Once, I went out with a puppeteer who was 15 years older than me and spent the latter half of our date talking about the Planet of the Apes franchise, which would have been fine if I had seen any Planet of the Apes movies. Most first dates are a waste of time. Which is why we should talk about politics.
I know: Along with banking info, religion, and exes, conventional wisdom says politics is off the table on a first date. But conventional wisdom also says that money doesn’t buy happiness. The truth is, it’s become impossible to be both a reasonable person and “just stay out of” politics. It’s 2018 and everything is politics, just like everything in the ‘90s was angst. (May our engagement in the debate over gun control last longer than Alanis.)
Young, single Americans probably haven’t been this politically engaged since the Vietnam War, and on a first date that’s a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, the person you dated in 2014—the one who was “99 percent sure” that Obama was President—can now hold forth on a whole range of salient issues. On the other hand, now that our politics are more polarizing than ever, we have a whole new set of dating deal breakers.
Nothing ruins a date faster than one of you, a few drinks in, getting up on your soapbox and spitting about Trump for an hour. You think you sound like a sexy revolutionary, but actually you just sound pompous. Everyone admires pasión in a date, but nobody wants to listen to you recite the news like a Roman senate crier. The guiding light for every date is simple: Ask questions. When we’re talking about issues that are important to us, the temptation to prove how smart and knowledgeable we are is tough to resist, but resist you must. Just as there’s nothing less charming than a breathless, hour-long treatise on Donald Trump, there’s nothing more charming than a guy halting mid-sentence to say, “Sorry, I got carried away—what do you think?” Women also love explaining things. Asking a woman to educate you on a subject is the most effective foreplay there is.
Don’t just shout “LATE-TERM ABORTION: THOUGHTS?” across the table at your now-frightened date. You don’t need to wear a “Tuck Frump” shirt or whisper “Bernie would have won” into her ear during foreplay. Cool it. You can bring your views up like a normal person. Or, better yet, instead of bringing it up, just resist slamming on the breaks when the conversation inevitably veers towards something semi- to full-on political. Feel free to lean in and mention things that you’re involved in or care about. No matter what, you’re going to learn a lot about each other, and that’s what you’re here to do.
The best outcome is that your date cares about similar things as you do. Maybe with more or less fervor, but at least you have a common foundation. The second best outcome is that they’re opposed to what you believe in, but you’re both able to argue about it in a hot way: You know you’re not going to have a productive conversation about a border wall with someone you just met after two drinks, but you enjoy the intellectual exercise all the same. If you really have managed to “stay out of it,” and you have no take on income inequality and couldn’t care less about national parks being carved up, don’t fake-care when you get to a tense topic; maybe you guys are both neutral on everything, and you’ll just buy a house together 28 miles outside of Branson, Missouri and have two children and never think about the outside world.
Talking politics is also a good litmus test of how your maybe-future-partner handles sensitive or serious topics. Are you okay with someone who simply agrees with everything you say? Can you handle being with someone who belittles other people’s values? It’s fine if you are, but if you aren’t then you certainly don’t need to spend $35 renting paddle boats for a second date. Relationships require a lot of difficult conversations. In fact—sorry to ruin the magic—most of a relationship is just conversations. If you’re attempting to date long-term, you’re picking a person to talk to (or not talk to) for the next three to seven years, realistically. So pick someone you can talk about hard topics with. Pick someone who doesn’t interrupt before you make the point you wanted to make. Pick someone who is unafraid to admit that they don’t know something. Pick someone who doesn’t treat disagreements like debates to be won. Unless that’s your thing.