life skills

As your best friend aged about 14 (the artistic one with pretty hair) took up with some awkward monosyllabic spotty thing with an abiding interest in his brother’s motorbike, somebody would remark laughingly “Oh well, opposites attract!”

“look heavy, feel light”

But I always wanted more of an explanation than that. It’s fine being attracted across difference, but does the attraction endure, is it enough to override the inevitable friction?   Do you and this Significant Other learn to negotiate a pattern that works in the face of the pull of polar opposites?   Or – is the hidden truth that you’re not so different after all ?

Managing to co exist might not even be a pretty pattern, as long as it works and both sides acknowledge that it has to, though in the extremes of wealth and poverty, such patterns are rationalised or waved aside. We all live in patterns of behaviour and I have no more faith in “opposites attract” than I have in “happily ever after.”   These old saws must apply occasionally on the way to becoming truisms but it is just as true – or more so – that partnerships persist for all sorts of reasons. And many of those are a good deal less likeable than the attraction of difference or us against the world. Most partnerships continue because humans are creatures of habit who don’t like change and anyway, don’t want to be alone.

(AR and Smiley Neighbour several weeks ago:

SN: And have you see Bodyguard ?

AR|: Yes. Tripe.

SN: Oh Anna, it’s wonderful !   You are so hard to please …

No I didn’t take this position to be provocative.   I watched the first episode.  Totally unfair to make a judgement on one episode, I know, but I’d rather read a book. For me there was no opposite or soulmate similar to be attracted to, and I am not persuaded by what “everybody else” thinks.   That only means there are more of them, not that they are right. You need tension for drama and the only discernible tension in Bodyguard was in the underwear.)

Years ago before women’s magazines were just the repository of murdered trees, aesthetic surgery and transient celebrity, we used to ask our readers’ opinions – oh not about anything major – Good God, that would mean encouraging women to think ! But they replied in big enough numbers to be interesting and when asked what attracted them to their Significant Others, the standout winner was a similar sense of humour. (This is a considerable time ago and it is popular to believe that humans are quite different now – but I am not convinced. Nice is still nice, nasty is horrible and most of us are made up of both. No change there then.)

So we weren’t talking about that moody sense of opposition (or unlikely hearts and flowers) so much as mutuality, what would make you pull together, get you past the disagreement. There were imponderables like rocks in a river but the river ran round them and apparently, you could vote differently, have quite different attitudes to money, sex, when to eat and what to wear – as long as you could have a laugh about it.

And if you could have a laugh about it, dare I hope that you could even begin to discuss it ?   And instead of the cold shoulder, there would be a warm shoulder, the one you clutched as you laughed in the kitchen. I grew up in a marriage like this and it was the inspiration of my life – my whole life, not just the marital one.   I’ve lost count of the number of times I have suggested it to whoever I was talking to, about whatever the problem was.   ( I shall never forget the woman who replied, scandalised “We don’t talk in bed !” ) Laughter gives account of you and then you can begin to discuss.

Not everything works out, not even in fairy stories.   And it’s not that I think that everything has to be lighthearted and funny, far from it. But if life is a battle or a series of them, a sense of humour is a weapon, not to dismiss but acknowledge and defuse, to engender better feeling and communication than sulks and stand off.  

Annalog is all about discussion, so feel free to leave a comment!

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