I had a puzzling conversation with a male comrade a little while ago. We were talking about my relatively newly acquired single status and he was intent upon finding a new man for me, apparently in the belief that this would improve my life. By new man I mean a man new to me not a “new man”. I said this would not be easy as meeting an unattached man with reasonable politics and with whom there was a mutual attraction, let alone love, at my middling years seemed a fairly remote possibility. He looked at me as if I was from another planet (maybe men are from Mars & women from Venus?). He wanted to know what politics had to do with it. (Own up – who just started humming Tina Turner?)
Now this is a man of similar age to myself who has spent all his adult life immersed in politics and a good few years in jail through those political activities. In other words, his political beliefs are central to him and have shaped his life in a way that many of us have never experienced. I tried to explain that politics were in my bones and so intrinsically a part of me that I couldn’t conceive of having any sort of deep & meaningful relationship with someone with whom I couldn’t share that part of me. I stressed that they wouldn’t have to have the same views or be as involved as I am, but they would need to have some political insight somewhere in the same area of the political spectrum. He just couldn’t get it. He couldn’t see the relevance of political activism to a personal relationship.
I talked to another, much younger, male comrade about this. He agreed with me, and this led to a conversation on how men and women activists connected to their Significant Others politically. Thinking back over my thirty-odd years of political activity, I realise that I have known many male activists with partners who were not remotely interested in politics, but very, very few women whose partners were not at least interested, if not active. Of those women whose partners were not political, I can’t think of one whose relationship lasted if their political activity did. Either they dropped out of activity or their SO dropped out of their lives. This seems to apply to same sex couples too.
Is it that men compartmentalise their lives while women try to integrate all aspects of theirs? Do men give less of themselves in relationships than women or just expect less? Do women see political activity as just something their man does outside the home, like fishing, or train spotting or going to the match every week, rather than as something that constitutes part of who they are? Is it generational? Do we women just want too much in seeking to be able to share who we are in our core with our SO? Yes, I know that reads like a script of “Sex & the City” but they are genuine questions.
Maybe women are unrealistic in wanting to share the whole of their integrated lives, hopes, dreams, beliefs with a SO, but I’d rather continue to believe that’s possible (however remotely) than settle for less.
One more question. Does the left demand a level of commitment from its activists that male partners will not tolerate, but women will?