Daring to date across party lines
Penn students give their takes on politics and passion
By Spencer Willig
Special to CNN
Editor's Note: Campus Vibe is a feature that provides student perspectives on the 2004 election from selected colleges across the United States. This week's contributor is Spencer Willig, news director for WQHS, the University of Pennsylvania student radio station. The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of CNN, its affiliates or the University of Pennsylvania.
PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania (CNN) -- Most groups have a hard time dating outside of their species.
So how can love survive between the two different species, conservatives liberals, stretched across party lines -- especially during a tense election year?
Penn freshmen Kerry Eickholt and Ted Perkins, asked whether they would automatically dismiss a prospect who didn't match their own political identity, ruminated on the question while they waited for class.
"If I'm just interested or if I don't know the guy very well and it comes up that he's very conservative or a hardcore Republican -- my interest would wane," Eickholt said.
"Really?" asked Perkins. "I wouldn't do that to a girl just because she was über liberal. Well. Maybe if she said 'über.'"
Others offered more concrete advice.
"When Ian and I started dating, we talked about politics being off-limits," Penn freshman Rachel Aronson explained.
Aronson and her significant other, fellow freshman Ian Zuckerberg, are members of Thefacebook.com, a free personals site now available -- and increasingly popular -- at sixteen major American universities. The site allows users to search registered students, faculty and staff at their college.
Just under half of the site's users have listed a political affiliation -- Thefacebook allows users to describe themselves as very liberal, liberal, moderate, conservative, very conservative, apathetic or to leave the space blank.
When feelings trump politics
Rachel described herself as liberal. Ian is one of only 37 "very conservative" male Penn students -- out of over 2,400 registered Penn men on Thefacebook. Together, the two represent the tiny minority of registered couples whose feelings for each other trump their political differences.
"It's like any relationship -- you sort have to let the other person do what they feel strongly about," Aronson said. "In a couple of weeks we're going to D.C. for the women's choice march, which sort of irked Ian -- partly because he had a frat event that he wanted me to go to with him -- but that's what you have to do."
The same rules apply to everyone according to former Penn College Republicans chairman Dan Gomez.
"If someone is a dogmatic, no compromise conservative or a dogmatic, no compromise liberal, it becomes very difficult to date the other side," the junior history major said. "Then you can never believe the other is a good person."
Though currently seeing someone he met while working for the campus' conservative newspaper, Gomez dated a Democrat during the last election cycle.
"Yeah, I dated a Democrat back in 2000," Gomez said. "When issues came to the fore like that, we'd always get into debates, and you have to know, whoever you're with, you just have to know how to debate without getting angry at each other -- that's important no matter who you're dating."
Tonsager and Marquardt, to be married in June, attribute their happiness in part to their shared political views.
With single conservative men outnumbering single conservative women by more than two to one, judging by Thefacebook.com's current membership, Gomez wouldn't have liked the odds of finding a conservative mate had he been trying.
"I can count the conservative girls I know on this campus on one hand," he said.
Drop-down menu dating
Chris Hughes, a Harvard sophomore who helped start Thefacebook.com and serves as the Web site's spokesman, said that, while "political views for a lot of people... are important when thinking about relationships or even friendships," he said, "overarching principles or takes or approaches to political issues... are even more important."
"I think that for a lot of people, [political affiliation] is a component of a search that can be interesting, but you only really get to know someone conversationally, not in drop-down menus."
Many Penn students said they actively sought out new flames based on their political beliefs.
"I'd say it was very important [and] quite intentional," Penn sophomore Nathan Rao said.
Though he is a member of Thefacebook.com, Rao is dating a student at nearby Drexel University, whose students do not yet have access to the college dating site.
"Conservatism is just one of the things I've found in common with this person," Rao added. "It's something I'd naturally assume to go along with the other traits -- something that naturally goes along with who you are."
Student reporter Spencer Willig flashes his press pass in front of a statue of U.Penn's founder, Benjamin Franklin.
Soon-to-be-wed Penn seniors Keith Tonsager and Lindsey Marquardt agreed that their shared beliefs -- both identify themselves as liberal -- have helped make for smooth sailing.
"I do think it would have been a lot less likely for us to have gotten together had one of us been significantly conservative," said Tonsager. "That can be a turnoff."
Two non-citizen Penn students, meanwhile, share one of the most popular political affiliations on Thefacebook and similar dating sites: none.
Cezary Podkul, a Penn sophomore from Gliwizce, Poland ,and Giosep Derleth, a Drexel freshman from Cumana, Venezuela, started dating a few weeks ago after meeting on match.com.
Both came to the United States at the age of 11. As neither has yet been granted citizenship, neither can vote.
"Honestly, that was the thing that caught me," Derleth said. "The fact that he wasn't from here, that we both had the same experience."