Dating is tough in Calgary when you’re female, nearly 30 and a pipeline protester.
Whereas I was once fluttering my eyelashes, preaching Naomi Klein over kombucha in an East Vancouver juice bar, I am now trying not to choke in a Calgary pub when my Tinder date breaks the news to me that climate change isn’t real.
I’ll begin with a disclaimer: I’ve fallen in love with Calgary since moving here 13 months ago from the West Coast. There’s my favourite burger shop on 17th Avenue where the packaging is compostable; a vibrant start-up community supported by seasoned mentors; heck, I even work from a downtown co-working space where they play Arcade Fire and serve craft beer on tap in the lobby.
However, falling in love with someone in Calgary is a different matter. Ideologically, I am outnumbered. This is Cowtown, the mecca for the oil and gas industry, a sea of blue with a rare red island on the federal electoral map.
It’s a stark change from life in the YVR with its weed-legalization demonstrations at the art gallery, its naked bike rides and its prevailing “green is sexy” mentality.
While I try to practise tolerance, my inner litigator/warrior princess (Ally McXena) takes over and I transform into a fiery defender of Mother Earth, Mary Jane, evidence-based policy making, or whichever leftie cause is under attack by my right-leaning date.
Thanksgiving dinner in 2015, at an elegant lodge in the Rocky Mountains, is ruined when the holiday subject of what we are thankful for leads to a discussion on the systemic subjugation of Canada’s aboriginal peoples. The conversation tenses up as our viewpoints on land claims and protests pour out. Him: “Holding up important economic projects like the Kinder Morgan pipeline;” me: “A last defence against environmental doom.”
Thanksgiving dinner in 2016, in a downtown penthouse, is ruined when I suggest we watch the U.S. presidential debate. Go figure, my oil-tycoon date is a Trump supporter. While Trump is a racist, sexist, fear-pandering tyrant, Hillary Clinton deleted a bunch of e-mails on her private server, my date reminds me. She only evaded jail time, he says, because two prosecutors involved in her case were found mysteriously dead (which, if only I could bring fact-checkers to my dates, I would have been able to confidently say: “That’s as false as the Birther Conspiracy!”).
I feign a stomach ache, leaving before we carve the bird. The next day, I receive a text: “I hope you’re feeling better and it wasn’t my cooking that made you sick.”
I contemplate replying, “It wasn’t your cooking, just your politics.”
While my Trump-supporting date thinks Hillary’s a criminal, another man I dated in Calgary believes she is a reptile, as in, part of the Alien Elite Race secretly controlling humankind. I remember the summer season spent sleeping on his yacht under the ocean moonlight (which, according to David Icke, is actually the beams from an alien spaceship to keep humanity enslaved under an artificial projection, so let’s not get too romantic, okay?).
If my dating life is a video game, then I met the final Boss last Friday night. A man with blood pure as blue: a provincial Conservative politician. His Bumble profile was harmless. There was even a photo of him cuddling up next to a big dog!
He asked me to meet him at one of those chain restaurants that forces its female servers to wear heels all night (Strike 1). He showed up late unapologetically (Strike 2) because he’d decided to have another round with his buddies at a Reunite the Right gathering (Strike 3). I suppose that’s who you end up with when your screening skills are demoted to swipe left or swipe right.
I tried to maintain polite discourse while munching on garlic fries (“extra garlicky,” I ordered, as though warding off a vampire).
“Do you like nature?” I asked.
“No. I’m more of an indoors guy.”
“How about pets?”
“It’s gross how their hair and slobber gets everywhere.”
Turns out, the dog on his Bumble profile pic isn’t his own.
His face finally lit up when he described his autographed Ronald Reagan portrait and he assured me it’s possible for anyone to achieve the same level of success he has if they try hard enough.
When I pointed out his white privilege – how someone from a different socioeconomic background or race may face more challenging barriers – he called me a racist.
Maybe I’m starting to understand why they say, “don’t discuss politics or religion” when you’re trying to get to know someone. But, when we’re all too afraid to have a difficult discussion, doesn’t that prevent change and progress?
One day, I know I’ll meet my woke bae in YYC: my Justin Trudeau, my Bernie Sanders mind in James Franco’s body in Jamie Oliver’s kitchen.
We probably won’t live in a downtown penthouse, be able to afford weekends away at mountain lodges, or own yachts like the conservatives in my past. But maybe we’ll have a little garden on the rooftop of our one-bedroom condo. Maybe we can rent a rowboat.
This piece originally appeared in the Globe & Mail’s Facts & Arguments, October 2016.