10 Bubble-Bursting Pairings to Help You Rethink Your Friendship Goals

On paper, these matchups look like fantasies from fevered dreams. But actually these eclectic duos have a whole lot to teach us about the benefits of widening your circle. 

A cursory glance at the data reveals a country divided: Democrats refuse to date Trump supporters (and 47% of Republicans in the same poll said dating a Hillary supporter was equally 🤮); 40% of registered voters lack a friend backing a different candidate; and for the first time on record disdain for the opposing political party outweighs affection for one’s own team.

But there’s another stat we’d rather hang our hats on here at MTTR: a majority of Americans — 77%!believe our differences are not so great that we cannot come together. Finding that commonality starts in the most intimate place: our relationships. 

It’s true that political issues have become more intertwined with people’s sense of morality and individual identity. But here’s a different way of thinking about it: hanging out with someone with different views than you doesn’t result in a transfer of ethics. Nor does it mean you are suddenly responsible for their beliefs. And perhaps, most importantly, our internal moral compasses might be more aligned than we think. 

This isn’t a push for a “why can’t we just get along” lifestyle. Our differences and opposing perspectives should be brought to the forefront, not ignored. It’s normal (dare we say healthy!) to have conflict with people. Conflicting perspectives creates a well of tension for creativity to blossom. Think about how boring it would be to constantly hang out with people who only agreed with you! 🥱

  • What would you learn?

  • How would you grow as a person?

  • How would you learn to argue and think critically?

Our real life can’t also become an echo chamber. 

Here are some examples of strange bedfellows — some famous, some not. It’s inspiring proof that a willingness to look beyond our tribal affiliations can generate extraordinary results.

⚖️ Ruth Bader Ginsberg + Anthony Scalia

Though they rarely ruled the same on cases, Clinton-appointed Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Reagan-appointed Anthony Scalia were so beloved for their cross-aisle friendship that law student Derrick Wang wrote a comedic opera about it. 

The Ginsberg-Scalia bond is a great example of being (quite literally) smart enough to see past someone’s political differences. 

“First, in many ways, it was quite simple, as some of the best friendships are. They worked at the same place. They were both New Yorkers, close in age and liked a lot of the same things: the law, teaching, travel, music and a meal with family and friends. They had a bond, I think, in that they both grew up as outsiders — to different degrees — to the elites who had ruled the country: she as a Jew and woman, he as a Catholic and Italian American.” — Eugene Scalia (Washington Post)

🇺🇸 Mary Matalin + James Carville  

Here’s another way to think about politically divided relationships. It’s…kind of hot?? All that frustration needs to be vented, and you get a crash course in learning how to fight fairly. Although for Republican strategist Mary Matalin, who has been married to Democratic strategist James Carville for 25 years, the biggest secret to matrimonial harmony seems to be leaving their political work at the door — and a good dose of humor. 

“He is a genius,” Matalin said. “He is frequently wrong, but that doesn’t make him not a genius.”

For his part, Carville, who was the campaign manager for Democratic President Bill Clinton, crossing the political aisle to date the deputy campaign manager of Clinton's opponent, George. H.W. Bush, was in part a necessary strategy.

“If you’re as ugly as I am, you can’t just date anyone,” he quipped. “You’ve got to expand the playing field. And, I think I did pretty good.” — Charles Lussier (The Advocate)

🥃 Hunter S. Thompson + Pat Buchanan 

A drug-loving gonzo journalist who was basically counter culture’s scribe in the 1970s and a political commentator who advised Nixon? Not automatically who we’d put together, though they are both members of the N.R.A.

“You know, I consider Pat Buchanan a friend. I don't agree with him on many things. Personally, I enjoy him. I just like him. And I learn from Pat.” — John Glassie (Salon)

🎻 Richard + Meghan

Richard is a 90-year-old white, evangelical Christian Texan who dropped out of school in the 6th grade and is staunchly anti-abortion. Meghan is a 30-year-old atheist and feminist. When Richard decided to learn the violin in his 80s, a local music shop recommended Meghan as a teacher. For the past eight years, their friendship has been broken and mended as they’ve learned to work through their political differences. 

“Richard and his wife raised just one child – a son who never had his own children, who lives 10 hours away and has his own life and health issues. Richard spends Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter with me at my parents’ house. Richard’s wife, Beverly, suffered miscarriage after miscarriage before giving birth to their only son. One of their children that didn’t survive is buried in a cemetery without a headstone because Richard and Beverly had been too poor to afford one. To come home to a house full of light, laughter, and grandchildren is Richard’s greatest desire. As I dropped him off after a family dinner one night, I watched Richard slowly shuffle up his driveway. Then I pulled away from the dark empty house. It suddenly clicked why Richard talks about ‘the babies.’ It was never out of hatred for women.” — Meghan Beaudry (Al Jazeera)

✨ Max Gendelman + Karl Kirschner 

Gendelman was a Jewish American soldier in WWII who was captured by the Nazis in 1944 and sent to a P.O.W. camp in Lind. Kirschner was a German soldier recovering from a war wound at his family’s farm right next to the camp — as the most unlikely friendship blossomed, Kirschner eventually aided Gendelman’s escape.

“It was never about 'the enemy' between Karl and me; it wasn't about the uniform that we wore. If I had felt Karl had been a true Nazi we would not have become friends — and thank God, Karl didn't see me as a threat either. And maybe it had to do with our ages. I was 21, he was 19. Maybe we were naïve, but more than that we were able to be truthful with our own feelings. And the truth was simple. We saw in each other an immediate connection, a brother.” — Mark Johnson (Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal)

✍🏻 Bari Weiss + Eve Peyser

When journalists Bari Weiss and Eve Peyser met for the first time after a years-long Twitter feud, Weiss suggested swimming, so convinced was she that Peyser would be wearing a wire. Peyser, a leftist journalist with Vice, and Weiss, the former New York Times op-ed columnist, were often at odds on topics like Israel-Palestine and #MeToo; their back-and-forth was primetime viewing on Twitter’s Outrage Channel (*not officially a real thing). 

“The longer I write about politics, the more open I am to being friends with people of all ideologies. My favorite part of my job is having the opportunity to interview people I don’t see eye-to-eye with, and trying to understand how and why their worldview is the way it is. I reject the idea that by virtue of being friends with you, I am somehow condoning the beliefs you have that I disagree with. This isn’t to say you should befriend raging bigots or violent abusers, but having an ideologically diverse group of friends helps you better understand your own convictions.” — Eve Peyser (New York Times)

🥘 Snoop Dogg + Martha Stewart

Maybe weed is the great equalizer (unclear if Snoop is the direct cause but Martha now wears looped necklaces of CBD gummies on the cover of magazines). Actually, before these two unlikely friends made (maybe) pot brownies, their chemistry flourished over mashed potatoes in 2008. Since then they’ve launched a show together, she’s supported his cookbook, and they’ve even reenacted a scene from “Ghost.” Oh you two.   

🇬🇧 Poppy Noor + “Michael”

Journalist Poppy Noor — a self-defined socialist, with an immigrant background and an adolescence spent in homeless shelters — has had a lifelong friendship with the pseudonymously named Michael, a far-right Brexit-er. Though Noor went to Cambridge and writes for The Guardian, and is surrounded by posh friends who are politically aligned with her, she says that her relationship with Michael is one that is more honest and nuanced. 

“In my experience, it’s not always as simple as “left” versus “right”. I know a lot of people who say they share my politics while acting completely differently – talking down to waitstaff, for example, or being condescending to working-class people for being less educated than them. Conversely, I know people who call themselves rightwing who have an egalitarian disposition in their day-to-day lives. 

Michael puts it this way: ‘There are façade politics and then there are real politics: with friends, you see the reality of their politics – perhaps politics they aren’t even aware of.’” — Poppy Noor (The Guardian)

📱Spencer Sleyon + Rosalind Guttman

They were randomly matched together on Words With Friends to start. A daily habit helped this (then) 22-year-old rapper from East Harlem, NY, and 81-year-old Florida retiree get to know each other through the app’s chat feature. Their lives were worlds apart, but when they finally met in person it felt completely natural (a grandma to one, a grandma to all!) and their story went viral. 

“A lot of people I saw online said, ‘I needed a story like this, especially with the race relations in this country right now,’” he said.

Ms. Guttman has not spoken to reporters. According to Ms. Butler, Ms. Guttman doesn’t know what all the fuss is about, since “people should be behaving this way with each other all the time.” — Daniel Victor (New York Times)

🐑 Dolly!!!!!

She needs no introduction: Ms. Parton is the quintessential MTTR everything rolled up into one human. Just listen to the podcast “Dolly Parton’s America” to see how she effortlessly connects with people of all persuasions and refuses to play the label game. 

In other words, Dolly is a relationship category unto herself, and we’re BFFs.

What is your most unlikely relationship? How has it challenged your life in a positive way? We'd love to hear from you.

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