Allow me to begin with a lengthy anecdote:
An old friend and I reunited after nine years. I had visited him briefly in 2009, but regrettably, I spent the whole time complaining of a broken heart and other such nonsense. Through my incessant whining, we hardly had time to catch up. That broken heart has long since been forgotten, but my failed opportunity to rebuild a friendship lost overseas nagged away for the following years. If I had known the error of my ways, I would’ve done things differently. Alas, hindsight is 20/20. The most I could do was anticipate his brief return, which was this past New Years Eve.
When we were friends in high school, we were both geeks to put it lightly. He was on the chess club and I was a choir and marching band kid. He tucked his polo shirts into his khakis, and I wore a sun hat under a bicycle helmet on particularly sunny days while biking to school (strangers knew me as the guy with the bicycle bonnet). He swore off women, and I swore about them.
Now, nine years later, he’s a cool, stylish surfer dude: tall, chiseled, bleach blond hair, lively, and definitely a chick-magnet.
We greeted each other amiably, but like most old friends separated by large swaths of time, I was petrified that we’d have nothing in common aside from some distant and hazy past. I still wear the same style of clothes I’d worn since junior high school. I’ve been a career student bouncing around the American university hierarchy my entire life. He had experienced change, hardship, decision making, and other such catalysts of a functional adult life.
I confessed my concerns to him:
“I’m afraid you’ve changed so much, and I haven’t changed at all.”
“You haven’t changed. But neither have I.”
This past August, in the middle of our glory days, just having entered the meat of our young romance, my girlfriend broke up with me. I had moved back to California from Texas (where we both resided), and the distance tormented her. Eventually she decided that we had compatibility issues anyway, and that it was better for her to explore her independence and for me to realize whatever dreams I might’ve had in moving back to California lest we live out what would inevitably be dysfunctional and loveless lives together. Better to end it while it’s good than let it spoil and rot, and so on and so forth.
I look back at our relationship, and while it wasn’t perfect, it was a pleasant one. Every month was better than the last. I brought her happiness. She brought me happiness. She loved me. I loved her, and I still do.
But she is right. We had compatibility issues. For instance, I prefer South Park. She prefers Family Guy. She enjoys tragic tales. I enjoy slightly less tragic tales. She drives a two-door coupe. I drive a four-door sedan.
In our brief eight months of unity, we got into four arguments:
1) Is it reasonable for a non-expert to pass judgement on an aesthetic craft?
2) Does refraining from voting make someone socially negligent in spite of an admitted ignorance on the issues at hand? At what point are you informed enough to cast a responsible vote?
3) Is it acceptable to use “literally” in a figurative context?
4) Is it blasphemous to suggest that Jesus smoked marijuana?
Those were our arguments. All of them.
At what point are trivial differences major problems? If I like green, and you like blue, is that a problem? “I mean, she was great, but she enjoys the color yellow, and I absolutely can’t stand yellow,” is something a lunatic would say.
Well, okay then, let’s up the ante. If I like dogs, and you like cats, is that a problem? If we get a house animal, someone will be less happy about it than the other. And yet, isn’t this also a matter of trivial preference, much like colors?
What if you prefer hardwood floors and I like linoleum?
What if you prefer the city, and I prefer the suburbs?
What if you don’t want kids, and I do want kids?
What if you’re a conservative Jew and I’m a socialist Buddhist?
On the linear gradient of differences between people, is the point at which we no longer tolerate them mostly arbitrary?
I think about my friend from Australia. He assured me he hadn’t changed, and yet everything about him looked and acted different. So if his stylistic choices, his behaviors, his desires and goals were so different than how I remember him, how can he say he hasn’t changed? Is there some human core within each of us that remains fixed and solid regardless of our superficial whims and fancies? Does the vessel with which we carry our ever-changing minds provide a consistency of identity that overrides the malleable components with which we foolishly define ourselves?
Are our opinions, beliefs, desires, and tastes secondary to some abstract, unspeakable, unchangeable wavelength of existence through which we interact with the cosmos?
Why do I feel love and devotion to someone who, on paper, is so different?
If you were to tally up my attributes and find someone just like me, who likes hiking, who enjoys classical music, who shares my political and religious beliefs and opinions, who shares my quirks and complements my needs, I just might find them absolutely insufferable in two weeks.
Maybe compatibility has nothing to do with perceivable factors which fluctuate over time, but rather some inexplicable resonant frequency of the soul.
Or perhaps I’m just a sucker.