By: Shannon Ralph
I went on my first date with the love of my life 18 years ago. At the time, everyone we knew thought it wouldn’t last. Everyone we knew actually told us it wouldn’t last. We were too different. Polar opposites, even. I was raised on the west side of town. She was raised on the east. I was somewhat reserved. She was anything but. I loved politics and Thai food and watching Little Women every night before I went to bed. Ruanita loved Jägermeister and dancing and watching really horrible 80s-era lesbian flicks. I was an avid reader and a wannabe writer. The entirety of her daily reading consisted of maybe perusing the captions below the photos in People Magazine.
Don’t get me wrong. She was brilliant. She was in graduate school at the time. She had her wits about her in a way that was intimidating. And she knew who she was. She made no effort whatsoever to be anyone else.
When Ruanita and I met in a children’s psychiatric hospital in Kentucky where we both worked at the time, it was apathy at first sight. I thought she was too loud and used the F word entirely too often for my tastes. She thought I was dull and tame and…well, dull. We were doomed from the start. It would never last.
But we are still here. Three kids and 18 years later, we are still here. “Here” has changed houses and cities and states along the way, but we have been together since our first kiss in a shabby little gay bar in Southern Indiana. Still married. Still plugging along, happily enjoying one another’s company.
How is it that two complete opposites can agree on anything long enough to make it to a second date, much less create a life together? How is it that two complete opposites can raise children together? Make life-long goals together?
It’s not as strange as it may seem on the surface. There is a lot of truth to the old adage “opposites attract.” Introverts attract extroverts, spenders attract savers, morning people attract night owls, doers attract planners, adrenaline-junkies attract security-seekers. We tend to be drawn to people who both contradict and complement our dominant characteristics. This can create interesting challenges, but—as long as your basic value system is aligned—there are also many perks to marrying your polar opposite.
- You’ll sharpen your communication skills. My wife and I communicate in very different ways. She says what she thinks. Period. End of discussion. I, on the other hand, hint at what I think. I beat around the bush. I use big words to convey a message that is often lost in translation. It has taken years for us to learn to communicate in a way that is productive and does not hurt feelings. We have both learned valuable communication skills that will help us outside of our marriage, as well as in our own kitchen.
- You’ll become a more sympathetic person. It’s true! You will develop a greater respect for—and understanding of—people who are different from you. And respect for differences is the basis of sympathy and compassion.
- Your spouse will calm you down (if you’re type-A) or motivate you (if you’re type-B). I am a firmly entrenched type-B personality. I am so laid back at times that I am almost catatonic. I am a walking, talking poster child for “Netflix and chill.” My wife, on the other hand, is a type-A personality if one ever existed. She cannot sit still. She is constantly working on one project or another. She is a bottomless well of energy and drive. Through the years, I have had a sort of calming effect on her—helping her understand that perfection is not necessarily a virtue. And she has forced me, kicking and screaming, from the couch.
- You’ll become a master compromiser. Marriage is often about compromise, as anyone who’s ever been married can attest. Marriage to your polar opposite is ALWAYS about compromise. She’s a home-body. I like to go out. She likes to save. I like to spend, and spend, and then spend some more. She likes pasta. I like Chinese food. She likes television. I like books. Every decision is a compromise. Every action is a give and take. I swear, I think Ruanita and I could broker peace in the Middle East. Our skills of compromise are THAT highly developed.
- You will learn new ways to approach conflict. Being married to your opposite will often mean that the most important person in your world approaches problems quite differently than you do. This is an amazing asset to any marriage. Not only will you improve your own problem-solving skills, but you and your spouse will double your odds of a resolving a conflict or problem simply by being able to approach it from differing angles.
- You will be forced outside of your comfort zone. Being married to your opposite means that you will often be pushed or pulled in a direction that makes you uncomfortable. With Ruanita and me, this often comes in the form of our communication skills. Ruanita is a very blunt, direct person. I avoid conflict at all costs. At times, Ruanita’s bluntness forces me well outside of my comfort zone. She often says what I am thinking, but am not ready to say myself. By voicing my opinions, Ruanita often forces me to defend my own beliefs—a skill that, though uncomfortable, has made me a better person. A more self-possessed person. By pushing me outside of my comfort zone, she has forced me to grow.
Maybe that’s what marriage is all about? Finding that one person—YOUR person—who helps you become a better man or woman. A better parent. That person who makes you become a better YOU–no matter how hard you fight them along the way.
Photo Credit: Studio Tdes