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.

New Years ReunionIn his first year of college, he had what I assume was a mental breakdown, dropped out, and moved to his native land of Australia to pick his life back up from where he left it in childhood.

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.”

He smiled:
“You haven’t changed.  But neither have I.”


Big BendThis 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.

About Doctor Quack

Just another bonehead with an internet connection.
This entry was posted in Autobiography, Editorial and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Compatibility

  1. Eilene says:

    Great post! Differences keep things interesting. But there are differences that push people apart. The difficult part is finding out if your differences run towards the “interesting” end of the scale, or towards the “push apart” end.

  2. Mark Carlson says:

    Nice article, Jeff! I think there is a lot to be said for compatibility, especially when you’re living with someone. But maybe that’s just me, as I can’t imagine living with someone with opposite political, aesthetic, and religious opinions; minor differences of those, fine, but for me, not major ones. But if two people are open-minded enough to influence each others’ tastes, and to grow together, things can become quite wonderful. Or so I say.

  3. Kat says:

    At this point, I think compatibility is bullshit. An almost lover of mine, compatible in nearly every aspect, recently ditched me because, and I quote, “I like you too much, and that scares me.” Similarities don’t matter. Differences don’t matter. Things can be going swimmingly,but still one person can get cold feet and walk out of your very existence. How you deal with conflict, change, and fear is what makes or breaks relationships.

  4. Alexia says:

    Agreed. Compatibility, the real kind, does have to do with an inexplicable resonant frequency of the soul.
    Most people won’t believe this though, until they have experienced it. It’s rare to find – not everyone gets to experience it in their lifetime. You’ll know because once you’ve found this person (and there can be multiple throughout your life) the bonding is so natural and free it feels like you’ve known them your entire life. They become tied to you in a deep, inexplicable way. When/if you break up no one else will match this footprint they left in your mind. They never leave you. You can still make it work with other people of course, and there’s no truth in saying this “soulmate” relationship is sustainable or even the right choice. It might not be. But it’s as real and as good as it gets.

  5. Bex says:

    How someone makes you feel says more than what any compatibility test can tell you. Knowing your differences, and loving someone in spite of them (or because of them), is what matters most. As you and Mark Carlson say, however, some differences are insurmountable. Kids, religion, and politics — those are 3 big ones, with kids being the biggest. A family should be wanted or not wanted by both parties or resentment will grow. Religious and political differences can be incorporated into an educated and welcoming household, and be cause for healthy debate.

    All I know — and I’ve been married for nearly 37 years — is that what matters most is respect and appreciation for that person you love. When my children find and show such touching passion AND compassion for someone who makes them laugh, sing, cavort, debate, argue, and love, then I will say they have found the right person for them. A parent can only pray that their children’s happiness outshines their own.

    As for a footprint left on one’s mind, I believe it’s the footprint left on your heart that makes one soul belong to another.

  6. Monica says:

    I think differences are Ok as long as one or both are willing to compromise.

Leave a Reply to Kat Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s