It’s your typical midtown Manhattan happy-hour crowd: Groups of co-workers with buckets of beer, a family of tourists and a couple at the bar enjoying the tense chemistry of a successful-looking early date. It’s loud, the Yankees are playing the Red Sox and the doors are pulled back to allow the unseasonably cool summer air drift in from 32nd Street.
An engaging blonde woman in her late twenties is sharing her dating misfortunes with the group.
“I told him I voted for Trump in the primaries, he practically asked for the check,” she says. “I was like, ‘ok, I thought we were having fun.’”
“I just said, ‘ok, nice to meet you.’”
It wasn’t the best date she’d ever been on, but not the worst (this is New York after all). But at first mention of her support for President Donald Trump, her Tinder match mentally checked out. “I could tell after I said that that he just wanted to get out of there and I thought it was surprising, especially since he said he leaned a little more right anyway,” this woman said. “I just said, ‘ok, nice to meet you.’”
Following last year’s election, the Trump name isn’t just on the towering buildings of the New York skyline. For some in the city, it’s the latest dating deal breaker. Many of the single people I spoke to for this piece, on both sides of the political spectrum, wanted to remain anonymous. They were concerned about stigma, negative reactions from colleagues or online retribution.
Since the beginning of the year, I started noticing a new dating profile. Flicking through Tinder, in the interest of immersive journalism, I kept seeing a biography specific to 2017. The photos were interchangeable: the look-at-me-with-my-niece-I’m-good-with-kids shot, the body-shot, and the look-I-visited-Machu-Pichu shot. (I’m starting to feel like I missed the Groupon for that trip). However, under the photos, a trend in descriptions was emerging. In Manhattan, where my app trawled for potential suitors, perhaps 1 in 20 would feature this new angle: The few short paragraphs traditionally filled with description or a witty quip were being used for political demarcation. Men and women were asking suitors to immediately discount themselves based on how they voted in 2016.
On two of the main dating apps used by New Yorkers – Tinder and Bumble – you swipe right if interested in the person (and hope they do too, for a match) and left to reject the candidate. Frequently, the people I came across seemed interested in steering clear of anyone who supported Trump. “Swipe left if you voted for Trump,” I’d see on one profile. Other versions included “If you voted for Trump, we shall not hump” and the less rhythmical, more brutal: “If you voted for Trump, swipe yourself off a cliff.”
In the already transactional world of online dating, there’s now one more thing that New Yorkers can use to dismiss each other: The President.
Back to the bar, over a vodka and soda, the young Trump voter is discussing dating as a conservative in New York with Roger Sachar and Jay Cruger, fellow members of a meetup group called the New York Republican Club. Neither of them voted for Trump. “A date shouldn’t be like an episode of C-SPAN,” says Cruger, a charismatic 24-year-old paralegal from the Bronx. Both men agree. They never shy away from talking politics, even in the sometimes combative, predominantly Democratic dating landscape of NYC. Do they date Democrats? They have no other choice, Sachar jokes.
“It’s hard to meet people that you’re going to have things in common with if you’re not putting your actual interests out there.”
The woman, a Chicago native, sought out the club because she felt politically isolated and sick of being told that she was wrong all the time. She likes Trump’s economics and thinks that New Yorkers need a different perspective of the President. She has a photo of her at Trump’s inauguration on her dating profile. “I decided that I did want to put it in there because I wasn’t being honest about it. I think it’s hard to meet people that you’re going to have things in common with if you’re not putting your actual interests out there.”
If your political ideology is going to be a deal-breaker for someone, is it worth figuring out before you go to the effort of putting on liquid eye-liner? The reaction was largely positive. Some men expressed relief to find someone who shared their politics. It wasn’t all pleasant, though. After matching with one man and swapping numbers, his text opener was to berate her for voting for Trump. After sharing his disgust, he reassured her that he would still go out with her, an offer that she politely declined.
The morning after last year’s presidential election results, Mike Lagana went to work in Manhattan. His usual commute to the site where he was employed at the time, right beside Trump Tower, took an extra 45 minutes because he had to navigate the throngs of protestors that surrounded the President-elect’s residence. In stark contrast to the protesting masses, he was feeling celebratory. But Lagana had taken the Trump badges and stickers off his tool bag, to avoid any reactions.
Now, the electrician thinks it’s getting even tougher to be a conservative in a New York crowd.
Still jubilant about Trump’s election, Lagana’s politics are seeping into the conversations he has with dates. The 24-year-old meets women in many ways: IRL (in real-life), on Facebook and Tinder. He recently matched with a woman on the latter, the conversation progressed to Instagram, where they shared a friend in common. It was a good start. His profile features pictures of him at work, with his dogs and one from January that reads: “President Trump we did it!” After around 10 messages back and forth, his match declared that she wasn’t a Trump supporter, following with “the fact that his (Trump’s) flat out racism and sexism isn’t a deal breaker for you turns me off, no offense.”
“My politics don’t define me.”
“My politics don’t define me,” he says, with one of the great accents of a New Yorker with Italian heritage. There wasn’t much room for debate – “please stop talking to me,” she concluded.
“I think it’s nonsense” Lagana told me. “Just because I voted for someone does not mean I’m this stuff. Oh, he’s racist, or he’s a Nazi or whatever the case may be. I’m not any of that. I take offense to it. You know nothing about me.”
I suggest he might experience more of those reactions over the next three years dating in NYC. “Eight” he counters, and laughs. Frequently coming across the “swipe left if you voted for Trump” bio, Mike ignores the demand. “I still swipe right. I would like them to know who I am first before I openly tell them I voted for this person. They know nothing about me. I’m a very reasonable guy. I’m a nice person, open-minded.”
In 2011, Gregory Huber, a Yale University political science professor, along with Neil Malhotra, a professor at Stanford Business School, examined the effect of partisanship in online dating. Through the analysis of real data and experiments, they looked at how we react to potential suitors when armed with information about their politics. It’s not nearly as impactful as other factors like age, height, religion and skin color, but “there is evidence that shared politics affects your interest in dating someone,” Huber says.
“Politics matters. That is to say - shared partisanship or shared ideology,” he told me.
Earlier this year, the dating web site OkCupid tested that theory by asking members if they stood with Planned Parenthood (a non-profit organization that provides reproductive and other health care services to women and is a frequent target of Republicans who seek to cut funding to the organization even though public money isn't used to pay for abortions.) New York responded with 90% of people supporting the organization and gaining an #IStandWithPP badge, according to Melissa Hoble, the site’s chief marketing officer, who said it was a means of connecting users.
“In today’s political climate, we think it’s important to focus on unity, not division,” she said. “One Planned Parenthood supporter isn’t exactly the same as another person who supports Planned Parenthood—they may even belong to different political parties. But if they both feel the same way about it, it can be a means of connecting on a deeper, more meaningful level.”
Single New Yorkers aren’t the only ones navigating relationships in the Trump era. A man who asked to remain anonymous had been happily dating his girlfriend for almost three years, until “that nice little Tuesday on November 8th.”
He didn’t much care about politics until this election. Although he’s a Democrat, he says he would have voted for John Kasich if he had won the Republican nomination. However, he found Trump and his campaign rhetoric abhorrent. With immigrant heritage and undocumented friends, Trump’s focus and language on the subject was a source of ire. Things had been going well with his girlfriend, the pair had similar upbringings in typical middle-class American families and “never had a problem with values.”
He watched the election at home alone. His girlfriend had earlier revealed that she voted for Trump and when her home state went red, he couldn’t help but feel she had contributed to that, something he deemed unforgivable.
“I broke up with her Wednesday morning,” he told me.
He couldn’t understand her decision to support Trump simply because of a legacy of Republicanism in her family.
“It meant nothing to her. It meant a lot to me, I’m a minority.”
The pair talked and spent a few days working through the election fallout. They got back together, but the reunion was short lived, crumbling on Inauguration Day.
“It was such a dark speech,” he said. “It didn’t unite the country at all. It painted the United States as one of the worst places in the world. It was like – what the hell is wrong with you. The inauguration brought back even more feelings as to why I felt the way I did in November.”
There are things he would do differently, he admits. Ever since the breakup, he doesn’t discuss politics during dates, even with Democrats. “I saw what it did to my relationship,” he says quietly.
In almost every conversation I had about dating beyond party lines, one word kept coming up: Values. The people I spoke to on all ends of the political spectrum argued that opposition to or support for Trump serves as an instant proxy for a person’s values. It’s touted as an umbrella for a litany of issues and allegiances from religion to gun laws and abortion rights to how you think children should be raised. It’s a catch-all for the things that we feel we can’t or don’t want to overcome with a spouse.
On a recent Thursday in the East Village, a 23-year-old man who supports Trump described in hushed tones how he operates a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy when it comes to politics on dates. Able to get a feel for hardcore Democrats, he would swat away the conversation should it arise because “you just know it’s going to be a point of conflict.” Later in the same bar, a large group of men and women are celebrating a friend’s birthday. They included Hillary Clinton fans, Bernie Sanders supporters and non-Trump voting Republicans. Of 12, only one would consider dating a Trump voter, with the caveat of whether they have problems with the President now.
Over coffee on the Upper East Side, a woman in her thirties described the reactions she’s received when she revealed that she voted for and continues to support Trump. “I can’t believe you are college educated,” she recalls one person telling her. The native New Yorker was defriended by her entire field hockey team after sharing a video by right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos. On Tinder, she sought out people she suspected shared her conservative values, including cops. She was one month into a new relationship and shared how happy she was to recently discover they both voted for Trump.
In mid-September, a line of people snaked around the northern block of Union Square as Clinton arrived at a Barnes and Noble to sign copies of her new book, “What happened.”
The queue is an even mix of women and men, ranging from teenagers to people in their seventies. Throughout the line, people not surprisingly scoffed when I asked whether they’d date a Trump supporter.
“Not even at my age” a woman in her early sixties said.
Illustration by Ken Fowler