Flying out of New Orleans, I am seated next to a gynecologist that I didn’t meet at the ACOG yearly meeting. I share my story about love products and my work about making love sustainable. He shares his story about how limited his time with each patient is and how awkward it is to discuss sexual intimacy. We talk about how little education and language we are given in our childhood and youth to understand our sexual nature and honor this part of ourselves. We even talk about masturbation and its dirty history of torture and shame and how difficult it is for so many women to touch themselves or in turn, to allow themselves to feel pleasure when someone else does. We talk about how important it is to honor your partnership as the center of your family and not to let your children’s needs overtake your marriage. He shares the pain of the early divorce he lived through in medical school. I share how much I struggled in my own marriage while my husband was in medical school. We talk about the incredibly high statistics of failed marriages in medicine- and then in life in general. I share my dreams of making a chair of loveology at a university. We have a real conversation.
Then we start talking about the recent election. We are in opposite parties about everything. He thinks global warming is propaganda- “Al Gore, the Nobel prize winner is just trying to make money” he says. He thinks that welfare destroys black families. He believes that increased CO2 will help grow more plants. This guy is a doctor and the longer I talk to him, the more I realize that even if I had every fact in the world at my disposal, I wouldn’t convince him of anything. He is a product of his culture and I mine-and even as we fully agreed about everything essential to loving and intimacy, we couldn’t agree about anything else in the world.
If we’d begun with the political we would never have arrived at the personal, which is how we are different. We even discussed at the beginning how easy it is to profile someone, to believe you know who someone is by how they look or speak. Certainly if he had told me the propaganda thing about global warming to begin with, he would have been this other southern republican who I wish would make their own country and leave mine. Instead, he was a guy who had his heart in the right place, but only got information from one source, which I am sure he would say about my own progressive leanings.
I am trying to hold onto the first conversation as the real one, but I watch myself waiver to disbelief and judgment about how he could possibly be so stubbornly misinformed. It is easy to become partisan and separate ourselves with our differences. It is harder to do that with someone who has shared their real story with you. Connecting to the real story is our only hope of building a bridge to each other- not because we will or could ever change each other’s mind, but because there has to be enough room for both to exist simultaneously.