Election years can magnify the cracks in even the closest relationships. And this election is the San Andreas of familial and friendship fault lines.
Those who live in politically divided families can either agree to disagree or try to influence the other party without letting it get too personal. But it's hard not to take it personally when the stakes feel so high. Or when the other person's views appear to be based on misinformation or prejudice rather than policy differences. Both leading candidates have large swaths of people who deeply dislike -- even loathe -- them. It's unsettling to see someone you love or admire support someone you feel is dangerous to the country.
One friend confided that he is dreading an extended family vacation soon after the election. Another is worried her relationship with her mother will never recover, based on what she's seen her mom post.
It's similar to the relationship strain people reported after the unrest in Ferguson. Views on police shootings are often influenced by one's own experience with the police, which can vary dramatically by race. Social media laid bare these differences.
In some ways, the fallout from this rancorous, deeply polarizing election has been even harder to take. Sharing one's views on politics, race and religious beliefs always runs the risk of offending those who disagree with you. For ordinary citizens, elections are when beliefs translate into actions that can influence the society in which we live. This is why it can feel like a betrayal when those close to us don't see what we see; we see their actions impacting our lives and our children's futures.
It's hurtful to see a friend or relative share bigoted or sexist views publicly, but even more so if you happen to belong to the targeted group, whether it is Muslims, Mexicans, immigrants or African Americans. It's hard to look at people the same way after learning they believe debunked conspiracy theories.
Often, it's best to limit the mental and emotional toll these interactions can take: No need to engage people of little consequence in your life. High school classmates you haven't spoken to in years? Let them go. Fringe social acquaintances you rarely see in person? Forget about it. The "mute," "unfriend" and "unfollow" features on social media are especially handy this time of year.
But relationships that you want to maintain -- spouses, parents, children, close friends and neighbors -- require a different approach.
A dinner guest recently started railing against illegal immigrants "living off the government" during a family meal. I suppose I could have tried to offer a facts-based argument about the percentage of crimes committed by various groups of people, or shared which demographic group in America is actually most likely to be "living off the government." But I don't think facts would have influenced her opinion. More likely, any counter-argument would have inflamed the situation. So I changed the topic to Mexican desserts.
Gracias, tres leches, for the pivot.
Then there are those who can manage political difference in the most aspirational way.
Alex Kaminski, 32, lives in Maryland Heights, Missouri, and says his family is a mixed lot, politically. He refuses to argue with those "whose information is solely based on political ads on TV and pounded into their heads." There are people on Facebook whose posts he will ignore until the election is over.
He does, however, try to understand and engage with those willing to agree to his ground rules.
"If you really want to talk about this, let's agree to a few rules," he has said to family members. No interrupting, you can't get mad at the other person and you have to listen to one another respectfully.
"You have to try to separate your emotions from what you believe in trying to understand the other person's point of view," he explained. These conversations have actually changed his mind on how he plans to vote in this election.
He had planned to vote for a third party, since he isn't a fan of either major party's candidate.
"Conversations with my mom and sister have convinced me otherwise," he said.
These dinner table discussions show us how civil society functions best.
You ignore the loudmouths, listen to reason and if all else fails, pass the dessert.