Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Verbum Caro Factum: An Even Dozen



This week-end marked my twelfth wedding anniversary.  My wife and I walked down the aisle (and, I must admit somewhat sheepishly, up the aisle a bit prematurely when the time came for the 'Sign of Peace') in Los Altos, California on 8th June 2002.  

We celebrated this year in a very nice restaurant in Munich, Germany, itself a beautiful, historic city.  As is our custom, we talked about the past year - the ups and downs, the year to come, and the things we like and appreciate about each other.  I believe we have enjoyed a very strong, happy, and healthy marriage.  We've travelled the world and been blessed with a lovely son.  This is not to say we have not had our moments of conflict, which I think must be part of any close relationship.  A sign that your marriage is in trouble, in my view, is when you cease to care when you get let down by your wife/husband. 

As my father used to say, the opposite of love is not hate; it's indifference.

Anyways, as we reflected on our dozen years of marriage, we found ourselves talking about the elements of a lasting relationship.  Obviously, there are many.  Enough shared interests, of course.  Sufficient physical attraction is also necessary.  Compatible personality.

But what does this latter really mean?  

I have from time to time been intrigued by the idea of fitted personalities.  One often hears that "opposites attract."  I do not believe that this is necessarily true.  Perhaps there is an attraction, but as the two grow closer, the obvious and stark differences, I feel, will repel just as surely as the initial thrill of the truly different wanes.

What I have come to believe over time is that a lasting relationship must involve somewhat orthogonal personalities.  What I mean by this is that two people who are polar opposites will simply not get along over the long haul.  In the US, there was once a television show called "Dharma and Greg."  The show featured a hippie wife (I think her job was as a yoga teacher) and straight-laced husband (whom I think was a lawyer).  These sort of themes occur frequently in entertainment, but I have yet to meet a couple together for any length of time who fit the narrative.

On the other hand, I think an even worse situation is when the two people involved are too similar.  I've known people in this case who seem so "perfect" together - they like the same movies and music, have the same political views, have the same world outlook and style, and have the same personal hot-button items.

On the surface, this would seem an ideal situation, but in reality, it never is.  Can you think of a couple who were like mirror reflections of one another, and yet their 'perfect' relationship always crashes?

My theory is this: people who are too similar will eventually come to loathe the other.  To my mind's eye, the explanation is shockingly simple.  

Barring some sort of personality disorder, most of us know what our long suits are; similarly, we are all aware, painfully aware in some cases, of our own deficiencies.  With one exception - I once worked with a man who was so completely lacking in self-awareness, he interpreted sarcastic comments that the company ought to put a bust of him in the reception areas as sincere compliments - virtually every person I know, if pressed, really does know what his weakness is.  

That being the case, seeing ourselves reflected each day would become torture.  Everyone is aware of the archetypical story where a once-beautiful person, subsequently scarred, orders all mirrors in the house removed or covered.  Few of us are perfect people just as surely as few of us have perfect faces.  We all have scars somewhere, an embarrassing blemish.  The equivalent of a nose that is too wide or mis-aligned eyes.

Marrying someone too similar to ourselves would thus be the equivalent of having a person with scars being before a mirror every day of his life.  Only the mirror would in this case be the living embodiment of our most closely guarded self-consciousnesses.  Some of us are too forceful; some too timid.  Some are too outgoing and some too closely guarded.  Some of us are too critical or too insincere.  

We all know what is "wrong" with us, and to be reminded of this constantly would make it impossible for us to put cosmetics on the psychological scars we try to hide away from the world.

Seeing ourselves in the flesh would destroy the ability to pretend, and we would hate that.  Over time, rather than seeing the positive aspects of ourselves that would be portrayed, we would see only the imperfections.

As a consequence, we would hate the other person.  

So what we need are personalities similar enough not to repel, but not too similar as to foment a projection of self-hatred.  Enough over-lapping interests but, but not "yourself" standing by your side.

I'm a middle-aged man, and at this point happy with my life that way that it is, and am comfortable with myself that way that I am.  But I know I am not a perfect person, and I know what I wish were different just the same.  In this case, the person I am sharing my life is strong in many places where I am weak. For example, she is capable of action when at times I am stricken with "analysis paralysis."  

She truly is, as the saying goes, "my better half," because she provides my life with the complementary elements that, deep inside, I know I need. Even if externally I don't admit the need.

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