Every so often fiancé Steve offers his take on mid-life marriage. Here, his thoughts on why it’s good to have some differences.
In a previous post Sandee joked that for nerds like us, drawing a Venn diagram on a whiteboard at the wedding might make a better unity ceremony than mixing sand or lighting candles. The overlapping circles motif shows up on a number of patterns for wedding invitations or save-the-date cards, where I’m sure it’s intended to portray wedding bands overlapping.
But a Venn diagram is not a bad way to look at what happens when “two become one.” A “Venn Diagram” shows the relationship between two sets, A and B. The area of overlap represents the things that A and B have in common, or the intersection of A and B. The total colored area is the union of A and B, or all things encompassed by either A or B.
I imagine most couples spend some time pondering the things they have in common and the things that make them different. I’m curious about how much overlap works the best. If your circle barely touches your partner’s circle, you have almost nothing in common. That has to make communication difficult and suggests there are not many things you would enjoy doing together. Why be a couple, then? On the other hand, if you overlap too much, it means your partner is only slightly different from you, and perhaps doesn’t bring much to your life that wasn’t already there. I think most healthy couples’ relationships fall somewhere in between.
I was initially attracted to Sandee by the many things we have in common: we are both college professors, we love doing physical outdoor activities, we enjoy wine and music (preferably at the same time). Those intersections lead to shared experiences, easy communication, and common pursuits. But what captivated me was our differences, and how embracing these differences has enriched my life.
I could list differences until it begins to sounds like we’re worlds apart:
– I’m dog, she’s cat;
– I’m coffee, she’s tea;
– I’m morning, she’s evening;
– I’m lefty, she’s righty (in handedness);
– I’m righty, she’s lefty (politically);
– I’m numbers, she’s letters;
– I’m sciences, she’s arts;
– I’m technical, she’s creative;
– I still have my kids at home, she still has her sanity;
– I grew up in a dozen different houses, she in two.
Yet many of these differences are just matters of degree. Depending on your perspective, they can actually be areas of agreement. While we differ on our favored animals, we’re both pet lovers. While we differ in areas of study, we both pursued careers in academic fields. My family moved frequently and hers did not, but we were both fortunate to grow up in stable homes with loving, attached parents.
Sometimes, our differences take one or the other of us to a place we might not otherwise visit, or to do things we might not otherwise do. On the way home from our Valentine’s getaway this year, we wandered antique shops. I knew Sandee loved to browse for vintage finds, but this was not my cup of
tea coffee—this was me trying to be accommodating. Once there, however, I found it fun looking at old furniture and wondering what stories it could tell, examining artifacts of other peoples’ lives and trying to decide which ones crossed the line from trash to treasure. I stretched myself to try something in Sandee’s circle, and my life got just a little bit bigger. (Though that doesn’t mean I’m up for antiquing on a regular basis!)
What I often find is that our similarities may draw us to the same place, but our differences mean we don’t always see the same things when we get there. Our shared love of hiking might bring us together to the rocky outcrop at the crest of a ridge. Once there, I might note the pattern of light and shadow in the valley as clouds scud across the sky, and she might point out the pale yellow tendrils of witch-hazel blossoms quivering in the breeze by the trail. When we’re together, we each see more.
I cherish our similarities, and I rejoice in our differences. My wish for couples: may your circles always touch, but never fuse.