Dining across the divide: ‘It was exhausting being with someone as bright as that’ | Life and style

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Barbara, 68, Bristol

Occupation Relationship counsellor

Voting record Labour and Green. Barbara describes herself as far left

Amuse bouche Once, at a party, Barbara jumped into a swimming pool – naked, drunk, carrying a large potted plant. The friend whose party and pool it was never spoke to her again

Eva, 37, Bath

Eva

Occupation Trained as an occupational psychologist, currently a stay-at-home mother

Voting record Eva, who is Australian, voted Labour there. In the UK, she votes Liberal Democrat

Amuse bouche Antonio Banderas was once talking to Eva’s dad at a do in Mexico City. Eva came over, Banderas asked her name, “and he started singing Evita to me”

For starters

Barbara She’s a brainiac. She was talking to the waiter in Italian – and sounding like an Italian. She speaks seven or eight languages, including Russian. She’s a very intelligent woman and I began to feel like a kind of pensioner … which, of course, I am.

Eva We ended up sharing our entrees, which was nice. She’s warm and motherly. When I found out she was a relationship counsellor, I thought: I’d like to open up to this person.

Barbara and Eva

The big beef

Barbara We have very different views on autism and neurodiversity. I have worked a lot with autistic people and families where one person is autistic or has ADHD. These relationships are inclined to break down because of the lack of understanding.

Eva I worked in the computing field for a long time – coding and technology – and I was unusual in being neurotypical. It was a quiet workspace – there was no interaction, and no expectation you would have cupcakes on someone’s birthday. That’s fine, but you can’t say it’s OK if you then come into an environment where everyone is celebrating and you sit there and glare at us.

Barbara Every team needs a neurodiverse person – they provide a fresh point of view. More than 70% of autistic people don’t work. They can’t get a job because of their social skills – highly intelligent people in many cases who deserve not just to be accommodated, but celebrated.

Eva Neurodivergent people may be useful and bring new ideas and perspectives, but if they don’t even try to participate in what might otherwise be a cordial environment, it can be damaging to the way the office functions. I am not neurodivergent – I have bipolar affective disorder. I want it to be destigmatised, but I don’t think workplaces owe me anything beyond basic accommodation. If I’m having a manic episode, I can take sick leave. But if I am being really awful at work, I should be called out. I don’t want my mental health issues to create problems for the rest of my team. It is a question of balancing the needs of the many against the needs of the few.

Barbara and Eva

Sharing plate

Barbara We have both lived in Mexico, are interested in languages and cooking, and have two daughters.

Eva I think we’re both fundamentally aiming to be fair people. She is more generous-spirited than I am. She wants to see the best in people. I’m more cynical.

Barbara and Eva

For afters

Barbara She said she wasn’t a feminist. I couldn’t believe it.

Eva I don’t think there’s anything to be gained by labelling myself a feminist. It has never occurred to me that I’m not equal to any man, woman, gender-fluid, non-binary person.

Barbara Frankly, that’s because she’s led a life of privilege. I have worked in domestic abuse. During my work as a counsellor, the same issues come up all the time. It is rare that a woman will say she feels completely empowered.

Eva To think we need to still be in the activist age of Gloria Steinem and the 1970s mentality dissuades people from participating in the conversation.

Barbara and Eva

Takeaways

Eva If we met at a party or a dinner, I would think we were similar, but I’d be wrong. One of the great things about sitting down with someone with different views is it forces you to really justify your beliefs.

Barbara It was exhausting being with someone as bright as that. In my circle, I’m regarded as the one who is feisty and opinionated, but I felt challenged – in a good way. We didn’t swap numbers – I’m not sure I could cope with another evening with Eva. She would wipe the floor with me again!

Barbara and Eva

Additional reporting: Kitty Drake

Barbara and Eva ate at Rosemarino in Bristol

Want to meet someone from across the divide? Find out how to take part

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