My youngest was on a favorites spree two nights ago, and my wife was coming out on the losing end of the stick. I was the big winner in almost every competition. “Who’s your favorite – a chocolate milkshake as big as your head, or Daddy?” “Daddy!”

We were at the dinner table during this episode, enjoying a meal my wife had lovingly prepared, and she was holding it together pretty well, until the dam finally burst. I think my youngest had picked our dead cat (whom she’d never actually met) over her mother, and the gloves came off.

“Who cooks your meals, changes your diapers, wipes your nose, takes you to therapy after therapy after therapy, agrees to be Stitch or Mulan or whatever random Disney character is lodged in that head of yours and I don’t even beat the cat? I mean, come on!” She had a point, but my youngest, as is her way, smiled blissfully on, glowing because she had the attention of everyone at the table, impervious to the tongue lashing she was receiving.

There’s a woman I knew in college who called people her favorite at the drop of a hat. It’s her shtick. Someone would give her the time on a street corner and she’d tell them, “You’re my favorite.” I always thought she had rendered the phrase meaningless, but she has an expansive list of people she calls friend (or favorite) so it must not be working against her.

And then, of course, we were in the voting booth picking a favorite. Prior to November 8, it became trendy to say that neither presidential candidate was a favorite. It was the “Hold my nose” election. But, one of them had to be the favorite. A choice had to be made. You had to favor one over another.

Have you ever taken stock of the pain (or pleasure) that results when your favorite doesn’t jibe with the choice of the masses? When it comes to indie rock bands, having a favorite no one knows about is a badge of honor, and if they make it big, suddenly their value to you is depressed. But when it comes to presidential candidates, and yours loses, suddenly you feel like you are in the wilderness, and don’t recognize the people around you. Their favorite was different than yours. What does this say about you and what does it say about them? The temptation to categorize people, put them in buckets, because their favorite is different than yours, is almost overwhelming. Facebook users prune their friend lists and brag about it, coworkers’ relationships fray, and families splinter. We retreat to our  echo chambers.

My personal approach is – I don’t end friendships or relationships for politics, but I accept that it does happen, and don’t weep over my losses. If someone chooses to exclude me for politics, the relationship was already a fragile one to begin with, and couldn’t have withstood much stress. All in the Family featured characters disagreeing about politics all the time. I wonder if that sitcom could realistically exist today. The Bunkers would have splintered in the first episode. Meathead would have founded a commune far away and taken his wife with him, Archie would have watched Fox News, muttering darkly at the TV, and Edith would have been on twitter posting selfies under #thosewerethedays.

Favorites are a way for us to identify ourselves – to stand up and say this is what I like and it means something about who I am. But they can also cause pain. My youngest picking favorites boosted my ego at the expense of my wife’s. It’s probably comparable to how successful sports stars always wave to the camera and say, “Hi mom!” Poor old dad doesn’t get any love. But if you ascribe too much meaning to the choice, it can backfire. A four year old picking her dad is fun and cute and is not reflective of the love she feels for her mother. It is not a zero sum game and the family isn’t at risk because of her choice at the moment. In a similar way, picking Hillary or Donald is not reflective of the love people feel for the country. Go ahead, pick your favorites and observe the picks of others. Just don’t believe learning someone’s favorite means you have the wild, multi-layered, nuanced person you think you know pegged. You don’t.

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