The Pitt News

Pitt students find love across the political party line

Emily+Loeffelholz+and+Chris+Montgomery+are+a+student+couple+at+Pitt+with+opposing+political+views.+John+Hamilton+%7C+Visual+Editor
Emily Loeffelholz and Chris Montgomery are a student couple at Pitt with opposing political views. John Hamilton | Visual Editor

Emily Loeffelholz and Chris Montgomery are a student couple at Pitt with opposing political views. John Hamilton | Visual Editor

Emily Loeffelholz and Chris Montgomery are a student couple at Pitt with opposing political views. John Hamilton | Visual Editor

By MarySandra Do / Staff Writer

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Chris Montgomery and Emily Loeffelholz have been dating for 11 months, but it almost ended seven months in when the topic of global warming came up.

“I think it was my fault for sure. It was kind of a warm day or something like that,” Montgomery said.

The two initially bonded over shared interests — they met when they were both on the track and field and cross-country teams — but they soon realized their political inclinations couldn’t be more different. Montgomery, a senior studying economics and international and area studies, is liberal while Loeffelholz, a junior economics and statistics and dual major, is conservative.

Montgomery said his stance on global warming comes from his father, who was a molecular biologist and stressed that “global warming is an existential crisis that’s going to wipe us all out.”

“I’m willing to sacrifice the entire economic system to save the climate and trees and whatever, and I think Emily thinks I’m a little overboard on these kinds of things, perhaps understandably so,” he said.

In the current political climate — after a polarizing election that left many friends and family members glaring at each other from separate sides of the aisle — couples might have an even trickier time remaining diplomatic. Montgomery and Loeffelholz have had to add navigating political disagreements to the list of potential hurdles for their relationship. The struggle to reconcile political disagreements has led many students to choose a partner that shares the same views. For others, a shared love of politics and a willingness to compromise is enough to move past the political differences.

Kevin R. Binning, assistant professor of psychology and a social psychologist at Pitt, said most couples don’t follow the old adage “opposites attract,” preferring to find a partner that has fairly similar political views as themselves. Yet those who share the same political beliefs might instead share their passion for state affairs, which could ultimately draw them together despite their differences.

“Because they share a love of politics, they might enjoy engaging in spirited discussions espousing their respective viewpoints,” Binning said. “In doing so, they could come to see features of the other that are attractive … so having a common interest in politics could be an avenue to closeness, even if they disagree.”

Loeffelholz said it’s key to move past the idea that one of them is right and one of them is wrong.

“When it comes to politics, we may not reach the compromise we wish we could, but if we try to at least understand the other’s perspective, that’s helpful,” Loeffelholz said.

Though climate change is the biggest fight the couple has had — among other smaller squabbles about former President Barack Obama’s success — but said not all their fights start out politically charged.

“I wonder if there are moments in which there’s something else we’re fighting about when I’m clearly wrong for one reason or another and I realize that, while I’m wrong, we might as well air out political differences and get it all out on the table,” he said.

To avoid fights, they say they try to be respectful of one another.

“It’s an unspoken rule between us, we don’t generally bring up politics and if we do there’s an unspoken rule about the way in which to go about it,” Montgomery said.

Other couples on campus couples haven’t found it quite so easy to separate the political from the personal. Sam Pollock, a senior bioengineering major who identifies as liberal, said he disagreed with his former girlfriend, who identified as a conservative, over issues including abortion and environmentalism.

“It’s hard to be with someone who doesn’t share your priorities of what should be law,” he said.

While conservatives and liberals might have found more in common four years ago, President Donald Trump has changed the standard for republicanism in 2017. Unlike President George Bush, or others before him, liberal students might have more of an immediate left-swipe reaction to potential partners toting Trump posters in their dating profiles.

Gianna Callisto, a senior environmental studies and political science student, dated someone who was more conservative than her prior to the election. She said different opinions made her more aware, educated and willing to compromise, but she wasn’t sure if she would’ve seen the situation the same way during this election.

“The political climate now is very different than it was when I was in this situation,” Callisto said. “He and I never disagreed on Trump’s campaign or his extremist promises. I believe a political divide like that puts immense stress on a relationship, whether romantic or otherwise.”

On the other side of the political spectrum, Sen. Bernie Sanders’ tendency for radical progressivism might have elicited a similar sense of tension.
Jeanna Sybert, a junior communication and political science major, ran into a similar problem got into an argument with her boyfriend after attending a Bernie Sanders rally in March. Sybert said she left the rally thinking he was a legitimate candidate, while her boyfriend felt he was “promising things that were not really possible.”

Sybert said that while the disagreement took place, they had boundaries in place that they set up early on in the relationship about how far to push certain topics.

I think it’s really important to identify what specifically you differ on and how important that is to you,” Sybert said. “A lot of political alignment is value-based and if your significant other rejects something that is connected to a value of yours, then it is only a matter of time before these differences manifest themselves in your relationship.”

Since Donald Trump’s election, Sybert said the couple hasn’t had many disagreements. For her, she said it would be impossible to continue a relationship with “someone who fundamentally sees the world differently than you.”

“Especially in the current political climate in the United States, it is very important to me to be able to express my fear, disgust, anger about what the current administration is doing,” Sybert said. “I need my significant other to not only support that, but share some of those.”

Montgomery and Loeffelholz said even if they don’t share viewpoints, politics have become a way for the couple to bond. The differences have helped them appreciate opposite views.

“Em has essentially put a face to a conservative ideology,” he said. “Even when I’m yelling or I’m getting yelled at, there’s something I admire about that, and I think that’s perhaps also why dating a girl with a different political ideology is not as difficult as people think.”

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Pitt students find love across the political party line