Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - July 27, 2018

It's complicated

On our first date, Art and I planned to have supper and then see a movie. He later told me he had no expectations about it turning into anything more. In my case, I may have just been happy to get out of the house.

We never reached the theater and didn’t leave the restaurant until closing time. Something clicked and we talked on and on as we seemed to have such similar views. We married a year later.

But there were differences. One day in the late spring a year after our marriage, we had left Vienna and were heading southwest into the Alpine forests with no particular destination. The scenes of snow-capped mountains and evergreen trees punctuated with farm homes decorated with flower-filled window boxes were breathtaking.

But unlike Art, who can eat once a day and be quite content, I need something every couple of hours. Somewhere in the afternoon, I let him know in a somewhat cross way that I needed to eat NOW!

And the differences don’t stop there. Art is very assertive, while I am inclined to be “Kansas nice.” Art loves to drive, while I don’t like to. The list goes on.

We celebrated 30 years of happily married life earlier this month. But on occasion, we have wondered what holds us together. Is it the similarities that make us comfortable or the differences that add spice and interest? Maybe it is both.

In “Do Opposites Really Attract? It's Complicated,” an article on the “Psychology Today” website, Dr. Vinita Mehta suggests the answer is, well, complicated.

She said: “Studies have found that people are more likely to be attracted to and pursue romantic relationships with individuals who are more like themselves across a broad range of personal characteristics, including age, religion, political orientation, and certain aspects of intelligence.”

But being attracted to someone is not the same as having a satisfying and fulfilling relationship with them. Mehta added, “We may prefer people who are similar to us, but there are crucial exceptions.”

One area Art and I can see this effect is in traveling. We both enjoy it greatly, but Art’s love of driving complements my dislike of it.

So it is good to have similarities that allow us to be comfortable and to share things. And it is also good to have different traits that complement our partner’s needs.

Still, there are bound to be other differences that can be irritating and drive a wedge between the partners. Mehta concluded her article with this observation: “It has been said that the happiest couples never have the same character - they just have the best understanding of their differences.”

So she is suggesting that the last piece of the happiness puzzle is accepting our partner’s innate differences.

My Austrian outburst made a big impression on Art. To this day, he makes sure I have frequent access to food. For my part, now when we travel, I always bring something along just in case stopping isn’t convenient.

Art’s father Tom grew up in a home where people did not raise their voices. But Art, his brother Tommy and their mother enjoyed intense conversations that, to outsiders, sounded like arguments. These would upset Tom and so he would leave and then return an hour or so later. They were not upset with him and he was not upset with them. Each was giving the other room to be how they had to be. I have had to become accustomed to Art’s intensity when he is discussing issues. And he has had to get used to my need to mull things over before I respond.

In my family, Mom had a strong need to run the show and Dad understood that and willingly let her do it.

Art is a morning person. By early evening, he is moving into what he calls his “thick head” mode. He’ll read for pleasure or watch TV, but if he finds an interesting article, he sets it aside to read when his brain is up to it.

In contrast, I switch abruptly in the morning from sleep mode to “attack-the-day” mode. A somewhat vital part of our relationship is getting together for lunch almost every day. Both of us are then still within our best time periods so it’s a good time to discuss important items on our agenda.

Daughter Mariya has the same need to eat that I do, yet has almost no interest in cooking. Fianceé Miriam enjoys cooking. So they have an arrangement where Miriam cooks and Mariya cleans up.

Taking pictures is something I greatly enjoy. And there are certain places where I stop to take photos no matter how many other photos of the place I have. Art is not that way. For him, a picture is just documentation, and one is usually sufficient. But he understands my quirk in this regard. So we never pass the scenic overlook south of Manhattan without him asking, “Do we need to stop today for you to take just one more photo?”

Daughter Katie has commented frequently that hubby Matt has a number of traits that she finds odd, but are also so much like those Art has. She has mentioned that years of learning to deal with her father were good training, for now she knows how to handle Matt when these traits pop up.

While it may be natural to think of these ideas as applying to marriage, they probably apply to long-term friendships as well. Art and his best friend Bill shared a love for electronics, science, math, travel, joking and other things. Art was a bit envious that Bill was more creative, more fluent in German, loved to fly and more spontaneous. The fact that Bill was almost always tardy, was a great procrastinator, and had some other less-than-desirable traits never bothered Art. They were just things he worked around.

So, in the end, finding a relationship that works, well, it’s complicated.

Gloria and Art in 1988 and 2015

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Other columns from 2018 may be found at: 2018 Index.
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