Armed with an undergraduate degree in liberal arts or something equally lucrative, recent grads and young professionals flock to Washington, DC to change the world. At least, that’s what I did thirty-years ago when I and my political science degree moved to DC from California. I, like everyone else on the planet, saw DC as a town obsessed with politics to the exclusion of everything else. But I quickly learned that Washington is about more than just legislation and regulations. It’s also a romantic place.
Yes, believe it or not, citizens of the city known for partisan bickering and political shenanigans can generate as much heat and romance as any European hotspot. On Valentine’s Day, it’s not uncommon for Senators and Representatives to express their love for their spouses in official statements. It’s not uncommon for young lovers to get engaged under the Capitol Dome. And it’s not uncommon for DC citizens to put politics aside in favor of friendship and even romance—even across the aisle.
Why? Because DC is full of people who share a common vision—a desire to make life better for someone or something. We disagree about what needs to change and how to change it, but we all want to make a difference in the world.
Some come because they want to help make laws, whether it’s to protect the environment, help small businesses, make sure people have access to healthcare, improve foreign relations, or any of a thousand other issues, some of which are really obscure–lobbying for the fireworks industry, for example. I kid you not. Look it up. Some come because they want to improve how government operates (yes, some of us believe it’s possible)! And still others come because they want to provide food, water, shelter, opportunities, infrastructure, or any of a dozen other things for people who need them nationwide.
Whatever we come for, we can be cordial acquaintances, friends, and, yes, even lovers without rancor (although lively debate is certainly a part of life).
My own experience reflects this. In my 30+ years in DC, I’ve worked in a variety of jobs trying to impact policy on everything from library funding and telecommunications competition to reducing paperwork requirements for small businesses—and more. In my jobs on Capitol Hill, I saw firsthand how friendships can survive—and thrive—between those who bitterly disagree on policy issues. For example, the late Orrin Hatch, a conservative Senator from Utah, was good friends with Ted Kennedy, the very liberal Senator from Massachusetts. Former Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia were close friends, even though they had starkly different judicial philosophies.
Seeing all this bipartisanship “up close and personal” led me to found my company Advocacy Associates, which is based on the idea that partisan bickering doesn’t have to get in the way of those seeking to make a difference on the issues they care about. My business partner and I are from opposite political parties. I have at least two employees whom I vehemently disagree with politically, and a good friend who worked on the opposing campaign for one of the members of Congress I worked for.
Why am I friends with them? Because our shared beliefs outweigh our disagreements—and, believe me, we disagree. (Plus, you never know if I’ll be able to change their mind someday!) As Antonin Scalia once said, “If you can’t disagree ardently with your colleagues about some issues of law and yet personally still be friends, get another job, for Pete’s sake.” That’s the philosophy most Washingtonians adhere to. We strive to “agree to disagree” and then discuss the matter over drinks. A lot of drinks.
And it’s not just me! Consider the marriage of Mary Matalin, a former deputy campaign manager for President George H.W. Bush’s reelection campaign, and James Carville, a former chief strategist for President Bush’s opponent, Bill Clinton. Politically speaking, no two people could be further apart (unless it was Bush and Clinton themselves). And yet they were dating during the campaign! As the saying goes, politics make for strange bedfellows—literally.
You may be wondering how polar opposites like Carville and Matalin even met, much less fell in love. Well, you’ll be surprised to learn that Washingtonians socialize with people from both sides of the aisle all the time. In fact, going out for lunch, or drinks, or dinner, or brunch, or a baseball game, or a concert, or…well, basically, anywhere my Across the Aisle protagonists Dallas and Grant went to discuss their business, is commonplace and, indeed, expected. Many of these settings are featured in my novel, Across The Aisle , in which the main characters share a tense political rivalry—and a heated attraction.
Fortunately, DC has plenty of romantic venues for these couples—whether bipartisan or not—to meet, mingle and keep company. If you live in DC or are just passing through, here are some spots where love, regardless of political leanings, might bloom.
DC’s cherry blossoms
Love might quite literally bloom amid these stunning blossoms, which blanket the city every spring with their delicate white and pink petals. Wooing couples can enjoy them with a daytime paddle around the tidal basin, or while wandering through the dozens of neighborhoods in the city that boast these gorgeous trees.
Sunset sails on the Potomac
If hanging out on the water is your thing, consider a sunset sail on the Potomac, where you and that special someone can take in views of the Washington monument, Haynes point, The Kennedy Center, and even the famous Watergate building (although that might be a little too partisan for a romantic evening). Stop for dinner at the DC Wharf, where you’ll find dozens of restaurants. You can even go ice-skating on Transit Pier.
For those into music, DC has a wide variety of venues where you can catch acts from around the country—or even the world. Some favorites include the sultry and cozy jazz club Blues Alley in Georgetown, the ritzier Hamilton in Metro Center, or, for the more adventurous music-lover, the 9:30 Club in the Shaw neighborhood, which has been recognized by Rolling Stone as a top nightclub in the country.
Or if you gravitate toward plays, theaters in DC offer funny, dramatic, musical, epic, intimate—really any style of play you might be looking for. Looking for a classic “enemies to lovers” tale like Much Ado About Nothing? Check out the Shakespeare Theater. Want to laugh on a date with a funny audience participation-style romp? Look for the long running “Shear Madness” adventure at The Kennedy Center. You’ll find more romantic (and fun!) options at the Arena Stage, the Warner Theater, the Wooly Mammoth—the list goes on and on.
The Heart Wall
The truly romantic-minded can’t miss this iconic mural in Union Market. You and your boo can take Instagram worthy photos in front of hundreds of hearts. While you’re there, enjoy the wine bars in the area, or, indeed, all around the city. Washingtonians love their wine. A lot.
Finally, DC is a city known for its monuments, and nothing can be more romantic than a moonlight stroll along the National Mall, where Abraham Lincoln, the nation’s first Republican President, is honored alongside Democrat President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (and his non-partisan dog Fala). The area also boasts memorials to Eisenhower, Jefferson, and Martin Luther King, whose statue is a favorite nighttime stop due to its blockbuster lighting—and “I Have a Dream” message.
Do people always put politics aside for love? Nope. Sometimes it’s a hot mess. Some people won’t “swipe right” for someone of the other political party. Some political differences are just too much to overcome.
But take it from this DC insider: love triumphs over politics much more often than you think.
Stephanie Vance wears two hats: romantic comedy writer, and D.C. advocacy guru with a 30+ year career. The boutique firm she heads, Advocacy Associates, helps associations drive citizen-based approaches to achieving policy change and Stephanie’s career has inspired her fiction. Her debut novel, Across the Aisle, stars two young lobbyists with opposing views involved in a racy, high-stakes legislative battle. An extensive traveler and avid scuba diver, Stephanie has visited six continents and dived everywhere from Iceland to the Great Barrier Reef. She attended college on a music scholarship (flute) and holds 3 master’s degrees—which she’s pretty sure equals a Ph.D. Her nonfiction book The Influence Game made the Washington Post bestseller list. She lives in D.C. with her husband.