about political differences in marriages, families, and dating relationships.

Part of Judy Woodruff’s “America at a Crossroads” series, the segment got me thinking about the wider consequences of people sticking to their own political kind. Such siloed behavior can be bad for society at large, according to Woodruff’s report. Ideally, the pairing of people with differing viewpoints can create the kind of consensus conducive to unity. That’s the theory, anyway.

Hmmm, maybe if I were younger and less set in my ways, I’d rethink my dating strategies. Nevertheless, the report got me to look for other ways to help lessen the political divisiveness of our times.

With “One Tribe” playing in my head, I remembered how friends and family rallied around my late husband, Fred, and me when he was sick. It was a matter of life and death. Our connection felt tribal. All of us were fighting against the same enemy: The Disease.

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Perhaps it’s this sense of a common threat that gave rise to tribalism in the first place. Early homo sapiens lived in a dark and dangerous world. Wild animals lurked. Rival humans invaded. No wonder everyone’s adrenaline signaled fight or flight!

Tribalism can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it gives us a sense of security. On the other, it prioritizes the protection of our own kind over the interests of others. Have I, too, reacted like I needed to fend off a tiger when, in fact, it was just the rustling of leaves?

Guilty as charged. Fred, one of the most open-minded people I’ve ever met, used to annoy me when he poked fun at the political correctness of Liberals in Amherst. How could such an enlightened guy stoop to such boorishness? That’s what I thought, anyway.

In retrospect, though, he had a legitimate point. My body behaved like it was fending off a grizzly when, in fact, it was just my littermate looking to play. Fred offered the kind of observation that can keep our tribe from being torn asunder if only each of us kept our cool. I wish I could take back my lack of interest in hearing even a mildly divergent point of view.

We all get a tad too attached to our own precious ways of thinking. As a longtime dog lover, for instance, I’ve had trouble understanding people who don’t want to be around my fur baby. I’ve gotten myself in trouble, being a bit of a love-me-love-my-dog kind of girl. But, as I continue to mull over Judy Woodruff’s excellent “America at a Crossroads” series, I’m trying to get better.

Maybe the one thing that unites us as a tribe of humans is everyone’s need to be heard. However, only saints can listen 24/7 without it taking a toll. Introverts like me need time to tune out and recharge.

After that, we’re ready to re-engage like we all belong to the same species. That’s when it’s time to blast “One Tribe” and dance around the kitchen like there’s no tomorrow.

Joan Axelrod-Contrada is a writer who lives in Florence and is working on a collection of essays, “Rock On: A Baby Boomer’s Playlist for Life after Loss.” Reach her at