When Art Linares saw Caroline Simmons at work for the first time, he went home and told his brother, “Dude, I’m in love with a Democrat.”
Simmons, then 28, wasn’t just any Democrat — she was a newly elected state representative for Stamford, Conn. Linares, meanwhile, was a Republican state senator. He glimpsed her at their first legislative session of 2015.
A member of former president Barack Obama’s administration, Simmons, now 33, was one of the state’s youngest legislators. She was also a member of the young bipartisan caucus, a small group of elected officials under 40 that Linares, now 30, had established. The two were taken by each other. They grew close over long nights serving on the judiciary committee and, soon, a first date in New York.
The couple dated in secret to avoid outside opinions or pressures, until one December morning in 2016. Linares was making eggs when Simmons turned to the last page of the Stamford Advocate to see a full-page ad, complete with a heart-shaped cloud and sunflower, that read, “Dear Caroline, Will you marry me? Love, Artie.” It was a fitting proposal for a couple that reads the newspaper — or rather, different newspapers — together every morning.
Couples like Linares and Simmons are rare today. Just about 1 in 10 heterosexual married couples is a Democrat-Republican pair, according to recently analyzed national voter registration records. A Journal of Politics study found that in 1973, 54 percent of recently married couples shared the same political affiliation, while today it’s up to 74 percent. And with online dating — the most common way for couples to meet today — becoming more political and polarized after President Trump’s election, bipartisan love seems poised to further decline.
The 2016 election was a quandary for Simmons and Linares, too. They may have co-sponsored bills and led committees together, but even for them, Donald Trump was a sticking point. While Simmons supported Hillary Clinton and Linares Marco Rubio (for whom he had worked in the past), they hadn’t talked about what would happen after Rubio dropped out.
It wasn’t until late September of 2016 that Linares, during a debate for his state Senate seat, was asked whom he supported. He responded: Trump. Later, Linares was driving to see Simmons when he called her to tell her about the exchange. The other end of the phone went silent.
The couple talked through Linares’s support, which he emphasized was a result of Trump’s policies rather than his character. But the issue of Trump himself, still a frequent topic of conversation, remains unresolved.
Perhaps it helps that the two met in person before the rise of separate dating apps for liberals and conservatives (there’s even one for Bernie Sanders loyalists). Perhaps it helps, too, that their profession demands bipartisanship. Their union embodies how someone can represent the other side and be on your side at the same time, a messy space that most millennials choose to avoid.
Even for those not working directly in politics, young couples who are making it work across the aisle offer a model for complicating one’s own assumptions — whether through prioritizing other parts of the relationship or, like the Connecticut lawmakers, fully leaning into the debate.
On Linares and Simmons’s wedding day, state Democrats and Republicans were so at odds with each other that Connecticut had been without a budget for over three months, the longest fiscal impasse in state history. Simmons and Linares canceled their honeymoon to continue negotiations.
“Gun control is not going to solve school shootings,” Sloan Riley says, enunciating each word.
“I beg to differ,” Annamarie Locker, his fiancée, responds with an easy laugh. She is used to this type of conversation by now. Locker, 29, a stay-at-home mom, and Riley, 32, a mechanic and veteran, have been together for four years; they met at a bar concert. Today, the “fiercely liberal” and “very conservative” pair from Yorktown, Ind., are driving in the car with their two young children. They have just finalized plans to buy their first house — a long way from the days when they both were crashing in friends’ homes.
“Nobody who registers a gun — the odds — are going to take that gun and shoot up a school. You see unregistered guns,” Riley continues. “You’re taking guns away from law-abiding citizens.”
Without missing a beat, Locker counters that, regardless, tighter laws would make it harder for people to obtain guns and go on to “shoot up schools.”
The volley continues until the couple moves on to the issue of better mental health care: a topic they can both agree on.
Politics didn’t enter the couple’s relationship until the 2016 election. Locker and Riley don’t talk about politics daily — both are often frustrated by what they perceive as a lack of action in government. When they do, it’s not too heated, especially because they are on the same page about women’s rights, the issue about which Locker feels most passionate.
“We’re both pretty stubborn in our beliefs. We’ll listen to each other, but I don’t think we’ve really changed each other’s minds on anything,” Locker says.
“Not at all,” Riley replies. “I have respect for her views, she just ignores me, and it works.” Locker laughs.
Opposing politics don’t seem to define Locker and Riley’s relationship as much as their affection for their children and each other do.
In other communities, bipartisan relationships may draw more attention. Kat Dimenstein, 31, has had a different experience in Washington, D.C. “It’s weird, people will say, ‘Oh, I’m also dating a Democrat,’ as if it’s a secret or something,” says Dimenstein, a Republican who works as the chief of staff for an Arizona representative. She met her husband, a Democrat who also works in politics, on a work trip to Bahrain.
For many, dating someone of the opposite party has become taboo, especially as dating apps exacerbate an already polarized state of mind. Dimenstein recalls reading an Instagram post that suggested some D.C. residents no longer take people who list themselves as moderates on dating apps at face value. Instead, they consider them secret Republicans.
For Jen Benson, a 27-year-old living in Kingston, N.Y., that goes back to the president. “I think the severity of the actions being taken by the Trump administration has caused a backlash in dating,” she says. “It really has made some people think a little more seriously about what type of partner [they want] and if they want their partner’s politics to match theirs.”
Especially as conflicting politics within families have intensified after Trump’s election, a like-minded significant other may seem all the more desirable to some.
It’s important to note that identity markers often correlated with a political party — such as religion, race, ethnicity or education — largely account for the romantic partisan divide, says Gregory Huber, who is chair of Yale University’s department of political science and has studied the effect of politics on online dating.
But these shared experiences have long influenced relationships — politics wasn’t always such a common deal-breaker. In the past, Republicans and Democrats weren’t necessarily considered so different, says Jess Carbino, a sociologist who has worked for Tinder and Bumble. Today, Carbino says, many people, especially women and LGBTQ users, actively take politics into account. This consists of listing their views on dating app profiles or, while less common, filtering by political preferences.
Had Simmons and Linares, the two politicians, tried online dating, they may have swiped past each other. They don’t share a party, religious background, ethnicity or hometown. Simmons grew up hearing stories of her parents marching for civil rights and protesting the Vietnam War, while Linares heard stories of his family starting anew in the United States after they escaped Cuba, where Fidel Castro had sentenced his grandfather to death for opposing communism. “We try to put people into a box — if they’re Republican they must be this way, if they’re Democrat they must be this way — but the reality is the world is much more complicated than that,” Linares says.
What they did share were good examples of how love doesn’t demand political agreement. Linares’s parents frequently voted across party lines, while Simmons’s parents were of opposite political parties, bringing the children with them to Republican and Democratic conventions. Arguing at the dinner table was to be expected, rather than avoided.
Huber, the Yale professor, attributes the decline of bipartisan homes like these to choice. Especially with more women in the workforce, “the overwhelming thing that has changed relative to 50 years ago is that couples can be much more selective. Marriage is delayed for many people, so on average marriages are much more homophilous,” he says.
Despite this choice, the subsequent categorization makes it easier for people to avoid getting to know someone who thinks differently. Benson says she would never date a Trump supporter, but she has tried to buck the trend of creating a dating profile that automatically rejects the other side. Her profile instead includes this question: “Who makes you excited to vote?”
She messages with people who respond to her question, continuing the conversation — if only online. She’ll even chat with those who voted for Trump.
Linares sees the inherent value in trying to understand the other side, too. “Talking through issues with someone who disagrees with you or has a different opinion helps refine your own views,” he says. These conversations feel particularly important in the context of dating — which not only allows young people to meet new people and figure out what they want, but also may inform their future children’s relationships.
“It’s encouraging to know … people haven’t made up their mind[s] that this is the right way and the only way,” Huber says. Partisanship may seem omnipresent, but bipartisan relationships show that “we’re able to disagree [and] we’re able to change our minds over time.”