In the last month, Anthony Scaramucci gained and lost the job as the White House communications director. He also lost his wife of nearly three years. Though they may have walked down the aisle together in 2014, it was also allegedly the aisle that divided them: Scaramucci’s wife, Diedre, is reportedly a Democrat that wanted nothing to do with her husband’s aspirations in Washington.
Was it truly another Trump divorce? Only the Scaramucci’s can confirm that. (A lawyer denies that politics had anything to do with the split.) But one thing is for sure: Eight months into this new administration, Trump-related breakups are still trending — evidence that something has fundamentally changed about the way relationships and politics are mixed in America.
It was felt during primary season, when Bernie and Hillary drove a wedge between the progressively minded and romantically involved; it was felt during the campaign and in the weeks thereafter, when couples split up at record rates due to political differences. Despite the fact that Trump’s first year is more than halfway through, the dust still hasn’t settled.
Take socialite power couple Dave and Lynn Aronberg, whose split was covered in the local and national news last week because it included a press release that blamed the divorce on differences over Trump. Dave Aronberg — who is the Palm Beach County state attorney — is a Democrat; his wife, Lynn, is a public relations consultant and a staunch Trump supporter who felt increasingly isolated in their marriage.
“We would go to Mar-a-Lago almost every weekend,” she told Refinery29, “and he wouldn’t even take a photo with me.” At the time, Dave Aronberg’s progressive voter base was putting pressure on him to stop his wife, a Republican, from sharing her political views on Facebook.
“I would rebel — I would make my profile picture with Donald Trump,” says Lynn Aronberg, who adopted a three-legged yellow lab she named Ivanka after divorce papers were filed. “You’re choosing your career over your wife. There were obviously other things involved. But at the end of the day, I needed my husband to support and defend me.” (Refinery29 reached out to Dave Aronberg for comment; at the time of publishing, a response had not been received.)
Before you dismiss these public political breakups as mere antics of the rich and powerful, this kind of tension between couples and potential mates is bubbling up among lay people, too.
Grant Langston, the CEO of eHarmony, explained that the dating megasite has seen increased politicisation among its 30 million member base over the last year; users who before were mum about their beliefs are putting them front and centre on their profiles.
“Typically, when you have an election year, any kind of political activity wanes when the election is over. That is not happening,” he explains.
One particularly standout data point: At this same time in 2016, 24.6% of women on eHarmony, and 16.5% of men, answered the political affiliation question on their profile page. This year, those figures have peaked to 68% and 47%, respectively.
“That’s a 43% increase in women who feel like they need to make their thoughts known. Every month, that goes up,” Langston says, adding that eHarmony statistics show little difference between urban or local, city or country: It’s consistent across the red and blue board.
OKCupid saw similar patterns across its left-leaning user base, explained senior marketing manager Bernadette Libonate. Following the Women's March in January, the site saw profile pics increase 37% from the same period last year, many of them shots from that day. "You could say that ‘womens march’ was the hottest photo-caption term coming off the heels of the protest," Libonate says.
In the Trumpian era, even casual flings come with partisan caveats, and the idea that you might hold a different position on the Affordable Care Act than your prospective partner can wind up being a dealbreaker. From the headlines to our homes, the personal is as political as it has ever been. So how, in 2017, do you keep political views and pillow talk in separate spheres? Is that even possible anymore, or is this another new normal?
“I’m seeing singles who are dating, as well as couples who are, in some cases, reconsidering their relationships, wondering: ‘What does my partner’s political leaning say about their values?’” explains Virginia-based psychotherapist, relationship coach, and divorce mediator Toni Coleman, LCSW. “The politics of this election were so polarising. Because of that, people are getting mad at each other in their relationships — even if they voted the same way.”
That was certainly case for Tara Fraser and her fiance Jack*, a Brooklyn-based couple who both voted for Hillary Clinton. Fraser remembers, in the days after November 8, that Jack kept telling her it would be okay; in the weeks that followed, things were uncharacteristically “edgy” between them.
Trump is such a polarizing figure that people end up declining to meet each other, based on who they voted for, and who their support from a political standpoint in general.
Emily Holmes Hahn, Founder, LastFirst Matchmaking
“We were both broken by the election, for different reasons,” she says. ““It wasn’t until we started bickering about politics that I admitted I was frightened and we finally had a productive conversation. We agreed: We need to make sure this doesn’t interfere with our relationship.”
The feeling of isolation — even from someone who you know cast their support for the same candidate you did — is common, according to Coleman, the psychotherapist.
“Everything feels very personal,” she says, “which is where the ‘you don’t get it’ stuff comes in.” People often feel as though their partners don’t understand their own specific fears and anxieties — or that they simply are so far apart politically that the relationship can’t continue.
The effects of politics seeping into relationships are being felt far and wide. Maree, who has been in a relationship with her partner, a woman from Luxembourg, for more than a year, is an expat living in Berlin. She says that even from another country, the fractured state of American politics has seeped into their shared life.
“I just feel so angry and helpless,” she says. “We got into our first real fight after I returned from the U.S. because I just kept lashing out. I felt like, since she’s not American, even though she’s still horrified and concerned, she just didn’t get why I was in a hole. I want to talk to her about it. But sometimes it makes me feel even more alone in dealing with everything, which obviously has a negative impact on our relationship.”
On top of unresolved feelings about the election itself, the aftermath of political turmoil has left a lot of couples struggling to make room in their relationships for the constant stream of breaking news and ongoing policy battle talk. “This comes up a lot with my clients,” Coleman explains, “where they’ll say: ‘My partner always has to bring up politics’ — and the other is like, ‘Can’t we just talk about anything else?’ They’re finding their time together is strained. People are having a hard time putting it into perspective.”
“It’s especially hard for young people who are new to all this,” Coleman adds. “It can feel like the end of the world.”
On top of that, much of the marriage-age population isn’t using the same playbook for choosing a partner as generations who came before. “We’re no longer living in a culture where marriage is about division of labour,” says eHarmony’s Langston. “You want to experience life as a duo — and that means you want a person who is a lot like you.”
That rings true for Victoria Kent of Chicago: This spring, she broke up with the conservative she’d been seeing when she returned from a solo Eurotrip, after realising that all the liberal cities she visited wouldn’t have been palatable to her beau. Ultimately, that trip led her to realise that they couldn’t be long term partners. They broke up when Kent returned to the Midwest.
“I started off by just telling him we didn’t have enough in common — there’s the gun issue, for one thing,” Kent explained. But when pressed, she finally admitted the truth. “I just don’t see myself being involved with somebody who voted for Trump,” she says.
It also rings true for Cynthia*. Recently, she was set up on a blind date through a matchmaking service with a man who seemed like the perfect fit. They had compatible interests, likes and dislikes — he even grew up in her same hometown. “Then I learned he was considering a job in the Trump administration,” she said. No dice: The date didn’t happen.
Emily Holmes Hahn, the founder of LastFirst Matchmaking in New York City, says that this kind of story isn’t an outlier in her business. “The political situation has absolutely made it harder to match people,” she says. “Trump is such a polarising figure that people end up declining to meet each other, based on who they voted for, and who their support from a political standpoint in general.”
Shutting the possibility of dating across the aisle down before it even begins is also a hallmark of our modern moment, Coleman explained. “Before, people might have had a more open mind. But now, it’s sort of become a real ‘us vs. them’ feeling.”
Case in point: In mid-August of last year, Hannah Orenstein was browsing Bumble when she happened upon a cute Euro transplant who works in the tech industry. She swiped right; he asked her out on a proper date; by Saturday night, they were strolling the High Line at sunset, magic in the New York City air. As it turned out, Prince Charming was also a real life noble — an Italian count — as well as the sort of guy who liked to cook extravagant meals for the object of of his affection. His apartment was slick and well-decorated. He was smart and worldly. It was hard not to be smitten. Except for one fatal flaw.
Over several months of dating, Orenstein detected that her paramour had some political leanings that didn’t jibe with her own. A dash of anti-Hillary snark here, a rebuke about healthcare-for-all there: Two days before the November 2016 elections, the fairytale officially soured when Charming revealed that he was literally betting against Clinton, to the tune of $1000, and that he was fully on board with that big, beautiful wall between the U.S. and Mexico.
“It was the most appalling, disgusting conversation,” Orenstein recalls. “I had a drink in my hand and I wanted to throw it at him.” The couple broke up on the spot — though that didn’t stop her from sending him a thousand-word email pleading the case for Planned Parenthood funding.
As for why she called the fairytale quits: “We’re getting older,” explained Orenstein. “The stakes are higher personally at the same time they are politically.” But alignment isn’t everything, of course: After her split with Charming, Orenstein wound up at an election party, where she met another guy who shared her lens, and her passion, on the issues of the day.
In the end, that wound up being a drawback. “Our political views were so aligned that I failed to acknowledge that we were incompatible in other ways.”
In the meantime: She’s still looking for Mr. Right. So long as he’s politically left.