I always hear people describe their own or other people’s relationships using trite phrases like “They complement each other,” or “We balance each other out,” or “He completes her.” What all these phrases mean, in short, is that the two people in question are very different from each other, and that’s what makes the relationship work.
In almost every romantic comedy I’ve ever seen, this seems to be the case. In When Harry Met Sally, an uptight, perky girl falls in love with an angsty eternal pessimist. In Dirty Dancing, the rich, innocent Daddy’s girl falls in love with over-sexed, blue-collar playboy. In Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (not a rom-com, but romance for sure), the introverted, OCD nerd falls in love with a spontaneous, blue-haired wild-child. I could go on, but I’ll spare my male readers the agony.
The problem is, those movies stop at the point where the two characters realize they’re in love and start making out in public. But what happens after that? In a real life relationship, those major differences in personality, taste, background or philosophy can cause problems. An introvert and an extrovert may find themselves very attracted to each other, and maybe they do “complete” each other, most of the time. But there’s always going to be that one party where the extrovert becomes frustrated with the introvert for being anti-social, or the introvert becomes frustrated with the extrovert for accidentally blurting out some private piece of information.
Same goes for people with very different backgrounds. In real life, I’m not sure if Johnny and Baby from Dirty Dancing would have worked out. A naive rich kid and a rough-around-the-edges blue collar bad boy may be attracted to each other, initially, but could they really sustain anything long-term? How are they going to deal with finances? What kinds of vacations will they take, where will their kids go to school?
Sometimes, of course, it does work. Being from a small town in the deep South, I’ve always found myself attracted to urban dudes from the North. Men from Boston, New York City, Philly, Chicago– they’re the most interesting and exciting to me because they’re the most different from me. But along with that comes a certain number of cultural differences that we have to work towards understanding.
For instance, I can’t not talk to my cab drivers. It just feels wrong. They’re giving me a ride somewhere, so I strike up a conversation with them. Then, over the course of the ride from U St. to Southeast, I learn where they’re from, how they met their wives, how many kids they have and what their hopes and aspirations are. I feel so attached them by the end of the conversation that I’ll give them $20 on a $7 cab ride, and my boyfriend looks at me like I’m some kind of otherworld freak. He’s from Manhattan, which means he’s all business in a cab– tell him where you’re going, be cool, then give him a dollar and change at the end. Wham bam thank you ma’am. I just can’t do it, it makes me uncomfortable. But is it a deal-breaker? No. It’s a challenge, in a good way.
I do think some differences between couples are manageable and even positive. I do think an introvert can balance out an extrovert for the most part, and I do think a city person and an outdoorsy bohemian can learn to accept and even appreciate each other’s lifestyles. But I also think that in order to make that one major personality or philosophical difference work, two people need to be on the same page in most other aspects of life. You better have the same sense of humor, a similar approach to religion or spirituality, an equal intellectual curiosity, a shared passion for music– otherwise, your differences are going to rub each other raw.
What’s the consensus here? Have you ever dated your opposite, and does it cause more problems than solutions? Or is she the Sally to your Harry? I’d love to see some case studies here.