Do you think that a radical lefty queer and a gay liberal could ever find true love together? I’m a radical queer person in a situationship: a couple of months ago I matched with this girl on an app. It was supposed to just be a hookup, but then we just sort of kept going. I’ll be real with you: she’s sweet and gorgeous, the sex is better than amazing and I can feel my U-Haul instincts kicking in HARD. I know she feels it too, because she’s told me so. The only teeny-tiny problem is that she’s … kind of a normie?
Dramatic flashback: when I was a teenaged queer, I came into my political and sexual awakening via LiveJournal. Feminism was my gateway politic, and from there, I just got deeper and deeper into the world of radical social justice. At my most hard core, I was THAT white kid in the back of the college class, nitpicking the professor’s problematic language and calling out other 20-somethings for their bad opinions. I’ve softened a fair amount since then (and I’m less of a white saviour-y jerk—or so I like to think), but my politics are still a huge part of me. Basically all of my friends are also radical queers, and I do think it’s really important to push back against capitalism, systemic racism and all the other “isms” in whatever way we can.
But then … there’s this girl. She’s not an activist, and she’s kind of made it clear she doesn’t want to be. She likes “edgy” humour, nothing horrible or cruel (or I wouldn’t be dating her!), but she definitely laughs at some jokes I wouldn’t make. She says she cares about antiracism, but also thinks that people should “lighten up” about things like cultural appropriation. She says things like “capitalism isn’t a perfect system, but if socialism worked we’d all be socialists by now” (I cringed just typing that), and “social justice warriors are turning people away from their own cause by being so angry all the time” (double cringe!).
There was a time when I would have never even considered dating someone like her. And I’m honestly really worried about introducing her to my friends because, to be frank, I know that they won’t respond well to her, and they’ll judge me for dating her. But the truth is that outside of her politics, she’s one of the kindest people I know, and when I’m around her, I feel safer than I’ve felt with anyone I’ve ever dated. For the first time in my life, I could see myself really falling in love with someone. That has to count for something … right?
Ah, how I adore an unlikely love story! And how wonderful that you might be falling in love for the first time. Allow me to declare my bias now and say that I am a capital-R Romantic, and I believe that chances like this are much too important to cast aside over what sound like relatively small political differences. At the same time, I do understand how challenging, even overwhelming, it can be to find oneself almost inexplicably infatuated with someone we never imagined we might fall for. This is especially true if one feels, as you do, that one’s social circle might not approve.
At times like this, I like to lean into the cringe (all romance is cringe, that’s part of the fun) and take inspiration from none other than that great Romantic, the Bard himself:
“Love looks not with the eyes but with the mind/ And therefore is winged Cupid painted blind. Nor hath love’s mind of any judgement taste/ Wings and no eyes figure unheedy haste.”
These lines are from Shakespeare’s famous comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream (a prototypical rom-com if there ever was one), and the first two are often quoted out of context and explained as meaning that “true” love is not about physical good looks, but rather a match in personality.
Yet it’s not the first two lines in this quatrain, spoken by the lovesick character Helena, but rather the last two that impart a deeper meaning—and that I think are most relevant to your case. When Shakespeare observes that “nor hath love’s mind of any judgement taste,” he means that the experience of love is beyond logic or reason, that we fall in love with people whether or not they are a “good” match for us based on common criteria like social class, familial approval—or even political beliefs. And when he writes “wings and no eyes figure unheedy haste,” he alludes to the exhilarating feeling of being swept up in love (as though in flight) that can make us act in ways that are new, risky and unknown.
The quote is actually ambiguous when it comes to the moral of it all: it’s less an instruction, and more an observation, which is that love almost always brings with it great turmoil, personal change and risk, as well as reward. The theme of love as a wild and chaotic force that is also ultimately transformative is recurrent throughout Shakespeare’s plays, and it is this same wild romantic spirit that many great and classic love stories across various cultures refer to as one of the defining features of the human experience.
When it comes to you and your Liberal Lady, Star-Crossed, I think that it’s safe to say that the Wild and Chaotic Force of Love has entered the chat, so to speak. The question is: How do you want to respond to it? If life were a play, what would you want your character to do? How willing are you to take risks for the possibility of great love?
On a more practical level, maybe it’s helpful to clarify what the risks here actually are. I can see two major risks, the first of which is social. Maybe your friends will think and say negative things about you, or her, or maybe they will even reject you because you’re dating a gay liberal instead of a queer radical. We’ll loop back to that. The second risk is more personal. Maybe you’ll lose sight of who you are and what’s most important to you because of this relationship, and maybe that’s really scary.
When it comes to the social risk, I have to say that I think that good friendships do not try to control our dating lives based on how well our dates conform to any particular ideology or belief. That is not a healthy norm, whether practised between religious conservatives or far-left activists. Basically, what I mean is: if your friends reject you because you’re dating a gay liberal, then they’re probably not great friends in the first place. There are some obvious caveats. If you were dating someone who was violent or who advocated for discrimination, if your date’s favourite hobby was kicking puppies or stealing candy from babies, then of course your friends should step in. But if the issue is a difference of opinion about how best to solve the world’s problems, then maybe we can all just calm down a little and talk it through.
Speaking of talking, this brings me to the second risk, which is personal: will dating this Liberal Lady turn you into someone your current self would be ashamed of, Star-Crossed? This is an opportunity to lean into personal growth and what therapists call individuation, which is generally considered to be the lifelong process of developing a healthy sense of self that is distinct from, though interdependent with, the personalities of others. In simple terms, individuation is the ability to like or love somebody without having to feel everything they feel or agree with everything they believe, and it is a key part of healthy adult relationships.
In your situation, Star-Crossed, individuation would be a process of balancing the wonderful way that this liberal girl makes you feel and the things that she says that you don’t agree with. Does dating her actually result in more harm happening in the world? Is there any wisdom in what she says that makes you question your own beliefs? What can you learn from her, and what can she learn from you? Individuation means that we are able to critically evaluate our loved ones’ beliefs, learn what we can and let go of the rest. It means that we are open to being changed by love while knowing that we don’t have to give up on our convictions just because we are in love.
I would also suggest that one clear marker that this is a good relationship for you to be in is that you are both able to really listen to one another with curiosity and respect. It isn’t your job to change your Liberal Lady against her will, but if you’re really building a deep relationship, then she should be willing to enter deep conversations about what’s most important to you and vice versa. She should want to know what your political dreams are, and you should want to know hers—and who knows? Maybe in the end it will turn out that those dreams aren’t so far apart after all. And if they are too far apart to countenance, then you can walk away knowing that at least you gave the relationship its very best chance.
The best and most powerful romances are those that challenge us to dig deep within ourselves, the ones that open us to change—and to risk, yes, because that is the very point of love: To show us who we are and what we might be. I leave you with this quote from playwright and screenwriter Tom Stoppard, who speaks of “love, love, love, above all. Love as there has never been in a play. Unbiddable, ungovernable, like a riot in the heart and nothing to be done, come ruin or rapture.”
I hope you embrace the adventure and the unknown, Star-Crossed. I hope you embrace this new relationship and plunge into its depths, as far as you both can possibly go. May we all be so lucky. May we always run toward the riot in our hearts.
Kai Cheng Thom is no longer a registered or practicing mental health professional. The opinions expressed in this column are not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. All content in this column, including, but not limited to, all text, graphics, videos and images, is for general information purposes only. This column, its author, Xtra (including its parent and affiliated companies, as well as their directors, officers, employees, successors and assigns) and any guest authors are not responsible for the accuracy of the information contained in this column or the outcome of following any information provided directly or indirectly from it.