Forgive me for being heteronormative here, but there’s a relationship dynamic I simply need to discuss. The world is getting increasingly political, and as if everything weren’t already falling apart, a lot of us are still at the difficult task of looking for love. While finding “your person” definitely isn’t easy, there’s an emerging dating pattern that concerns me deeply: liberal women dating conservative men.
It’s getting increasingly rare to see couples with mixed politics, but it still happens. One minute your friend is a certified girlboss helping people register to vote — the next, she’s dating the most homophobic guy you know.
It’s happened enough both in pop culture and in real life for me to actually notice the pattern. Plus, it should be noted that the other way around (that is, a liberal guy dating a conservative girl) seems to be significantly less common. So, why do liberal girls date conservative guys? And does dating a conservative actually undermine your leftism? I set out to investigate.
Celebrity culture has made this relationship dynamic more prominent.
One notable “liberal girlfriend, conservative boyfriend” celebrity couple that caused quite a stir when they first got together? Grimes and Elon Musk.
Grimes is a Canadian singer who often aligned herself with leftist causes and was, well, grimey. She began dating billionaire and tyrant Elon Musk who, along with now embracing the Republican Party, exploits his employees at Tesla with lack of resting breaks, injuries, and financial undercompensation. During that time, Grimes tried defending her relationship with Musk and even backpedaled on a lot of her previous politics.
“Grusk” came to an end in 2021, after the couple had two children together. After they broke up, Grimes tried rekindling her leftist image by pulling stunts such as posing with The Communist Manifesto. Still, Grimes upset a lot of her fans by dating Elon Musk, and her politics are being called into question.
Next up on the chopping block are Shailene Woodley and Aaron Rodgers. Woodley made a name for herself in The Spectacular Now, Divergent, and The Fault In Our Stars, and also appears in Big Little Lies. Woodley was an avid Bernie Sanders supporter and was arrested at a protest in 2016 against the Dakota Access Pipeline. It was safe to assume Shailene Woodley was staunchly on the left.
However, in 2020, Shailene Woodley began dating conservative football quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who never got the COVID vaccine and made appearances on the controversial Joe Rogan podcast. In regards to this, Woodley said that she and her then fiancé simply “agreed to disagree” on certain subjects. While the couple broke up soon after, Woodley’s reluctance to confront Rodgers and his questionable politics, at least publicly, made her look complicit. Not very “dauntless” of her, dare I say.
And with the release of Netflix’s Purple Hearts, which features a liberal woman and conservative man in a fake relationship, this dynamic is extending to fictional media, too, and even being romanticized. Seeing these relationships be so prevalent in Hollywood — despite how often people receive backlash for taking part in them — begs the question of what the consequences can be in real life.
For college women, these relationships can lead to broken friendships.
Liberal women dating conservative men doesn’t just happen in the world of celebrities. In fact, it can happen in your very own friend group. I should note that the following examples all feature white women in heterosexual relationships, which should give you an idea on the racialized and heteronormative aspects of this dynamic, and how privilege might play into dating someone you disagree with politically.
Elizabeth, 21, tells Her Campus about the time one of her best friends dated a conservative. “We tried to tell her he was a Republican, because she didn’t know at first,” she explains. “When she didn’t care, my other friends went to her and were like, ‘Look, we don’t feel comfortable with you being him.’ She promised she’d end things, and when she didn’t, we ended the friendship with her.”
Elizabeth’s friend tried justifying the relationship by saying that no one “had a right to tell her who she can or can’t date” and that “his beliefs don’t mean she’s still not a liberal,” but Elizabeth wasn’t convinced. “It’s very easy to say you believe in something, but dating someone with beliefs that inherently go against all of yours proves you don’t actually care, and don’t feel affected by anything that he believes in,” she says. “Also, it shows she doesn’t prioritize her friendships.”
This phenomenon extends to older generations too. “My mom’s friend from Spain is a huge democrat but is currently dating someone who worked in the Trump administration,” says Holden, 21. “She definitely got backlash from my mom and other friends and it got to the point where we act like he doesn’t exist. She justified it by saying that politics didn’t have anything to do with who he really was and that just because he worked for the Trump admin didn’t mean he condoned what the Trump administration did.”
The Trump era in particular was a turning point for politically “mixed” relationships, but clearly, they’re still happening in the post-Trump world. But what would drive someone to date a person at the opposite end of their political spectrum?
So, why might liberal women date conservative men?
I wouldn’t be surprised if you knew a liberal woman who at one point dated or is dating a conservative man, but I would be surprised if you told me you knew a liberal man dating a conservative woman. So, why does this specific dynamic happen? College students and a relationship expert shared a few theories.
- The “I Can Fix Him” Mentality
The “I Can Fix Him” mentality, or the idea that men are just fixer-uppers waiting for a woman to better them, affects far too many women, but it may be motivation for certain women to date conservative men. Holden agrees, telling Her Campus that liberal women may have “the idea that conservative men just aren’t aware and have to be taught or see for their own eyes the liberal ideals they should follow.”
- Liberal Men Can Also Be Misogynistic
Just because a guy calls himself liberal doesn’t mean he’s perfect. On the contrary, liberal men have been known to display their own brand of misogyny that’s bubbling under the surface of allegedly progessive politics. They may be happy to split the bill 50/50, but then they don’t know how to do the dishes. They’re up to date on the latest political lingo, but then they use it to manipulate you. This then might lead women to go after more conservative men, because while sexism is everywhere, there’s a chance that the conservative guy might still hold the door open for you.
“While women are arguably given more autonomy now than they have in previous generations, it seems that with it comes a loss of chivalry,” explains relationships expert Carmel Jones. “A lot of liberal women wish they could get the best of both worlds. In many ways, this chivalry is control in disguise. However, for some women, it’s a refreshing way to be treated in the early days of a relationship.”
- Taking Advantage of Flimsy Beliefs
“I think conservatives can be more vocal and aggressive about their beliefs,” claims Elizabeth, “and men like to feel as if they can have more control in a relationship.” In other words, a staunchly conservative woman might be too intimidating for a man, which can perhaps explain why this dynamic seems to be so specifically gendered toward liberal women and conservative men. And if you want to feel in control, what better way to do so than silencing a partner politically?
- The relationship might be built on lies
Many conservatives know that conservative views can be an unattractive quality, according to the Huffington Post, which is why they might feel inclined to just lie about it. Zoë, 21, shares a similar experience with Her Campus. “He told me he was a Democrat, and we were like four months into dating when he finally let slip that he was pro-life,” she says about an ex. “We ended things for a ton of reasons, but stayed friends until he started working for a Republican Senate candidate. I never would have gotten involved with him if I’d known, because that goes entirely against my values.”
It might be more difficult to untangle politics from feelings if you’ve been together for a while. But if a relationship starts off a lie, it might not be the healthiest.
“There are so many studies that suggest that couples of this type are very likely to break up or have an unhealthy dynamic,” says Jones. “Successful relationships are between folks who have the same core moral values. Many people might think that ‘opposites attract,’ but core values is not where that applies. Politics (especially these days) is often rooted in one’s moral compass. When those two things diverge, it can cause huge problems.”
Jones also mentions societal expectations for women to settle down. “There’s a lot of pressures on women that cause them to think they have to find a partner sooner rather than later,” she explains, “or if they’ve invested time in a man — letting go would result in a sunk cost.” But should a lifelong partner come at the cost of your values?
Is dating a conservative as a liberal that deep?
In my opinion? Yes, yes it is that serious. I know it’s not nice to think that politics drive this much of our lives and our relationships, but “at this point,” everything is political. Ultimately, liberal women dating conservative men comes down to an issue of complicity, particularly when it comes to white women. Historically, white women’s feminism doesn’t extend to all women, and many white women still voted for Trump in 2020. So, dating conservative men doesn’t make liberal white women look “mature” or like they’re past politics. It just makes it look like they don’t actually care about the marginalized communities who could be hurt by their partner’s politics.
“This person is getting priority in your life and is against everything you apparently stand for,” says Elizabeth. “I can’t imagine dating and loving someone who votes for people that create laws that limit my rights, the rights of my friends, and people in general.”
Elizabeth is right; dating someone with hurtful views is just not a good look. So, if you’re not calling out your partner’s bigoted views (or if you’re dating someone with bigoted views to begin with), I’m afraid it’s time to look in the mirror.
In short, it’s okay to feel skeptical about your friend and her new conservative boyfriend. And for those of us who like men, we deserve much better than a conservative boyfriend who’s voting your rights away.
It’s sexist to blame women for the actions of their boyfriends. I’m definitely not saying that women are responsible for the actions of their partners, nor are they just reflections of them. However, if you do fit this relationship dynamic, I think it’s important to step back and reflect on why you might not have a problem with a conservative boyfriend, and who in your life you might be hurting if you keep him around. Because if your marginalized friends feel unsafe around your boyfriend, there’s a good chance they now feel unsafe around you.
Interviews have been edited for length and clarity.