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‘No Left Turn’ Signs Can Snarl Road to Love

Susan Christian is a regular contributor to Orange County Life.

Conservatives, beware. The following story may raise your hackles.

It hands people of the opposite persuasion free rein to spout their L-word rantings. But have a little sympathy for that downtrodden minority of Orange County. After all, they’re outnumbered 3 to 1, according to a recent Times Poll. And how often do they get a chance to make their voices heard?

Single Life recently posed the question, “How does a liberal find love in one of the most conservative areas of the country?” And did we get letters--from every unmarried liberal within a 15-mile radius of Disneyland. All 12 of them.

“Since my wife’s death halved the number of Democrats in our district, it’s been even lonelier politically,” wrote Larry, a 55-year-old Santa Ana psychologist who requested anonymity.

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“After 5 years in Orange County, I’m convinced that the closest approximation to passion a liberal can expect to find is heated arguments,” said Johnnie Marr, 32, of Seal Beach. “I once considered myself fairly moderate politically, but in this land of consumers and conformists, I find my beliefs assailed as radical, unpatriotic or plain dangerous.”

“The worst thing I can do is mention that I live near Little Saigon,” said Westminster resident David Anderson, 25. “This always elicits the ‘terrible driver’ comments. Responses like those are good because they let me know from the start that I am dealing with someone I would not like to get involved with.”

“Help! Help! Help!” pleaded Patricia Sarka, an education writer. “Put me in touch with others who are concerned about the health-care problems of the poor, who care about saving the environment, who believe that the Holocaust occurred.”

“I have lived in this area for 14 years, and I have yet to meet a married or single inhabitant who does not believe that Reagan was a gift from God, that prayer must be an integrated part of the school curriculum, that recreational machine guns are our birthright,” added the 41-year-old divorced mother of two, who referred to her neighbors as “Huntington Birchers.”

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Any right-wing feathers ruffled yet? Well, don’t say you weren’t warned. And things will get worse before they get better.

For instance, Larry said he joined Mensa--an organization for people with high IQs--"under the false assumption that smart people would be liberal.” But he found that the county chapter’s membership was, in his L-word view, “as right-wing as everyone else here.”

Not surprisingly, such negative feelings toward the majority are not conducive to dating life for these liberal-minded singles.

Richard Hamel, 28, who has made a full-time job out of his political activism, said county women just don’t understand him. “They can’t figure out why someone would work 14 hours a day at something that doesn’t bring in much money,” said Hamel, executive director of PAX, a Santa Ana graphics company that prints newsletters for nonprofit organizations.

“They can only understand working long hours if you’re an attorney or in some other high-paying profession. Social work isn’t financially rewarding, but it is spiritually rewarding.”

While charitably allowing that he “wouldn’t rule out” dating a Republican, Hamel said:

“It’s a red flag if a woman says she voted for Reagan. Before I became politically aware, I would have said that I could date a conservative if I was attracted to her intellect or creativity, but today I don’t think it could work. It would be total chaos. I’d drive her crazy.”

Anderson, who works in Irvine’s Community Service Department, likewise complained that many people he meets can’t relate to his affinity for social work. “A lot of women here are looking for that piece of cake, that sugar daddy who’s going to provide them the beachfront house and the BMW,” he said.

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He said he suffered one of his worst dating experiences when, in the middle of dinner with a woman he thought “fun and adventuresome,” his romantic interest expressed disapproval of the interracial couple sitting at a nearby table.

“She said, ‘I’m not racist, but I could never bring a black home,’ ” Anderson recalled. “I sat there with my mouth open. Racism just makes me sick. Obviously, I never asked her out again.”

Marr, a corporate librarian, offered a similar tale of shock. “Recently I went on a hike with a guy I met in the Sierra Club,” she said. “You’d think the Sierra Club would attract liberal types.

“We were having a nice time. Then this guy matter-of-factly told me that he had just bought an automatic weapon because he was afraid they were going to be outlawed. He said, ‘I’ll never use it, but I don’t like the government telling me what I can and cannot own.’ I suggested that he take that philosophy to its absurd extreme and buy vials of crack--for the sole reason that the government says it’s illegal.”

Marr didn’t exactly tell her companion to take a hike; still, their tandem trekking days are over.

Extreme example, yes. A more common occurrence, Marr said, is condescension: “When men find out I’m liberal, they act like, ‘Oh, isn’t that cute. Do you sit around sipping herbal tea?’ ”

“There’s no question that the few women I’ve gone out with since my wife died have been more conservative than I,” Larry said. “They’re not evil--they don’t make me throw up. We just avoid discussing politics. I wish I could find a woman who’s a little more interested in social issues.”

Although quick to boast that he is a “card-carrying member” of the American Civil Liberties Union, Larry said his liberalism does not lessen his demand.

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“I’ve never been turned down for a date,” he said. “For women in my age bracket, men who make a decent living and wear shoes are hard to find.”

Sarka’s former husband, she said, is as conservative as she is liberal. “We met in high school. He drove a neat car, so I liked him,” she laughed. “I could never again marry someone so conservative. Now ‘liberal’ is second on my list of requirements, right behind ‘good sense of humor.’ ”

Years of stifling her liberal disposition at home has made Sarka an expert at keeping her mouth shut in public. “Luckily, most people in the publishing business are liberal,” the writer said. “But I have a lot of friends in Orange County who would be shocked to know how liberal I am. I’m not the kind of person who vents my opinion--although I do occasionally go on tirades about the homeless. It gets on my nerves to hear someone say that homeless people should just get a job.”

One avenue for meeting liberal soul mates in the county is via liberal organizations. Hamel recommended the Santa Ana-based Alliance for Survival, an anti-nuclear group in which he is active.

“A lot of singles show up for the mailings because they’re a good place to socialize,” he said. “We only needed 15 people (to stuff envelopes) at the last mailing, and 30 people showed up. The last four women I’ve dated I met in Alliance for Survival.”

Jack Levitt, president of the Democratic Club of the Newport Area, wrote to suggest his club as one that has “liberal values and meets at monthly intervals.” (The next meeting will take place April 2 at 2 p.m., at Western Federal Savings & Loan, 4 Corporate Place, Newport Beach. For information, call (714) 979-5790.)

Some county liberals spell relief L-O-S A-N-G-E-L-E-S. “I occasionally take a quick trip to the border,” Marr said.

Stan Tom, 29, a computer systems analyst who recently moved from Pasadena to Huntington Beach, said he maintains his social life by maintaining his Los Angeles ties. “I’m a docent at MOCA, he said about the Museum of Contemporary Art in downtown Los Angeles. “I get up there as often as possible. I still have a lot of friends in L.A. They tease me about living in ‘Bush country.’ ”

Perhaps the glaring question is, why do these liberals stay in Orange County if they so disdain its politics? Love it or leave it. The Orange Curtain is made of freeways--not iron bars.

Jobs and homes, that’s why. “If my work wasn’t so satisfying, I’d go somewhere else,” said Marr, who grew up in Northern California.

“I’ve established my practice here,” said Larry, a native of Los Angeles.

“We moved here 14 years ago and bought a nice house for $70,000; it’s now worth $500,000,” Sarka said.

Newcomer Tom plans to make the best of Orange County--for which he has high, L-word hopes. “It’s very young,” he ventured. “As it matures, it will become more cosmopolitan--and liberal.”

A Return to the Nest

According to a recent survey by the U.S. Census Bureau, 18 million single Americans ages 18 to 34 live with their parents--an increase of about one-third since 1974. Experts attribute the trend to the high cost of housing, “prolonged adolescence,” extended education, the deferment of marriage and childbearing, and the burgeoning divorce rate. Are you one of the millions of adult children who has returned to the nest--or who never left in the first place? Why? And what are the advantages and disadvantages of life with Mom and Dad?

Still Living the Dorm Life

Take a look around your apartment. Is it home to an authentic, honest-to-gosh sofa--or does that futon you bought for $15 at a garage sale 5 years ago still grace your barren living room? Do you sleep on a real bed--box springs, frame, the whole works--or on a limp mattress? Do orange crates stand in for end tables? Do concrete blocks and plywood boards act as bookshelves? Do the chipped, secondhand dishes that your mom gave you when you left for college still fill your cupboards? In other words, do you live like an upwardly mobile adult, or like a starving student?

Send your comments to Single Life, Orange County Life, The Times, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, Calif. 92626. Please include a phone number so a reporter can contact you. To protect your privacy, Single Life does not publish correspondents’ last names when the subject is sensitive.


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