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The politics of strange bedfellows

  • What’s more important in a romantic partner: great sex or similar political views?
  • In data gathered by OkCupid, 86% of male respondents and 75% of women respondents said sex was more important than compatible politics

What’s more important in a romantic partner: great sex or similar political views?
What’s more important in a romantic partner: great sex or similar political views?

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Acertain kind of young person can’t be in love without agreeing on politics. In Ajay Krishnan’s 2005 comic play Butter And Mashed Banana, the protagonist’s parents meet while tearing down the poster of a film that offended them. Attracted to each other, they get coffee and, it is implied, more than coffee, together. Afterwards, they each get a shock.

“She: Shiv Sena? He: CPI (M)? So your problem with the film...

She: Offensive stereotyping of feminists. And your problem with the film...

He: Insult to the image of the ideal Hindu woman!”

As you can imagine, they run far away from each other. Only to be angrily dragged together again when she discovers she is pregnant.

What’s more important in a romantic partner: great sex or similar political views? The dating site OkCupid has been asking this question for 15 years and recently analysed the responses of millennial users in the US and India. For the first time in the site’s history, more Americans picked being politically simpatico over sexual chemistry. From 2016 to 2018, the percentage of American women who picked politics over sex increased from 27% to 42%, and of men from 23% to 30%.

Not so in India. Here, 86% of male respondents and 75% of women respondents said sex was far more important than compatible politics. Is it that OkCupid’s millennial urban users in India don’t care about politics? The majority of users did say it was important to vote and to be politically aware. Then why is it that a majority said they didn’t like to discuss politics? Is it that in the matter of sex, they are like that heavily art-directed viral photograph with two smiling men in a car, one carrying a BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) flag and the other a CPI (Communist Party of India) one?

For another kind of young person, it’s hard to decide which is worse: being with someone whose politics you abhor or being with someone without any politics. For them, to be alive is to want to change the world. In Vivian Gornick’s biography, the anarchist Emma Goldman is a woman to whom “feelings were everything”. At 18, just a couple of years away from becoming a revolutionary, Goldman was virtually a slave. She was sewing overcoats 10 hours a day, miserable at work and anguished at home. In this state, she is weakened enough to marry the first man in sight who “shared her love of books and her hatred of work”. On her wedding night, she finds out he is impotent but, Gornick writes, what drove Goldman to divorce months later was discovering that her husband was “drawn to her vitality in the forlorn hope that she would rescue him from himself”. This is probably what happens to Manic Pixie Woke Girls and apathetic men after they get their “happy ending”.

And that’s the kind of matching that seems to be on the cards for OkCupid users. While 54% of Indian women wanted partners with similar political beliefs, only 21% of men cared. While 53% of women said they wouldn’t date someone who wasn’t a feminist, only 17% of men cared whether the person they dated was a feminist or not. While 62% of women said no to dating someone who didn’t support the #MeToo movement, only 24% of men had similar qualms. At this point, even the fictional narrator and lead character of the HBO drama Sex And The City, Carrie Bradshaw, would abandon her catchphrase and say, “I don’t wonder at all.”

I read out the data to a millennial politician. He is a 29-year-old with a rare avidity for life, a man who sincerely believes in the emancipatory potential of politics. He laughed at the gender differences. ”It’s only about dating, not marriage, right? If you are on the matrimonial sites matching all the way down to your sub-caste, the question of whether your politics match is already answered,” he said. Right as always. For all the broad-mindedness expressed on dating sites, guess how many Indians marry outside their caste? Five per cent.

Addressing our epidemic of endogamy, the Facebook page “Revolutionary Memes For Bahujan Teens” recently featured a sly cartoon parodying Marvel’s Ant-Man. In the context of Indian men and inter-caste marriage, Can’t Man’s superpower is to say: “Can’t man. My mom said no.” I am paraphrasing badly but you get what it’s about. With a political instinct Goldman would have admired, the creator of the meme had got to something sociologists have barely figured. Guess what is the one factor that marginally increases the chances of your marrying outside your caste? Your mother. Or, more precisely, according to a 2017 study from the Indian Statistical Institute, the education level of the mother of the boy slightly increases the chances of it being an inter-caste marriage.

All this helps us suggest new questions for OkCupid and other dating apps. One, was your mother able to pursue a higher education? Two, does your mother know you are on this site? Three, does your mother get a vote on your sex life?

Cheap Thrills is a fortnightly column about millennials, obsessions and secrets. Nisha Susan is the editor of the webzine The Ladies Finger.


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