“Hah, that’s not a deal-breaker, is it?!” The Northerner said on a recent date as we both tucked into pan-fried herring with lingonberries at Baltic, the excellent Polish restaurant in Southwark.
I looked at him in faint horror. His joke that I might be so appalled at his previous statement as to call things off cut rather closer to the bone than he realised.
Early on in our dalliance, we’d already come across a couple of differences in opinion: preferences in art; sports it’s acceptable to expect your date even to feign an interest in; skimmed vs. semi-skimmed milk – that sort of thing.
Then we’d hit a slightly stickier conversation whilst out for dinner one night in Soho during which I made a flippant comment about the ancient furs in the wardrobe, and ended up launching a spirited defence of countryside sports.
This conversation, though, went beyond a difference in opinion as to whether foxes are just handsome vermin with excellent PR (they are).
We’d been talking current affairs and politics, which I’m aware is a minefield best avoided in a lot of social situations – but, I’d argue, not with the man you’re seeing if you think he has potential. Up cropped the topic of Ken Clarke’s prison reforms (I remember when Saturday nights were more likely to involve the drinking version of Pirates of the Caribbean 2 Top Trumps, a large bottle of Mount Gay and Best Mate being taken ill in a wheelie bin. Sigh).
Suddenly, I found myself sitting across a starched white tablecloth under the gaze of attentive waiters and eye-catching art, listening to my date casually defend both increased prison sentences and capital punishment.
Generally, I’d be hesitant to criticise someone for the views they choose to hold: if you’ve thought rationally about the arguments for both sides and found one more compelling, I might not agree with your conclusion, but I’ll respect the way you’ve reached it (huh. I appear to be softening in my old age).
But dating someone whose views are diametrically opposed to one’s own is a trickier situation. If you know the beliefs of the person sitting across the table differ fundamentally from yours, is it daft to keep seeing them, if there’s a chance that those differences could create rifts further down the line? Or are differences of opinion just that – and there’s nothing more that needs doing than agreeing to disagree? After all I have plenty of friends whose views I find perplexing (I mean – some of them have even voted Green. Bizarre) and we’re still quite capable of knocking back the gin like it’s going out of fashion.
But then, there’s the argument that I have bad enough luck when it comes to the males of the species without creating extra difficulties for myself. I don’t know that dating someone who’s fundamentally opposed to skimmed milk might not just be a step too far.