If social media is anything to go by, friendly debate has gone the way of the dinosaur. Slowly, we all seem to be conditioning ourselves to think of disagreement as a declaration of war (rather than an invitation to friendly debate). But social media — believe it or not — isn’t real life.
Sometimes (or lots of times!) in real life, we meet someone we like who doesn’t agree with everything we think. This might even happen with someone we want to date. And then the question becomes: should we date him? Does disagreement signal relationship failure? Or can two people who don’t always agree make a life together?
It matters what the disagreements are about
Not all disagreements are equal. Most of us can probably acknowledge that we’re never going to find — nor would we want to find — a guy who feels exactly the same as we do about everything on earth. You don’t have to dump a great guy just because he roots for the Lakers and you like the Suns (or whatever).
We’re never going to find — nor would we want to find — a guy who feels exactly the same as we do about everything on earth.
You can also date a guy who reads sci-fi even if you’re into Shakespeare, or who likes Radiohead when you prefer Rachmaninoff. Those kinds of things — assuming you’re not yelling at each other about them constantly or something — are trivial and don’t really affect the substance of your relationship. (And hopefully, they lead to some fun discussions and debates.)
But disagreements about politics, or religion, or cultural norms can be a little trickier. Can a liberal date a conservative, for example? The answer depends on values. You shouldn’t be afraid to get to know someone who votes differently than you do. People aren’t checklists — a person shouldn’t have to check every agreement box in order to have a chance at dating you. But there are certain key issues where disagreement could be problematic. And those issues tend to arise around morals, values, and worldview.
Policy vs. Values
Two loving people can disagree on the best way for people to pay for healthcare, or how to handle the issue of illegal immigration, or how to improve public education, for example. If you share similar values but disagree about how to achieve them, that shouldn’t be a deal-breaker. You can share values and disagree on policy. But if your values don’t align — like if you disagree on whether or not an unborn baby is a baby, or whether there’s such a thing as gender, for example — then things get a lot more complicated.
If you share similar values but disagree about how to achieve them, that shouldn’t be a deal-breaker.
Consider whether the places where your values diverge could one day wreak havoc in your life. For example, if you are pro-life and he is pro-choice and, after you’re married, you (God forbid) become pregnant with a baby with severe disabilities, will he want to end that baby’s life? Or if you believe that there is such a thing as gender and he thinks it’s a social construct, will he want to raise your children “gender-neutral”?
If the ways that you disagree will cause you to diverge dramatically in how you will approach important things like raising a family (and neither one of you will be willing to budge), it may be best not to start the relationship to begin with. On the other hand, it’s possible that all is not lost if, for example, he agrees to respect your wishes about abortion even though he continues to be pro-choice. But you’ve got to be absolutely sure, and that can be tricky.
If the ways that you disagree will cause you to diverge dramatically in how you will approach important things like raising a family, it may be best not to start the relationship to begin with.
It also matters — with any type of disagreement — how his dissenting opinions make you feel (and vice versa). Even the most trivial disagreement can become a deal breaker if one or the other of you can’t get over it. For example, if he loves playing video games but you think they’re for children you’re probably going to think of him as somewhat infantile. That’s not good for your relationship. Similarly, if he likes to wax poetic on his political views and doesn’t have any interest in listening to yours, that can only lead to discord.
If, on the other hand, you’re able to engage in friendly debate about topics that interest you, listening to each other and being open to changing your minds, then a difference of opinion every now and then can be a good thing. Healthy debate and open minds are things we should be fostering, not beating out of existence with proverbial baseball bats. A man who can respect your opinions while politely and cogently expressing his own shouldn’t be dismissed lightly. That kind of nuance is rare these days.
A man who can respect your opinions while politely and cogently expressing his own shouldn’t be dismissed lightly. That kind of nuance is rare these days.
Don’t be afraid of disagreement. It doesn’t have to be an automatic deal-breaker if you meet a great guy whose views doesn’t align with every single one of yours. Think carefully about the kinds of disagreements you have, how you handle them, and how they make you feel. Plenty of happy marriages include friendly debate. But differences in values make things trickier. So talk about your values and your worldview with a potential partner as you get to know him. I mean, isn’t that what we’re supposed to be doing anyway?