Two weeks before Christmas, I left my French boyfriend of ten months. We hadn't argued, there wasn't anyone else, things were good. In fact, the day before we'd enjoyed a lovely lunch at his parent's house in rural Burgundy, and they'd invited me for dinner on Christmas Day. The same day that we had lunch, France was voting in the second round of their general election - the first election following the horrifying events of November 13. Le Front National, Marine Le Pen's notorious far-right party, had won an unprecedented amount of support in the first round of voting. Little did I know, my then-boyfriend had given them his vote. I had no idea he was this way politically inclined, and 24 hours later, we were done.
I didn't ask immediately who he had voted for when he came back from the polling station. We were with his parents, and just before he left to cast his vote, his Mum shouted 'don't vote for Le Front National, they're fascists!' He laughed, I assumed she was joking, and we went on with our day. In hindsight, she obviously knew something I didn't and she wasn't joking. Off he went to vote for the party who once referred to the Nazi gas chambers of the Second World War as a mere 'point of detail'.
After he told me, I asked him to explain why he'd chosen such an extreme party. He couldn't explain it to me. It didn't even occur to me until friends pointed it out that I too am an immigrant in his country - a white, European immigrant, but an immigrant all the same. My immediate thoughts were with the millions of refugees fleeing their countries in search of safety, it hadn't even occurred to me that their 100% anti-immigration policies would directly affect me too. I was angry with myself for not realising that he was this way inclined. We spoke in a mixture of French and English with each other, and despite neither being fluent in the other's language, both of us are competent enough to rule out the language barrier being the reason I hadn't cottoned on to his political choices. How did I not know? I thought about times we'd wandered round Paris together when he'd come to visit me, and saw the all too familiar sight of entire families sleeping on the streets. I remember him stopping to talk to one particular family sleeping on a single, dirty mattress in Bastille. They weren't French, he chatted to them for a while, gave them some money and as we were walking away he said 'my country is rich enough that no one should be sleeping on the streets, especially not children'. I nodded in agreement.
How had I got him so wrong? I spent the night after the elections trying to rationalise his decision. France has had a brutal year of bloodshed, maybe he is mourning for his country, he's not thinking straight? Nope, that still doesn't justify voting for a party whose policies will deliberately harm the most vulnerable in our society. He's a small business owner in rural France, Marine Le Pen has deliberately targeted her campaigns at people like him, maybe he doesn't know any better? Nope, he's lived in Brazil and the UK and travelled extensively, the 'small town boy who doesn't know better' logic just doesn't wash. Maybe Marine Le Pen really has toned down the worst of the party, maybe it's me that is misinformed? Nope, the policies are just as awful as they were under her father, she's just toned down the language used to make it more palatable.
I spent the night googling articles on couples who had successful marriages but didn't share the same political views, and why Marine Le Pen was so popular in the region he lives in, trying to make some sense of it. But this wasn't a simple case of the left vs. the right, and maybe we could meet somewhere in the middle - he'd voted for the extreme right. I don't claim to have perfect political views, far from it, but I grew up in Brighton, a notoriously liberal city, with working class Glaswegian parents who voted Labour. I like to think my political views are developing as I keep learning (and unlearning for that matter) but the right, let alone the extreme right, is something I've never identified with, and never will.
I woke up the next day and gave him one more chance to explain himself so I could stop second guessing him. He still couldn't, so I left, and that was that. It's sad and I'm sad, but I don't see how it could have been any other way. This wasn't simply a case of agreeing to disagree, his vote revealed a side to him I never knew existed, and one that I wasn't prepared to tolerate.