Opposites Attract

August 17, 2014

5 min read


This couple has nothing common. What is the secret to their happy marriage?

I know a couple that doesn’t seem to have anything in common. She likes steak. He orders a salad. She’s a fan of rock and roll. He prefers classical music. She’s a city girl. He’s a hiker, a lover of the outdoors. He’s a movie buff. She has no patience for sitting still. She likes rules and order. He prefers spontaneity. She makes quick decisions. He likes to keep his options open. She’s a political conservative. He’s more of a liberal. I could keep going…

And yet – and yet – they’ve been very happily married for over 30 years. I’ve had a ringside seat to their marriage, its highs and lows, its ups and downs – and they really are happy. How could this be? Doesn’t this fly in the face of all the conventional wisdom?

With seemingly no shared interest I can’t image that eHarmony (or any other dating site) would make this match. The algorithms just wouldn’t add up.

Is this couple just an anomaly or is there actually something we can learn from them? Having given it a lot of thought over the years, I’ve identified three key takeaway points:

  1. The importance of being interested in what your partner is involved in, whether you participate or not.
  2. The need for couples to complement each other.
  3. The superiority of goals over interests.

1. Partner’s Interests: Although I may think that golf is the most boring sport ever invented, (does it even quality as a sport?), if my husband enjoys it I want to understand why. Is it relaxing? Is it the camaraderie? Is it the beauty of the locations? The manicured and pristine nature of the greens? The constant testing of oneself? All of these are insights into my spouse – who he is, what motivates him, what he needs. Don’t I want that understanding? And with this information, even if we are not teeing off together, I am still a participant in the process.

Similarly, if I am a movie fanatic, is it the escape? If so, what do I need to escape from? What type of movies are my favorites and why? Is it the imagery? The camera work? The dialogue? The talent? The creativity? A husband could learn a lot about his wife by asking the right questions. And if escapism is the goal, perhaps that’s a clue to a deeper malaise – personal or together – that needs to be addressed.

You don’t need the same interests; you just need to be interested.

2. Opposites Attract: Despite the focus on mutual interests, there is a reality to the saying that opposites attract. Like Adam who was originally one being, male and female together, we are all literally looking for our other half, the piece that fits perfectly, that finishes the puzzle.

And we have an intuitive sense of that when we are attracted to people who have what we lack. This goes much deeper of course than opposite interests. It usually is evidenced in the search for complementary character traits.

An outgoing person chooses a quieter mate. An emotional being wants a calmer head. Someone given to flights of fancy seeks a partner who will ground them. And so it goes. We don’t always recognize our motivations here and it’s possible that these same traits will drive us crazy but if we keep working through it we will appreciate the opportunity for growth inherent in being with someone different. There already is one of me!

3. Goals over Interests: And finally, when dating websites or matchmakers focus on common interests, I believe they trivialize marriage and relationships. If I like to read I can join a book club with my female friends. If he loves the outdoors, the Sierra Club is always looking for new members.

Marriage isn’t about shared interests or similar leisure time pursuits (leisure time?!). It’s about shared goals and commitments. What really matters to me? What kind of family do I want to have? What messages do I want to pass onto my children? What values do I hold dear? What is my commitment to Judaism and the Jewish people? To working on personal growth and a relationship with God?

This is where I think my friends got it right. He may never enjoy musicals and poring over maps may leave her cold but they agree on the crucial things. And they are committed to them.

They both are focused on deepening their relationship with the Almighty, on learning Jewish wisdom and sharing Jewish values with their children and their community. This sense of common purpose transcends restaurant preferences and musical tastes. Their conversations revolve around these ideas – with a constant and shared desire to learn and grow more.

They aren’t perfect. They may disagree vehemently over important issues or struggle over where to go on a date night given their diversity of interests, but their mutual lofty goals have kept them on the same track, with an alive and thriving marriage.

Perhaps Match.com should rework its algorithm.

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