The phone’s ringing at ezStorage in Owings Mills, and a delivery man is waiting for a signature. But Lori Brazill is on far too much of a roll to answer the phone. She’s railing about a variety of topics: welfare (“you’re responsible for yourself—stop leaning on everybody else”), Social Security (“it was built to be a supplement”), and healthcare (“it’s something you earn”). She stops mid-sentence and answers the phone in a singsong voice, while her husband Brian Edwards watches her with a look somewhere between bemused astonishment and unconditional love. He signs for the package while Brazill addresses the caller’s questions about monthly storage rates and square footage.
It’s a little tricky for Edwards—half of the husband-wife ezStorage management team by day, musician by night—to listen to his wife talk about politics. How does it feel for him to hear his beloved trash-talk his Democratic ideals? He breathes out, smiles, and slowly runs a hand over his high-rise ponytail. “Where do I start?”
They say that opposites attract, so it’s only fitting that every so often a sprightly Donkey will catch the twinkling eye of an Elephant, and a most unlikely romance will blossom. And despite conventional thinking—that these are very, very polarizing times—such couples are not doomed from the start. Hey, if infamous Democrat strategist James Carville and Bush architect Mary Matalin can make it work, anyone can, right?
“Knowing that the other person is entitled to their opinion and you’re entitled to yours,” is perhaps the best tactic for getting along, advises Gail Laguna, online dating expert and spokesperson for jdate.com. “A good, open, healthy debate is great and beneficial for a relationship—as long as you don’t play too dirty.”
Some couples are so polarized on political issues that they simply “wall off” certain political topics—or the discussion of politics altogether, says Gregory Brock, family studies professor at the University of Kentucky. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. “There are lots of ways to be married,” he explains. Some couples fight all the time, others barely fight at all, so “it shouldn’t surprise anyone that there are couples that are very polarized on politics. The most recent research in marriage shows that there are many issues in a marriage that are not discussable. Couples can survive very nicely if they agree to disagree.”
Of course, as anyone who’s ever been in a political debate knows—that is to say, everyone—agreeing to disagree is easier said than done.
While they look different on the surface (Brazill is white; Edwards is black and bears a faint resemblance to the lead singer of 80s funk-metal band Living Colour), the couple does share a great deal in common. They’re both huge music fans, quick with a smile, and self-proclaimed “people magnets.”
It was love at first sight when they first met 10 years ago. Edwards, a drummer, was playing a gig in their shared hometown of Pittsburgh. Brazill walked in with her mother “and that was it,” he recounts. Their differences seem to start and end at politics.
So how do they cope? For starters, Brazill and Edwards know when to walk away from hot-button political discussions. “Part of the reason we don’t argue about politics is because it’s a very short conversation,” he says. “Somebody has to cut it off.”
It’s not that the couple’s all peace, love, and understanding, Brazill interjects. “Don’t get me wrong,” she says. “We will take fights to bed with us, but it’s not going to be about politics. Sometimes it honestly is a walk-away situation because you’re not going to change. You can love a person to absolute death, but let’s face it, people have killed each other over politics. Husbands and wives, kings and queens have killed each other over that sort of thing. You can’t let it go that far. You just can’t.”
Avoiding conflict is certainly key to the relationship of Susan and Tony Meoni. Susan’s the “blue” one, Tony leans more toward “red.” Yet somehow over the course of their 10 years together, they’ve managed to fuse their Highland household into an agreeable shade of purple.
“We’re definitely a purple house,” says Susan, a lawyer. “We basically think alike; we’re just registered differently.”
Their political differences come down to taxes (Tony, an IT executive, can’t stand them) and their respective willingness to entertain GOP ideas (Susan prefers to tune the Republicans out). Not surprisingly, debate season’s always an interesting time in the Meoni house. She would rather put her fingers in her ears and loudly hum than listen to Republicans hash it out. He, on the other hand, is up for watching any and all debates—Democrat or Republican. (And apparently likes falling asleep to C-SPAN. But that’s a whole other story.)
And while one might expect politically based arguments to be in full swing at the Meoni’s at this point in the electoral cycle, they typically don’t happen at all. “If there’s polarity [between us] on an issue, she’ll avoid it,” Tony explains. He tries to make the discussions happen, but “it just doesn’t work,” he sighs.
Columbia residents Susan Thornton Hobby (who’s a Democrat) and David Hobby (who’s a Republican, or, as his wife calls him, one of Baltimore’s “endangered species”) somehow manage to live peacefully when it comes to their differing political views. The couple—who have been married for 15 years—tends to believe in many of the same things but rank important issues in different ways, David explains.
“I think we both consider ourselves socially liberal and fiscally conservative,” he says. “Susan would probably put the socially liberal ahead of the fiscally conservative, and I probably put the fiscally conservative over the socially liberal. But if we went down a list, we would pick a lot of the same things, but we would prioritize the list differently.”
Partisan waters at the Hobbys remain tranquil for the most part. That is, until presidential speeches rear their ugly heads. That’s when the couple’s one cardinal rule of household politics comes into play: No talking during inaugural addresses and State of the Union speeches. Not a single word.
“It took a while for me to adhere to this rule because I’m a little more easily inflamed,” says writer Susan, a former Baltimore contributor and once-regular rally attendee. “I used to sit and yell, and I’d get very upset and mash my teeth and grind my fingers together. I’d listen and I’d go, ‘That’s not true! I can’t believe you’re saying that!’ and I’d get myself all worked up, and Dave would go, ‘You know, I really would like to hear the speech.’ So that’s one of our methods of dealing with it. I don’t talk during the actual speech. And I try to temper my statements afterwards.”
But the couple admits that when they do discuss politics, it can get pretty hairy.
“I mean, the police were never really involved,” David says with a laugh. “But we did have some,” he pauses, “interesting discussions.”
“We did,” Susan agrees, and then cracks up.
David maintains that they really haven’t had too many “knock-down-drag-outs,” explaining that the couple is more of a “politics mash up” than strictly Democrat versus Republican.
“Oooh, I think there were some knock-down-drag-outs,” Susan interjects. “I seem to remember that we had an argument at the beginning of the Iraq war in which I was completely and utterly opposed, and he was a little more sympathetic. And I seem to recall we had a couple over Bill Clinton.”
David definitely remembers the Clinton fights. “For me, it was leadership and integrity. And he had one in spades and the other maybe not so much towards the end.”
With a major presidential election coming up soon, this can be an intimidating—if not downright irritating—time of year for those struggling with a significant other’s conflicting political views. While the race for the White House may get worse on TV, over the radio, and in the papers, it doesn’t have to spell disaster for a couple’s house. Just because the talking heads are turning up the volume doesn’t mean they have to follow suit.
“Just listen to each other,” Susan Hobby advises. “When you hear an argument that’s not what you believe, you tend to shut down and go into defensive mode. But when you actually listen, you can find common ground. Everyone deserves the respect for their own argument.”
“When it comes down to it, I think no matter who wins they are probably going to be able to screw up the next four years just as well as the other person could have done it,” David Hobby adds. “The politics of what is happening inside your house are going to weigh much heavier on a given situation than the politics of what’s happening in the White House or the Capitol.”
Tony Meoni recommends dropping partisan labels altogether. “Don’t hold the Democratic ideals and the Republican ideals in such high esteem because [the politicians] don’t really,” he pauses. “It’s just an illusion.”
The Meonis have more important things to debate about anyway. What causes heated arguments around their house has more to do with what’s happening on the baseball field than the halls of Congress. Tony’s from New Jersey; Susan’s a longtime Baltimorean. So it’s Yankees versus Orioles the whole year through.
“He tried to put my boy in a Yankees hat!” Susan yells, referring to her son.
Politics are one thing, but neither one of them is budging on this issue. “There’s not much you can do,” Tony says with cheerful contempt. “Hopefully, she’ll realize the error of her ways.”