Love + Marriage | ,

Beauty In Difference

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IS THERE STRENGTH IN SIMILARITY, OR DURABILITY IN DIFFERENCE? RICHARD MILLER TAKES OFF HIS SHOES, FOLDS HIS SOCKS NEATLY, AND WADES INTO THE MURKY DEPTHS OF THE DEBATE.

“Now I know what I’ve been looking for, all these years … myself! I’ve been waiting for me to come along and now I’ve swept myself off my feet.” So says the mullet-bearing, sneaker-wearing Jerry Seinfeld on his hit nineties sitcom when he meets the love of his shallow, Superman-obsessed life. (If you’re not a Seinfeld fan, two things: one, you need to reassess that situation, and two: bear with me, I will make an actual point soon.) For a character as self-absorbed as Jerry’s it was only a matter of time before he found his perfect soulmate—a reflection of himself—and proposed to her. But what about the rest of us? Those of us looking for our one-for-a-lifetime partner in places other than the mirror, I mean.

Yes, it’s that age-old question: do opposites attract? Or are we all looking for someone just like ourselves to share our lives with? A recent study showed that while we say we’re looking for people who “complement” us, we’re really looking for people who remind us of … us. That’s right—it’s possible that we’re all so narcissistic that we’re instinctively attracted to a partner who is like us in terms of appearance, education, social standing, religion and other areas. Then again, there’s evidence to support another school of thought that says we’re attracted to people unlike ourselves because at a biological level we’re trying to avoid inbreeding yep, I just said “inbreeding” in a classy marriage magazine. Twice. Sorry about that. So, which is right? Well, maybe it’s time I stopped Googling dubious “studies” to make my horribly unclear point and instead spoke from my experience. And my experience says: both are right.

From the first few conversations I ever had with the girl who eventually became my wife, I knew she was very different to me. For one thing, she loved social situations and seemed to really thrive when there were lots of other people around. Even now, I love how much time she has for other people—whether they’re her friends or not.

Speaking as someone who starts checking the exits as soon as the crowd grows beyond two or three people (or one, if it’s somebody I don’t know), I really admire her ability to meet people easily and genuinely.

It’s a skill I don’t have. Usually I laugh too loudly at something that’s not that funny or launch into an elaborate anecdote even as people stare with dead eyes at their watches or throw their drinks on the ground so they can go and get a refill.

For another thing, she didn’t care about sports at all. I know. Weird. For another, she has what I will generously call a casual relationship with money. As in, when you have money, you spend it until you don’t have any left, and then you go and earn some more. Whereas my preferred money management technique involves stuffing it into mattresses to avoid bank fees and NEVER SPENDING ANY OF IT without substantial, almost physical, pain. (This particular point led to many “robust” conversations and a couple of toaster-shaped dents in the walls when we were considering a mortgage after a few years of marriage. Not our finest hours. We ate our bread cold—or room-temperature at best—for weeks.)

Here’s the point: those same first conversations also told me that the deeper things I care about—the importance of family and faith, the purpose we have in life, the way we treat each other and our environment—are things she cares deeply about, too. And I suspect that most couples find their own similarities and differences over time. The real trick is figuring out how to make them all work in your favour. Bond over your similarities. If you both love rocky road icecream and George Clooney, then make your “Clooniversary” a regular thing. If you love nothing more than waving your rock-n-roll-devil-horn hands in the air and WOO!-ing at a Nickelback gig … well, great! (Make sure you go to the gig together, Nickelback fans, because there’s safety in numbers. You wouldn’t want to get isolated by a pack of hipsters wearing beanies knitted from single-origin Justin Vernon hair and in the ensuing sarcasm somehow lose your will to ROCK.)

If you’re both future CEOs, spur each other on as you climb that corporate ladder and dream of success; if you’d rather hit the beach than work a 60-hour week, then do it together. I’m not saying you should live in each other’s pockets, but shared interests and activities will bring you closer together. Intentionally celebrate your differences. Bonding in your mutual love of all-day breakfast as nature’s ultimate meal is important. So is the time you take to appreciate his ability to squeeze every dollar coin until it bleeds. You mightn’t understand your other half’s passion for wandering through the Blue Mountains in the freezing cold, or the weird, almost primal pleasure she seems to get from watching NASCAR on TV. But it should make you happy to see her so happy sprawled on the lounge, wearing her Stewart-Haas Racing hat and spitting nachos at the screen as she screams “Drive! DRIVE! ROLL ON!” (Maybe just keep the kids in another room at race-time until they’re old enough to understand that Mummy gets a bit intense when the green flag waves.)

Because, whether you’re so similar you’re almost telepathically connected or so different you’re speaking different languages, the fact is, you love each other.

You’re married—or soon-to-be—and that makes you a team. Your differences don’t divide you—they double your strengths, if you let them. And that makes for a stronger, deeper relationship. It’s worth noting that even Jerry found out on Seinfeld that loving someone exactly like yourself can be difficult. “All of a sudden it hit me,” he exclaims toward the end of the episode. “I realised what the problem is. I can’t be with someone like me—I hate myself! If anything I need to [find someone] the exact opposite of me!” And so the debate rages on.

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