Republican mating.

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JULY 3, 2006

Republican mating.

My first date was a martini on a sunny Friday after work. From his
personal ad, I knew that Guns & Ammo was one of his favorite
magazines, that he loved stock-car racing, and that a snapshot of
him in a club g'itmo t-shirt is posted on Rush Limbaugh's website.
That morning, I rifled through my closet, unsure what to wear:
Should I go Dr. Laura demure, with a church-social turtleneck and
pearls? Or choose a plunging neckline and a tube skirt, in that Ann
Coulter vixen style? Taking a wild guess, I selected a pinstripe
suit, a pink shirt, and cowboy boots. I hadn't a clue--at least,
not yet--as to what look would most appeal to an authentic
conservative man.About a month ago, I signed up for ConservativeMatch, one of the
biggest conservative dating services on the Web. In recent years, a
whole cottage industry of politically and socially conservative
dating sites has flourished: At CowboyCowgirl, you'll find a match
who shares your "love for the country way of life." At
SinglesWithScruples, you'll discover that special someone who
doesn't sleep around. For the rank and file, there's ElephantDates,
Conservadate, ConservativeMatchmaker, and even Hannidate, an online
dating service promoted by talk-radio host Sean Hannity.

Perhaps the proliferation of conservative dating sites merely
reflects GQ's recent claim that conservatives are better in bed.
But I couldn't help wondering if conservative bachelors and
bachelorettes, trading on their own meat market, have distinctive
dating rituals and ideals for a mate. In other words, how does Ms.
Right go looking for Mr. Right? I put up a profile, trolled the
listings, and went on three dates to investigate.

`With a culture that is often hostile to conservative values and to
the people who hold to them," ConservativeMatch's home page
proclaims, "our goal is to provide an alternative resource." To
wit, directing my browser there, I discovered personal ads;
political articles; discussion forums (such as "Liberals Need Not
Apply"); and a calendar of conservative events. But, as far as the
ideological quality of the users within, ConservativeMatch
guaranteed me only one thing: "Sweethearts not bleeding hearts."

I needn't have worried. ConservativeMatch's signup process goes to
lengths to ensure ideological authenticity. In its terms of use, I
was forbidden to espouse the identity "gay." Developing my online
profile, I was asked to agree, disagree, or declare uncertainty
with a set of 14 statements testing my core "beliefs and
values"--things like "Less government is generally better for
society" and "Prayer should be permitted in public schools." This
would be prominently displayed on my profile, providing a kind of
quick, no-nonsense scorecard for my conservative purity. I filled
it out in haste and tried to go on, but the page reloaded and
scolded me: "Sex outside of marriage is immoral is a required
field."

Once I signed up, I began to browse the site, choosing to look for
conservative singles by city. The long list--each city marked with a
star--made up a boundless conservative constellation. There are
conservatives looking for love from Topeka to Tacoma; there are
even hundreds of conservatives in the Philippines and a couple
dozen in Pakistan. Searching for my own city, I saw that the only
D.C.-area option available was "Washington, VA."

I began to realize that ConservativeMatch often resembles a parallel
world, one that reflects what some idealistically minded
conservatives might wish the real world could be: everyone's
values, clearly delineated on a scorecard, hanging around their
necks. Conservatism as a citizenship that surpasses national
boundaries. And Washington safely where it should have been all
along: in a red state.

Though there are fewer of them, there are also liberal dating sites.
Some of them operate to fight the impression that liberals don't
adequately value marriage: During the 2004 presidential election
season, one such site helped sponsor a contest to find a potential
first lady for bachelor candidate Dennis Kucinich. Unfortunately,
the winner turned out to have a boyfriend.

But, while liberal dating sites tend to promote a sense of shared
mission to save the world (DemocraticMatch offers a free membership
to anyone who has recently donated to an environmental group),
conservative sites market themselves as oases set in the middle of
a libertine and inhospitable popular culture. "Ladies,"
Conservadate's homepage asks rhetorically, "Tired of meeting men
who are just looking to `play the field'?" Some even encourage you
to blame your past romantic flops on that old knee-jerk liberal
prejudice. "Remember this?" the same site queries its male users.
"You're dating, getting to know each other, and it seems like
things are going well. Then she finds out you are a conservative
and you get that look? You know, the look that says, `Oh and you
seemed so nice.'"

This sales strategy works because conservatives with a particularly
embattled mentality are the sites' natural market. If you're a
conservative living in Kansas, you don't need to meet your
ideological bedfellows online-- you can find them in the grocery
store. But if you're a conservative marooned in San Francisco, you
really need a conservative dating site. This is why the top cities
on ConservativeMatch aren't Dallas or Tulsa, but Los Angeles and
New York.

With its polls, events, and forums, ConservativeMatch provides such
embattled conservatives the chance to get together and engage on the
topic of their alienation. The most charming manifestation of this
sentiment is a movement on the site to refer to Democrats as
"Vichi-crats." In the ConservativeMatch imagination,
conservatives--even if they control every branch of the
government--will always represent the underground Gaullist
resistance to the liberals' sellout Vichy.

Imet my first date, the Guns & Ammo lover, at a downtown grill, the
kind of mass-manufactured, mahogany-toned place that flogs dry-aged
steaks, cigars, and 800 labels' worth of wine. Amid the high-gloss
crowd, Shooter stood out like a bird who'd accidentally flown into
the wrong habitat: I spotted him perched awkwardly on a stool, clad
in an oversized white polo with his company's logo on the breast.
As I approached, he saw my cowboy boots and proudly tugged up his
pants cuffs to reveal big black stompers of his own. We matched!

Our boots were just the beginning of a giddy game of conservative
free association. Shooter said he liked William F. Buckley, and I
revealed I'd met Buckley when he was a guest in one of my college
seminars. "Really!" Shooter whistled. Shooter served Christopher
Hitchens. I returned with William Kristol. It was like going out
with a stranger and realizing that, by some great coincidence, he
already knows some of your family: You feel relieved and excited;
the conversation flows freely. Except, on this date, our mutual
family was Buckley, Fred Barnes, and G. Gordon Liddy.

As the conversation eddied onward and the drink kicked in, I began
to feel pleasantly enveloped, as if in a cocoon of joint
understanding. Shooter began to tell a story. When he moved to
Washington from his native Tennessee, he went to a Kinko's and
found the service there much ruder than in copy shops back home--a
sure signal he'd entered liberal territory.

At that moment, the story felt meaningful. I've always hated
Kinko's, but I thought my hate was purely existential, like the
feelings people have about the DMV. I had never before considered
that my experience at Kinko's had a political implication.

What kind of conservatives are in my dating pool on
ConservativeMatch? As a little anthropological experiment, I took
the first 40 profiles that came up when I browsed Washington,
Virginia, and studied them. Some interesting trends emerged.

The women on ConservativeMatch--at least the women of Washington,
Virginia-- are both much rarer and more quintessentially
"conservative" than the men are. Out of the 40 profiles I
considered, only ten were women. Several of these described
themselves as "simple," even "prudish" girls with "old-school"
values, looking for a "manly" or "boy scout" sort of guy. ("He must
not smoke, cuss, or spit.") All ten were seriously practicing
Christians, and only one disagreed that sex outside of marriage is
immoral. Favorite books included Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice
(or, as one put it, "anything from 18th century England").

The men are strikingly different. They are not, for the most part,
serious values conservatives. Over half of the 30 men I initially
viewed believe that sex before marriage is OK ("Heck," one wrote,
"I think that some marriages are immoral"), and twelve--or 40
percent--believe abortion may not need to be illegal. Their
conservatism manifests itself more in a libertarian sensibility, in
diehard patriotism, in the desire for a strong defense, even in
matters of taste, like an appreciation for country living. Widening
my search, I found that the ConservativeMatch man reads National
Review and that, on any given day, you might find him "in a
scholarly discussion of Supreme Court decisions at the Cato
Institute or ... tearing out walls in an old house." Inexplicably,
he has a fascination with all things Italian. When asked what kind
of woman they're looking for, the men judge the stereotype of the
meek conservative woman with scorn. They tend to prefer an
"intellectually aware" and "selfassured" woman--perhaps even a
woman who "dresses ... provacatively [sic]": "[A] little bit of an
uptown girl," one wrote, "with a downtown spirit."

What does this divergence mean? It may reflect a national cultural
demography: Women are more religious than men. They identify
themselves as libertarian less frequently. And, historically, men
have had the chance to partake more wholly of the American
tradition of rugged individualism. The men on ConservativeMatch
embrace a composite machismo of military culture, Western movies,
the "don't-tread-on-me" spirit. The women simply don't want men to
jump down their pants.

No matter what the implications, the divide seems sad. Despite the
site's goal, these men and these women do not go together. If
Democrats feel down these days, they ought to take heart: It looks
like they'll win the breeding game.

I'd read that my second date was a writer and a lover of World War
II military history, like myself. And yet, upon meeting him, I felt
as disoriented as Twain's Yankee in King Arthur's court: I had left
home for our date and suddenly found myself, as though coming to
after a knockout blow, in an International House of Pancakes in
Virginia. Fratty-looking guys overflowed the booths. There was a
fellow across from me, fresh out of "The Office." "The `Buffy the
Vampire Slayer' star was important during the Columbine shootings,"
Flapjacks was saying.

"What? Sarah Michelle Gellar?" It turns out she likes guns, and
Flapjacks works for the National Rifle Association, and he has
opinions on that, as well as many other things, such as
immigration, gay marriage, and Tom Clancy. "You know the one thing
that really gets me?" he would say, and then he was off. Unlike the
night before, I couldn't bring anything to this date; he needed a
true believer. So we staggered on. After a time, we came to the
sprawling menu, a landscape of pillowy waffles laid out against
vast bacon skies, cliffs of jagged, glistening potatoes, and
winding rivers of syrup. "Two eggs?" I proposed.

"Country-fried steak, eggs with cheese, a stack of pancakes, and hot
chocolate with whipped cream," he replied.

And yet, toward the end of the date, Flapjacks made a surprising
confession: Secretly, he hates Michelle Malkin. A subversive note
or two of liberalism is a feature of many profiles on
ConservativeMatch--and of everyone I went on dates with. Shooter
told me he drives a hybrid car. One poster does yoga, explaining
that it's "not as weird as I thought it would be," and another reads
Outside magazine, even though "it's a liberal, hippy [sic]
publication."

The edge of guilty-pleasure liberalism in people's profiles creates
an interesting tension on ConservativeMatch. The rest of the site
emphasizes a tight community at odds with the world. This mindset
promotes a sense of opposition to everything: Not only do liberals
have the wrong ideas on taxes and abortion, but also on families,
on vehicles, on entertainment. Such a culture constitutes a problem
on a dating site, where the object is not to fit in, but to stand
out. And, on this particular site, the way to stand out is through
little betrayals of the conservative lifestyle: yoga, Outside. Some
of these betrayals are not so benign. One man has published no less
counterculture a book than The Pleasures of Woman, "a collection of
poems, proverbs, stories and sensations about the supernatural
dimensions of woman."

Even among a group self-declaredly devoted to traditionalism and
family values, a fascination with the other comes creeping in. I
suppose it always does in love, no matter your ideology.

For my last date, I planned to meet a young Southern lawyer--a man
who claims his interests include dueling and buffalo meat--at a
funky bourbon bar. We met on a hot Sunday evening and sat outside
on a claustrophobic patio. All around us, skinny, bespectacled
hipsters were draped idly over their chairs, like sloths in a zoo
exhibit. As we chatted, Bourbon and I seemed to become aware that,
unlike my other dates, each of us seemed a little too similar to
the people at the next table for comfort. "How is it for you," he
asked pointedly, "being a conservative in Washington?"

"How come you don't have a Southern accent?" I retorted.

Bourbon, it turned out, did not merely possess one anti-conservative
trait. He listened to an avant-garde form of post-rock. He loved
show tunes. And, in the middle of our bowl of curly fries, he
revealed that he helped maintain a fan site devoted to Tai Shan,
the baby panda at the National Zoo. We might as well have met
through peta.

It seemed as though ConservativeMatch had failed completely. But
later, when I returned home, I looked up my date's website. It was
a plea for Tai Shan not to be deported to Red China.

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