Growing Pains: Opposites are good for you

Op-eds Opinions

It’s getting to be that time of year again.

The halter tops and muscle tees are going back in the closet, and the scarves and boots are tapping in. Maybe you’re reuniting with a sweetheart who went out of town over the summer, or you had a romantic rendezvous at Rifflandia, or you’re eagerly scouting for options in all your new classes (just ask the Martlet’s Student Bawdy in the Sports and Lifestyle section). Either way, love is in the air.

Relationships are this fascinating human obsession. We take all the things that make us unique and bash them against other people’s interests and personalities until something sticks. But if I were you, I wouldn’t get too caught up looking for someone who shares your particular obsessive love for Dark Elf rogues, loud trumpet music or flamboyant floral patterns.

A few years ago, I was writing a story about my relationship with my parents for a class. I’ve always been closer to my dad because we share a ton of interests: music, computers, technology. When a new sci-fi movie comes out, or when I get obsessed with some fresh new guitar riff, I always think of my dad. On the other hand, while my mom and I are often closer in personality, we share very few interests.

In the course of writing that assignment, I interviewed my dad about my parents’ relationship. Parental divorce is so common for kids in my generation, but mine have stayed together for more than two decades. I was curious; as a couple with only a few things they both like to do, what’s kept them together for so long?

My dad thought about the question for what seemed like an uncomfortable amount of time. Had I somehow just inadvertently planted the kernel of their divorce? Thankfully, he’d just been considering how to best drop the following mad wisdom on me.

He told me that, as we hustle along on our quest to figure out who we are, we often look for partners who are mirrors of ourselves. We have this image in our minds of who we want to be, with certain strengths and successes and interests, and we’re constantly trying to do things that represent us as people. We might go to concerts of bands we like, or eat certain kinds of food, or do certain kinds of exercise, or pointedly not do some of those things.

We look for a partner who conveniently shares those interests so we can feel reassured in our actions and know that we’ll always have someone to take to salsa dancing class. Everyone knows that couple that does everything together, dresses from two sides of the same closet, and finishes each other’s sentences (I’m vomiting right now). It’s pretty narcissistic.

Challenging, stimulating, personal-growth-promoting relationships are rarely that simple. We often get bored of doing the same old things we’re used to and tired of the behaviour we so often see in ourselves. We’re robbed of the challenge and mystery that makes new relationships sizzle. And that couple wearing the identical Doctor Who shirts with the matching mustard stains? They’ve lost the competitive pressure we use to constantly improve ourselves.

As my dad got older, he found that the best relationships were often with people who differed from him in critical ways. He is very logically intelligent, while my mom tends to be more emotionally intelligent and empathetic. In some ways, she’s more confident than he is, and more willing to try new things, while he’s better at planning and problem-solving.

If your personalities are working together and complementing each other, and if you hold each other up to the other’s standards, then it almost doesn’t matter whether you both like burlesque or bicycles or whatever it is — each other’s company will be valuable enough. The fact that your partner, whose opinion you respect, is intellectually engaged with something should encourage you to try it, because you’ll likely enjoy it. As my dad has picked up his guitar again, my mom is singing in a women’s choir.

But if you hate your sweetheart’s hobby, don’t bother doing it for their sake if you’re going to resent it. It’s perfectly healthy (and really important) for you to have hobbies and interests that you keep for just yourself and your friends.

After all, there’s only so much making out you can stand, right?