In November 2008, I was 23 and had a heart full of hope that only a mound of six-figure student loan debt could stifle. I remember I was lying in bed next to my then-boyfriend, watching the acceptance speech of the (soon-to-be) first African-American president of the United States.
Confetti swirled around a young Barack Obama and his beautiful wife and daughters as they took the stage in front of a roaring crowd. I had cast my vote for him with fervor earlier that night; it was the second presidential election I had voted in. Tears trickled down my face — I felt like my eyes were actually shining out of admiration and relief — as the Obamas beamed at me from the tiny tube television on my boyfriend's dresser. I'll never forget how I felt that night.
"Why are you crying?"
Just like that, my reverie of rediscovered American pride was rudely interrupted. I blinked once. Twice. I scrunched my eyebrows together and looked at my boyfriend with disgust. (Author's note: It is a crucial element to the story to admit I am overly expressive. And also kind of a bitch.)
"Why are you crying?" he repeated, this time with a hint of mockery.
"Um, because we're witnessing actual history right now. Here, in this room. With our own eyeballs. History is literally unfolding in front of us."
As if I needed to explain myself.
He snorted — snorted — and gave me a quick kiss, turned over, and fell asleep.
OK, I know not many 27-year-old guys find themselves sobbing during political events. I wasn't expecting that reaction from him. But I was expecting… I don't know, more I guess?
I grew up in a political household where every member of the family had an opinion and a passion for what was happening in the world around us. We regularly discussed current events over dinner, especially during election years. By the time I was 7, I knew my dad was a union laborer and that the Clinton administration was highly respected in our house. Hell, I was knowledgeable about both sides of the abortion argument before I got my first period. When I was very little, I was pretty sure we were related to Dan Rather because he was always on TV, explaining the day's events to us in that understated drawl of his.
Basically, it was unacceptable to be apathetic in my family. (Though it turns out being incredibly dysfunctional is A-OK, in case you were wondering.) Sure, most of us leaned (heavily) toward the liberal side of things, but my sister and I were allowed and encouraged to research and develop our own opinions about everything from Reaganomics to why my high school dress code was borderline fascist. From a very early age, I understood that everything in life is political, from the water we drink to the fire hydrants in our front yards.
During my sophomore year of college, I proudly cast my first vote in a presidential election, for John Kerry. Truth be told, I was much more inspired after attending one of his rallies where Bon Jovi performed. But I remember feeling crushed when Secretary Kerry lost; after so many years of anticipating my first "big" vote, I took it personally when he didn't come through victoriously. (I also took it personally when his running mate, John Edwards, turned out to be a disappointing douchebag some years later.)
So, naturally, when my boyfriend mocked me for getting teary during President Obama's speech on that November night, I wanted to punch him in the face a little bit. But I refrained and gave him the benefit of the doubt. Not everyone grew up avidly following politics the way I did. Some people were actually cool and had an active social life with lots of friends.
Cut to 2016. The boyfriend who mocked me then has become the husband who mocks me now, so rest assured not a whole lot has changed. But these days he teases me about things like the colossal amount of hair I've amassed in our mutual hairbrush. Or my tendency to obsessively straighten throw pillows on the couch at 11 p.m. However, he is no longer disinterested in current events and elections; instead, he actively engages in discussions with me.
In my teens and early 20s, I tried to control the perception others had of me by stifling my humor, interests, and passions at times because I was insecure. During the early days of dating my husband, I was still unsure about myself and the longevity of our relationship. Discussing feminism and smashing the patriarchy were important to me, but not as important as 80-cent bottle nights at the local dive.
As I grew up, I gained confidence and stopped apologizing for who I am and what I believe. I realized there was nothing wrong with pairing a domestic beer deal with a little enlightenment on my political leanings. (To this day, some of our best conversations are prompted by my outrage and a good six-pack.) Out of all the guys I've dated, my husband was the first one who never made me feel like I had to apologize for having strong opinions and feelings about these issues.
Slowly but surely, he started sharing his interest in everything from the electoral process to presidential debates. My guess is that nine years of being with a liberal feminist killjoy rubbed off on him, but I also think he also grew up a little. Remember when you were a kid and you groaned when your parents turned on the 5 o'clock news because you honestly couldn't comprehend why anyone would voluntarily watch something so depressing and dull when Full House reruns were on? Well, my husband and I have reached the dull age.
We also became parents last year to a beautiful and amazing little girl.
I think being a father to a daughter ignited instincts and uncovered desires my husband wasn't previously aware he had. I know becoming a parent profoundly changed my perspective in every imaginable way. Suddenly, I was willing to do everything in my power to ensure she learns and grows up in a world that has everything to offer them and then some. I saw my own flaws and mistakes clearer than ever before. I want — nay, need — them to be better, do better. I think it was the same way for my husband.
Back in 2012, I even got him to actually register to vote which, until the birth of our daughter, was probably the thing I was most proud of in our relationship: During President Obama's first term, my husband often noted how impressed he was with his patience, intellect, and diligence in doing the right thing. I told him if he felt that way, he should vote for him and make his voice heard, because Pennsylvania is a battleground state, and every voice and vote matters. I urged him to consider registering to vote and putting action behind his words. Lucky for me, it wasn’t a hard sell. But I still take full responsibility and credit for turning my apathetic, apolitical boyfriend into an actively engaged and responsible United States citizen.
Now, he initiates discussions on a variety of topics, from Planned Parenthood funding to why the dolts we're friends with on Facebook cannot comprehend #BlackLivesMatter. He’'s always been incredibly smart and thoughtful, but I like to think it’s also partly because I’ve helped show him why it’s important to care about issues that affect lives beyond our own. I feel that just because I’m white and I acknowledge my white privilege, it isn’t enough. Staying silent about it just ensures that nothing ever changes, and I’m not willing to do that.
I honestly think that if you'd have asked my husband 10 years ago about Colin Kaepernick kneeling during the anthem, he'd have called him an entitled asshole. My husband of today can't believe people are so radically upset about it, because it's his right. We recently had a discussion about our mutual disgust over willful ignorance. He not only totally gets it, but he gets just as frustrated as I do. It’s so much easier to avoid uncomfortable conversations and stay in your own little bubble, convinced your one voice and opinion doesn’t matter in a sea of loud voices and shaking fists.
But this election in particular is so different. It's grown nearly impossible for even the most oblivious people to remain that way. It's hard to remain indifferent when the country is dangerously polarized on social and economic issues. I've never been more thankful for being the insatiable, draining, rambling, passionate, fist-shaking feminist I was free to become. And now I’m crazy proud to be married to one.