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Anise Labrum was 20 years old and living in Los Angeles not long before the last presidential election. She had been seeing her boyfriend for about a year. Back then, Labrum, a fashion stylist, loosely considered herself a Democrat. Her sweetheart, on the other hand, was a Republican. They knew they differed on politics, but it never seemed to get in the way. Then they moved to New York City, land of Democrats.
"All of a sudden he became all, 'OK, woman, this is how to think, and if you don't think this way, you're less of a person,' " she says. "The day of the 2000 election, we were standing in line waiting for our turns in the voting booths. He was talking loudly about how Bush was great and Gore was screwed, making sure everyone could hear him. It was so overbearing."
Soon after, she kicked him to the curb. "Our political differences set the grounds for anything else we tried to communicate about and eventually we never could," she says. "I would never date a Republican, especially now."
With the country deeply divided over the current presidential racewith Republican George Bush and John Kerry in a dead heat and many voters in a blind rage over their guypolitical affiliation has ascended to the top of requirement lists for potential mates. It now sits conspicuously next to "earning potential" and "full head of hair."
They're even divided over who's having more fun in bed. In a recent live and unscientific poll, ABC News reported that Republicans are happier with their committed relationships and sex lives than their Democratic counterparts. The poll also revealed that 72 percent of Republicans had worn something sexy to enhance their sex lives, as compared with 62 percent of Democrats. Similarly, fewer Republicans claimed to have ever faked an orgasm. Fake or not, Republican orgasms are increasingly being had with other Republicans.
Charles Finney, a Republican, has dated a wide range of people, including liberal Democrats, and he says conservatives are among the best lovers because of their political ideology.
"You can have sex with a beautiful woman, but you have better sex with a smart woman. The mind is the ultimate sexual organ," he says. "Conservatives think for themselves. They are more about the individual and are more about personal truth. The nakedness of the individual and his own truth is a lot more intimate than the posh flamboyant exterior of a liberal facade."
The GOP=HOT formula works less well for Seth Weinburger, who lives in the swing state of Michigan, and considers himself liberal-minded and a Democrat, for the most part. In his late teens and early twenties, he dated numerous Republicans and didn't think much about it. He figured they just always had differences of opinion, and he wrote the arguments off. Then at 21, late in the Clinton years, he was dating Christie, his fifth Republican girlfriend, and he started to re-examine his choices.
"It came down to ideological difference," says the social worker, who back then was living in New York. "With Christie, either we'd argue all the time or we'd avoid political discussions altogether. At some point, I realized she was planning on changing me and I was never going to be as forceful about my views as she was with me.
"I decided that I needed to be careful about who I'm dating. I would never seriously date a Republican ever again," he continues. "I'm more certain about it now with the tension surrounding the election. The fact that I don't date Republicans doesn't even have to do with who they are as a personit's to do with the huge chasm between us ideologically. I know it won't work out so I just won't tryeven if they're a nice person."
Inevitably, the bedroom battles have spilled into Internet dating. White Buffalo Ventures owns dozens of dating websites organized by interest groups, from tattoos and poetry to sign language. Sensing the moment, in June the company added democratsingles.com and conservativedates.com. Since the launch, several thousand members have registered with each.
Executive director Brad Armstrong says White Buffalo doesn't have a political agenda; it just follows a business template. "People get extremely passionate about politics around election time," says Brad. "We're just tapping into an expected area of interest."
Other dating sites have popped up online. White Buffalo isn't alone. Singlerepublican.com greets visitors with:
"Conservative American singles, are you frustrated with huge mainstream dating sites? Tired of sifting through thousands of profiles only to find liberals that don't really share your viewpoints on important issues? Well you've come to the right place! We are dedicated to helping conservatives like yourself meet their perfect soulmate."
And singleliberal.com, we're assured, is "coming soon," according to its stand-in Web page.
One hopeful Romeo on conservativedates.com headlines his personal ad with "Save me from Liberals" and prompts potential dates to start conversations with him by asking about his liberal ex-girlfriend.
Similarly, a democratsingles.com member explains first and foremost:
"I can't stand it anymore. Need someone who understands just how incompetent "W" is, and how much harm he has done to U.S. relations with the rest of the world. Lets get together, talk politics and see what else we might have in common."
Professor Pepper Schwartz, a sociology professor at the University of Washington and a relationship adviser on perfectmatch.com, thinks people are distinctly less able to tolerate political difference nowadays.
"You could have been a Rockefeller Republican and gotten along with a Kennedy Democrat without too much trouble, and now it is a lot less possible," Schwartz says. "Politics now tends to be one of those litmus tests when you're dating. People no longer ignore it. If you find out about someone's views and you disagree, you feel that this is not your soul matehow could they feel that way, what kind of person are they?"
But is political affiliation really the bastard to blame when it comes to relationship failure? Isnt it possible that the relationship was doomed and politics were simply the catalyst? Power couple Mary Matalin and James Carvilleshe a GOP activist, he a Democratic onehave thrived for years. Their opposing viewpoints make for good copy, and it's almost erotic to watch them argue on television.
Political difference also proved to be an aphrodisiac during this year's Republican National Convention, as craigslist.org featured countless personal ads from Democrats searching for fiery sex with a much resented Republican. In this case, the political divide seemed to heighten the s/m appeal of arrogant Republican ass.
Whether politics can be a distraction from or indicative of other more subconscious factors, it seems inescapable. Relationship guru Amy Alkon, author of the syndicated advice column "Ask Amy," began to notice that political tension was seeping into romance not long after Bush took office.
"I never got letters about politics before Bush was president," she says. "In the first letter I got about politics, a person used the word liberal when describing their partner, and they really meant turd. When you refer to your partner as a turd, the relationship is bound to crumble."
It would be easy to assume the romantic tension will end with the end of the election suspense. But Professor Schwartz predicts that things will get worse after the election, not better.
"The fire will eventually go out, but not completely," she says. "It won't take much to get people's anger burning very, very fiercely."