Compatibility, Or, “You Like What…?”

The other night, I had the opportunity to enjoy a lengthy conversation with an acquaintance while we were riding together in a car. We talked about travel, something she loves to do and has done quite a bit of, both with and without her family.

One story caught my attention. She talked about camping in the Nevada desert and finding a scorpion under the family’s tent as they were packing up one morning. Having been to North Africa and India, the beast did not faze her; the same could not be said for her husband, who was about ready to quit camping forever. “He’s just not as adventurous as I am,” she said.

At least once a year, she said, she gets an itch to go somewhere and she’s not talking about Disneyland (although they’ve been there). She’s talking about Europe, Asia, Africa… and they’ve got three kids. “I think it makes my husband a little crazy,” she said, laughing, and, having seen how affectionate they are with each other, I imagined him rolling his eyes at her. But later she told the scorpion story, and I thought, “Maybe it really is hard for him, all that running around the world.”

Which reminded me — as a writer — that the best couples have some real differences.

Not in a big, dramatic way that makes you doubt why they are together. Such as, “I want to get married and have children. With you. Right now.” Or, “Have you ever considered polygamy as a realistic lifestyle choice?” Or, “I am committed to saving the blue footed namby-pamby and I am leaving for Madagascar tomorrow and you have to leave your Wall Street job and come with me.”

Nor should they be stereotypical man/woman-type differences. Like a woman complaining endlessly about her guy’s obsession with his fantasy football team. Or a guy who refuses to stand around holding the girl’s purse while she tries on six hundred pairs of shoes. In short, anything you’ve seen in a beer commercial.

What I’m talking about is the kind of thing my acquaintance was describing: she has wanderlust, and he’s a homebody. Or maybe, he’s sociable and outgoing and she’s a wallflower. One is impulsive, one is a planner. One’s a saver, one a spender. These differences are a challenge, but not insurmountable. It’s interesting. How do they work that out in their relationship? How do they balance both their needs? What kind of negotiating process have they established, or does it go without saying by this point?

Couples where both people are the same are boring and, frankly, unrealistic. Think about the couples you know; think about your own relationships, even the non-romantic ones. Surely your best friends have qualities that make you crazy. But they’re still your best friends: why? Partners have a shared vision but also possess complementary traits where they balance each other’s strengths and weaknesses. There are always some areas in which they force each other to stretch, to compromise, to see the world a little differently.

Just something a scorpion story made me remember.

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4 Responses to Compatibility, Or, “You Like What…?”

  1. katharineowens says:

    This is so true Mare– and important to appreciate what it is about others that complements our shortcomings. I don’t always think about it that way. I’m often too busy feeling exasperated. :0) But I should.

    • It is easy to feel exasperated or critical, Kat, in real life. I’m no different. But as writers, I think we have to take the opportunity to observe these things and utilize them.

  2. Natalie Dias Lorenzi says:

    Thanks for this reminder–both in real life and in writer life! Having lived in Texas, scorpions were common, but I never got used to them–ick! I suppose your friend’s husband could be grateful that the scorpion was under the tent instead of in it. 🙂

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