If you’re single and living in the DC area, you know that the rules of dating in the shadow of the Capitol aren’t like those of any other city. Unsure of how to best navigate the politically-charged climate of DC dating? Let these tips from Toni Coleman, LCSW, a DC-area psychotherapist and internationally recognized dating and relationship coach, guide you on how to best find – and keep – love in our city.
DC dating do’s:
1. Do keep your opinions in check on a first meeting or first date
When engaging your DC date in conversation, actively listen to what he or she is saying and ask questions, recommends Coleman. “Even though this seems like a no-brainer, this act will let your date know you hear and respect his or her opinions – even if you don't share them,” Coleman explains. If your date turns out to be someone you have a strong interest in, differing political views don't have to be a deal-breaker. Just look at happily married DC power couple James Carville, a true blue Democrat, and Mary Matalin, a staunch conservative!
2. Do keep up to speed on issues that are pertinent to your own stated views and political affiliation
Sure, lots of people living in DC don’t have a professional connection to politics. That said, many people here do make their living knowing issues inside and out, and so it can be a big turn-off for them to date someone who has strong opinions that are backed by nothing but feelings and assumptions, Coleman says. “Standing for something is fine, but make sure you can back up your position with data and a true understanding of what the other side believes,” she recommends. Don, 27, can relate to this advice: “I used to live in a small town, and it was fine to have strong political beliefs without really discussing the issue. But here in DC, if I express that I don’t agree with some policies, I’ll be asked really challenging questions, like, ‘What would you do instead? How would you handle the situation?’ I’ve been left speechless several times…not a good feeling on a date.”
3. Do have other things besides politics to discuss when you meet someone
new in DC
O.K. enough about politics! This is a date, not a debate, right? So brush up on your non-political chatter by preparing what she calls a “dating elevator speech” – communicating your interests and passions in two minutes or less. “This ‘speech’ will quickly let your date know that you are not just a political junkie or someone who lives for their work and career goals,” she explains. Practice coming up with an interesting anecdote about your work at an animal shelter or how you recently discovered how wonderful Spanish wines can be.
4. Do check out the many receptions hosted on Capitol Hill, by
trade associations and special interest groups and at the Smithsonian
Coleman says that though these traditional, DC-centric events may seem stodgy, they are actually fantastic ways to meet not only new people who work in these environments, but also their friends and colleagues. Networking isn’t always about work! So get out there and take advantage of these great mix-and-mingle opportunities our city has to offer.
DC dating don'ts
1. Don't make assumptions about someone's values, viewpoint or personality based on their party affiliation
This is harder than you may think! While it’s tempting to draw conclusions about your date based on whether he or she leans politically to the right or to the left, resist the urge to do so, advises Coleman. “People in DC – politically and otherwise – are complex and come in many shades of grey,” she notes. “When you start out with preconceptions and act on them, you could miss the chance to date someone who could be very compatible with you.” Along the same lines, “Don't assume that because someone is politically conservative that he or she is lacking in passion; likewise, people who call themselves liberal aren’t necessarily adventurous,” she cautions. Instead, keep your mind open until you have the chance to learn more about who your date is as a person—and not as a Democrat or Republican.
2. Don't become easily impressed or try to impress someone because their
work makes them a Washington “insider”
The world of power and politics can be very seductive. However, when it comes to dating in DC, Coleman notes that it’s a common pitfall (especially for those who are new to town) to date a person based on his or her job, as opposed to personal qualities. Says Linda, 37, of Washington, D.C., “I got all overexcited about dating a guy who worked for a very well-known, charismatic senator. I dated this guy for a couple of months, even though there wasn’t a spark. Then I realized, with some embarrassment, that the most interesting aspect of our relationship was hearing about the senator, not what the guy and I shared, so we stopped dating.”
3. Don't bring a first date to a fundraiser
Typically, DC fundraisers, which can be phenomenally fun social events, are associated with a cause that has a distinct political agenda. “If you bring your date to one of these events, there will be many people there who know you and your beliefs very well, and that scenario could provide too much information too soon for your date,” Coleman cautions. Instead, choose a politically-neutral activity like a nice wine tasting or gallery visit for your first date so as to keep the mood a bit less politically-charged.
4. Don't forget that everything is “on the record”
If you work in the political arena, keep this in mind: Many national headlines have been made because a DC-dweller shared information that they assumed would be held in confidence by their politically-affiliated romantic interest, notes Coleman. Protect your job – and your reputation – by waiting until you can completely trust your date before divulging anything that could be considered not for public consumption. It’s natural to want to appear interesting and exciting on a date, but you can do that without revealing privileged info. Talk about the things that really excite you in life—your incredible trip to the Badlands last summer, your new puppy, your yoga class—and you’ll be in fine form.
DC-based Chelsea Kaplan is deputy editor of thefamilygroove.comand regularly appears as a guest on XM Radio’s
“Broad Minded”. Her blog,
“I’m Somebody’s Mother?” can be found at