Viva Les Differences!
Exploring the alchemy of an odd, amorous coupling
My former boyfriend and I were an odd couple. We seemed different in so many ways. I was a vegetarian who ate health foods and grew my own organic herbs. Tom “ate anything,” much to my dismay. I was more of an introvert, caught up in my inner world of thought and imagination. He was “physical,” and didn’t “take to the metaphysical stuff.”
True to form, I had a large house and lots of belongings, while my partner lived in a bachelor’s cubby hole and boasted of touring Ireland with a bicycle and a backpack. I was a stickler for neatness and clean ups. Tommy brought in a cleaning lady once a year “if he had to.” Another area of difference was that I spent most of my time like a busy bee, taking care of business and being “creative,” while my friend preferred lounging under his favorite tree, chirping with birdies, and sipping wine. Of course, I didn’t imbibe.
Still, there was something to be said for the notion that opposites attract, because we did, my sweetie and I. The fires of passion, when they burned, were hot. And the cuddles between me, the dark, female, skinnier lass, and my endomorphic, thick-skinned blond hero were peaceful and endearing. At least for a while.
It had been nearly two years of alternating delight and disaster. The differences between us had begun to stir up fears.
“You don’t really love me,” I sniffled. “ If you did, you’d be eating better, and taking yoga with me.”
And getting a new bath mat. If we were really sweethearts, really soulmates, I reasoned, my Tommy would be more like me.
Tom drew a blank. To his mind, he’d tried every which way to please me, including going without meat for days one week. And trying not to buy the mayo with the hydrogenated stuff in it.
“We must be incompatible,” he ventured, sighing. “We shouldn’t be together; it only makes you cry.”
Tom had always been a little dubious that we could “make it.” I suppose I was, too, but I had always argued that we were so similar. We both came from difficult family backgrounds, both loved the arts, movies, liked to hike every day -even if I did tend to get lost in thought while Tommy hunted for creepy crawlers under logs. Things looked pretty bad. Neither of us could find a solution, even though we loved each other and were best friends. We decided to break up and hoped we could stay friends.
As usual, we understood that to mean two different things. For Tom, the break up was final. For me, it meant back to the drawing board in studying up on relationships. As usual, because of our differences, neither of us realized it.
I was the first one to fall in love again, only a few weeks later. I told Tom immediately, worried that he might feel jealous or betrayed a little. I was hoping for his blessing. He seemed only too happy to give it to me, of course, because he had “finalized” with me.
The new affair was short lived. I didn’t see Tom often, but we talked on the phone, and continued to be each other’s primary confidantes. In time Tommy fell in love again, too. And true to our different ways, he didn’t tell me.
Still working on my relationship issues, I had begun to notice some changes in myself. For one thing, I was going on longer treks to hike, like Tommy did, and my car was no longer tidy and clean. With layers of dust inside and out, it looked suspiciously like Tom’s car, the one I used to complain about. I had also slowed down a bit from doing twelve or thirteen things at once, and had been enjoying sitting under my orange tree, watching hummingbirds.
Tommy was changing, too. He had purchased a book on meditation, and had started taking some acting classes. He was showing an ambition that I hadn’t seen while we were a couple, which had been a source of embarrassment to me. He had also purchased a new vehicle, and insisted that we not get my dog’s hairs all over it. Were we rubbing off on each other?
I held out a hope that we could get back together. I even promised myself that I would learn to call him “sweetheart” if we did, just as he did for me, changing my habit of avoiding pet names out of embarrassment. I was really starting to appreciate a lot of wonderful qualities in this man, such as how he was always helping his friends out. Sure, I had gotten on him because he didn’t always take care of himself nearly so well, but now I was actually offering to drive a buddy to the airport in early morning traffic without so much as a gripe or moan about the inconvenience.
If Tommy was having a good effect in my life even though we weren’t together any more, the same seemed to be happening on his end. He told me about a friend that called up for advice about his love life -something I did for a living- and ended up recommending something that was exactly what I would have said and done, as if my words were coming out of his mouth.
In a flurry of hopes, I told Tom I wanted us to try it again. That’s when I found out he already was seeing someone else. I was devastated. I guess I thought somehow Tom belonged with me, that we were soulmates, in spite of, or maybe because of the graces that our differences brought.
It’s been nearly two years since I’ve seen Tommy. We’ve had little contact, and I have missed him dearly. When I called him today, we talked about getting together for a hike soon. As usual, he avoided talking about “our relationship,” the main thing I wanted to talk about. But I restrined myself. I’ve learned to give space, something Tom knows only too well how to do.
Will Tom follow suit and adopt my role of reaching out to restore the soulful relations we once had? He is still in relationship with “her,” and I am still not completely comfortable with it. Can I learn to “just be friends?”
Regardless of the outcome, I have learned a very important lesson about how love lets us learn from each other’s differences once we stop being scared of them, and stop demanding that the other person be more like us. Tom and I have both become better people for having loved each other and having stuck it out long enough to adopt some of each other’s strengths. Who knows, maybe one day I will down a couple of beers with a hot dog and he will be a tofu nut harvesting his own soybeans. One thing is certain. We have brought out in one another latent and unacknowledged capabilities.
Viva les differences!