We are thrilled to announce our new advice column, Answer Queen, featuring real questions and bold, honest answers about midlife love, sex, marriage, money, family, work, and relationships of all kinds. The questioners will be (drumroll…) you! Please send in your stickiest predicaments and dilemmas, and our age-boldly expert, Cathi Hanauer (see her impressive bio below), will attempt to tackle them.
Here’s her first installment. Questions should be sent to: [email protected].
Dear Answer Queen:
My husband and I visited my parents over Thanksgiving and needed to borrow their car to see his family two hours away. As I got in, I noticed a Trump sticker on the back bumper. I was horrified. I know they’re Republicans (I’m not), but I’m so vehemently against Trump and this whole presidency that I couldn’t imagine for one minute driving around with that sticker. I went back to the house and explained that I thought it was better if I rented a car. My father asked why, and when I told him, he said I was ungrateful and oversensitive—and then we got in a big political fight. Was he right? Should I have shut up and driven the car? Peeled off the bumper sticker? It kind of ruined our holiday.
Ahh, 2017! Such a year of peace and political harmony, of compassion and compromise and….oops, brief lapse into fantasy there. The truth is, rarely if ever have we been so politically polarized and immobile—and bitter toward the other side. A recent Pew Research Center study showed Democrats and Republicans vastly divided—more than twice as far apart as even in 1994—on everything from homosexuality to government regulation of the environment to aid for the poor, with many topics in between. Not ideal.
If you have the stomach and the temperament—or at least the right pills or a handy flask in your purse—you could try talking about it.
Still, political disagreement has been around since the days of the Greeks and the Romans, at least—and it’s always been complicated when we’re around non-like-minded people who we need (or want) to have contact with: co-workers, old friends, and especially family we don’t see regularly, where circumstance can push us farther apart. (Example: They’re retired, trying to hold on to their hard-earned money so they can stay independent, often surrounded by other retirees and not engaged with the contemporary world except through their preferred partisan news outlets; you’re a social worker dealing daily with poverty, immigrant families struggling to make it, racial discrimination, and people losing their healthcare coverage.) So when you do meet up a few times a year, you can be, as you were, shocked, depressed, even enraged by your different viewpoints.
And trying to talk about it, as I learned the hard way with some of my own family, can make things worse. On the other hand, not talking about it can feel like there’s a constant elephant in the room—or like you’re dropping the ball politically. It also can lead to jagged little digs by both sides that are sometimes worse than the knock-down argument. Or at least more passive-aggressive. (And boo to passive-aggressive. We’re supposed to be aging boldly, for God’s sake.)
At least for brief visits you could agree to keep the talk to dogs, the kids, the price of a gallon of gas, and the weather (except, of course, climate change).
Unfortunately, the options here aren’t great. You can: A) never see your family; B) see your family but agree not to talk politics (Elephant in Room approach); or C) attempt to engage in mature, respectful political discussion: you ask questions to try to better understand their views, they do the same as you (carefully) share your own. As a person who loves discussion and even healthy dissent—which actually can be instructive to the open-minded (let’s face it, we often have the most to learn from those we disagree with)—I like the third option best. But it’s also the hardest to accomplish, especially in the political climate we have now. See first paragraph above.
If you have the stomach and the temperament—or at least the right pills or a handy flask in your purse—you could give C a try; after all, your father is a good man you love, so hearing why he feels as he does might at least make you less angry and more sympathetic, even if you’re still worlds away. When C fails (not to be a pessimist, but…), that leaves never seeing your parents, or avoiding political talk when you do. And while the former might feel better in the short-term, once the old codgers are gone you might regret that you didn’t try a little harder while you had the chance—at least for brief visits where everyone agrees to keep the talk to dogs, the kids, the price of a gallon of gas, and the weather (except, of course, climate change).
Sorry, but hacking it off, beautiful as that would feel in the moment, is out.
Which brings us back to the bumper sticker. Sorry, but hacking it off, beautiful as that would feel in the moment, is out; obviously you can’t deface someone’s property, even your father’s. But driving around with a bumper sticker you find nauseating isn’t okay, either. And this, Sticker Shocked, is exactly why God invented office supplies. Next time, slap some post-its or a piece of paper over the sticker, then throw packing tape over the whole mess. This will hide the message without wrecking it, so when you’re back you can remove the literal and proverbial band-aid, and all’s as it was. You never even have to tell your father, though if you do, keep it light: “By the way, I covered your bumper sticker while I drove, because you know I could never promote Trump and his policies, but it’s back to new for you now. Thanks for the car, love you a ton, and see you in four months at Easter.”
Cathi Hanauer is the New York Times bestselling author of three acclaimed novels (Gone, Sweet Ruin, and My Sister’s Bones) and editor of the anthologies The Bitch in the House and The Bitch is Back, which was an NPR “Best Book” of 2016. She’s also co-founder of the New York Times “Modern Love” column and a longtime contributor to many magazines, including this one, where she often writes about books. Decades ago, as a single working woman barely out of the teen years herself, she was the relationships advice column for Seventeen. Now, considerably older, wiser, and more experienced, not to mention married for 25 years and the (happy) empty-nest mother of two, she is ready to hear your deepest, darkest questions—and, she hopes, to help us all learn from the answers.