I remember the exact point in our relationship when I realised something was very wrong. I'd shown her a Guardian cover photo of burning debris outside Dale Farm. She'd said, nonchalantly, "They should burn the gypsies out, too."
She showed no empathy with the women in tears or the young kids whose lives were being uprooted. She didn't care.
That night, I asked her all the questions I'd put off since the start for fear of discovering the truth. I was right to worry. I soon found out she knew nothing about race and racism in Britain; nothing about the history of migration in the 20th Century, or the several millennia preceding it; and nothing about know how black and Asian people arrived in Britain, never mind Irish travellers. I then spent hours explaining to her why racism was wrong, but, at 28 years old, she neither understood nor cared. She was cold and unmoved, this freckled, pale girl from Middle England.
I discovered that night that, somehow, I had fallen in love with a right-wing lunatic.
I should have ended it after the row that ensued, when I was shaking with anger at what I'd uncovered: a void inside her where compassion for other people ought to have been. Instead, I carried on trying to convince myself that it could work – two people from different ends of the political spectrum. I'd read about couples who had solid relationships despite their political differences. I'd also read about famously obverse political couples, like John and Sally Bercow (Conservative and Labour respectively), or Nicolas Sarkozy (right-wing) and Carla Bruni (liberal).
I told myself that she and I could be north London's John and Sally, a coupling of diverse social outlooks. I was hard left and she was hard right, I thought, so any offspring we might produce would surely be pan-political revolutionaries forging a new cooperative politics in Britain, in which old traditional values and binary oppositions would be done away with.
I had deluded myself. It was all bollocks. My ex wasn't a politically astute, centre ground Tory who was open to discussions. She was no Michael Heseltine; she was hard right-wing. She said things that sounded like Daily Express headlines.
I knew on the first date she voted Tory; I'd expressed sympathy for Gordon Brown and she'd expressed disgust. In retrospect, perhaps I found this a thrill – something illicit – considering I'd been brought up to vote Labour, and will always vote Labour, regardless of how unpalatable they currently are. Mind you, that's how it is in the inner cities. She wasn't from the inner cities. She was, quite literally, from a field in the middle of nowhere.
She abhorred the concept of traditional Middle England and had rebelled in her teenage years with ecstasy and weekend raves at Gatecrasher. But Middle England had shaped her, and those formative years had clearly resurfaced in an extreme way.
She'd spent her university years in a northern city that Thatcher once starved economically. I told her about this particularly abhorrent Thatcher moment, but she didn't care. Right-wing people don't care.
Our mismatched views were endless:
She thought communism was evil. I'm a Socialist.
She thought people on benefits were parasites. I think cutting off the poor and powerless is abominable.
She thought bankers were great and deserved excessive salaries and bonuses because their jobs were "high-pressured", while nurses and teachers deserved low salaries. I would nationalise banks and significantly raise the wages of health and education staff.
She thought the NHS was appalling and wanted it dismantled. My mother and sister both work for the NHS.
She disliked other women – especially successful, attractive or intellectual women. I'm a feminist.
She disliked immigrants and thought they were mostly here to access free healthcare, housing and welfare while doing nothing all day but producing babies. She thought they shouldn't be here if they couldn't speak English. I'm from one of Britain's most multicultural boroughs, and I love immigration and the diversity and increased workforce it brings.
I am virulently anti-fascist. She was prone to bigotry. She once said to me in a discussion on the Middle East, "God hates the Jews." She once demanded I wash a pre-washed bag of salad from Tesco because "some bloody Indian has had his hands all over it". On holiday in Morocco, we were discussing whether a local man had been dishonest with us and she said, "Of course he was lying, he's an Arab." In spite of this, I convinced myself that she can't be racist, because she's going out with me – a mixed race guy.
So why did I do it? Why did I go out with a hard right-winger for a whole year?
The first reason is both very predictable and something I'm now a little ashamed of. On hearing about the relationship, my current partner asked me, "Was she really attractive and were you so shallow that you overlooked everything else because of that?"
"Yes, that's basically it," I answered.
She rolled her eyes at me, the same way my friends had rolled their eyes throughout the entire, nonsensical ordeal, from the moment they first heard about it until the bitter, fractious end.
"SOME PEOPLE ARE TOO DAMAGED TO BE MENDED"
The second reason was because, despite it all, I was somehow in love with her (though it's true, admittedly, that sometimes one mistakes sex for love).
Mostly, though, I think we carried on because we knew it was wrong. It was exciting because we shouldn't have been together. The sex kept us hooked. That's all there was. Other than that, we hated each other. We were in love and hate at the same time – break-ups, make-up sex, more hate, on a repeat cycle. It was fun, but it was really, really dumb.
The strange thing about it all was that, when it was finally over – after the police had been involved several times, after phone numbers had been blocked and changed, after the trust had vanished and the psychological war of attrition had raged unabated for months – I still missed her when she had gone.
Yes, mostly I missed the sex, but there was something more profound missing – I had wanted to save her and I had failed in my attempts at salvation. She'd had a difficult life prior to meeting me and I wanted to heal her.
"Some people are just too damaged to be mended," someone said to me. But I didn't want to believe that. I thought I could help her and make her happier, more trusting, less hateful. But I failed.
So, when it ended, I found myself spending a long summer pining. While the country basked in the euphoria of the Olympic Games, I stalked my tiny flat, haunted by the ghost of that relationship and wishing it were resurrected. Though thank god that wish never came true, otherwise I'd never have met the woman I love and who I am going to marry.
We are different, too, my partner and I. For one thing, she's a Catholic and I'm a dyed-in-the-wool atheist. But we don't worry about our differences because our relationship is grounded in the fundamentals: we love, trust and respect each other; we care deeply for each other; and, most importantly, we are best friends.
That toxic relationship taught me many things, but it didn't teach me that it's bad to be with somebody who thinks differently to you, or has different beliefs. It can still work perfectly well as long as you respect each other's values, and as long as those values aren't as objectively appalling as the ones held by my ex. Mind you, perhaps there's a young Enoch Powell out there just waiting for her to walk into his life.
Whatever the future holds for her, I sincerely hope she's happy now and has let go of the anger and resentment she held while we were together. I hope somebody has managed to teach her why it's bad to hold hard right-wing views. I hope she's discovered how to care.
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