It’s Presidential primary day here in New Hampshire and I just got the sticker that says “I Voted.” The sticker is my favorite part of voting. It reminds me of when I was little and my parents came home from voting with their stickers. As a kid, I wanted an “I Voted” sticker in the worst way, because it would mean that I was an adult, and I could do something very important, something that only adults could do.
All the adults in my world were Republicans, so when I registered to vote, I registered Republican without question. To do anything different would be unthinkable. To illustrate: a dear childhood friend of mine, I’ll call him Bob, married a lovely woman, whom I’ll call June. Bob’s mother, Elaine (not her real name) practically raised me. One day, when I was in my late 20s, Elaine said to me, “I have some very disturbing news about Bob and June.” I immediately thought the worst — they were divorcing, or they’d become drug runners. Elaine shut her eyes and whispered, “They voted Democrat.”
I followed Bob and June’s lead. When I voted for Bill Clinton in 1992, I cried in the voting booth, knowing I was betraying my family. My brother instructed me not to tell anyone I voted Democrat for fear of how they’d respond. Now, I am a registered independent (or “undeclared” here in NH), almost always voting left of center, and open about my positions. It took my family and friends a while to get used to my new political affiliation. To illustrate, again: A dear friend’s mother, a staunch Republican, had just been diagnosed with terminal cancer. Her time almost certainly was short. My friends and I gathered around her — the “daughters” she’d raised over the years — to show her our support. In the face of this grim prognosis, she looked me straight in the eyes and said, “You’re still kind of liberal, aren’t you?”
Indeed, my more liberal friends are just as intense, and one in particular comes to mind. When assessing her grown daughter’s boyfriends, her major concern is clear: “Just as long as he’s a Democrat.” She’s not kidding.
On some level, I’m sure this has to do with conviction to political beliefs. But on another level, I think we want the people we like to be like us. If they’re not, it makes us start to worry about whether the relationship will survive the differences, and makes us question our own choices. But sometimes the differences make the relationship — and us — much more interesting. When I moved to Ireland, I made very good friends with a woman named Mary (not surprisingly, I made very good friends with a bunch of women named Mary). She was raised Catholic and all her friends were Catholic. She liked me, so she assumed I was Catholic, too. When Mary found out I was Protestant (more accurately, Anglican), she was confused. She didn’t realize she could actually like a non-Catholic. “Well,” she said, “You’re still a good person.” High praise under the circumstances, and a fine foundation for a friendship.
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