|You Say Tomato... - Tomato 6|
Sometimes partners are hardened to their disappointments. "Well, you know Lisa," a guy named Walt lamented one day. "There's no room for me, not even time to cuddle." Walt wanted Lisa to be lighthearted and sexy—this from an unexcitable, practical woman on her way to becoming hard-bitten from years of managing a highly ungratifying child. And Lisa wanted Walt to overcome his disorganization and shifting energies to pitch in more with the intricate schedules of a household with two school-aged children.
Who could deny them these understandable wishes? Yet I thought, They aren't going to get that from each other. I'd come to see that people aren't as malleable as I'd thought they were, that some aspects of ourselves are just the way we are. A single woman, a person in charge of a highly politicized project at a corporation, came to this astounding conclusion not long ago: "The truth is, I'm a very willful person!" The look on her face was one of pure discovery. "And it's not something to be . . . fixed," she said with relief. "Maybe it's a flaw, but it's part of my constitution." She's a big believer in self-improvement, but now she was valuing realism about some central component of herself, valuing that knowledge over the anxious need to be ever-perfect.
Which is what I wish for Lisa and Walt, not to mention Carla and Dennis. That is, not only accepting the reality of ourselves, but also the reality of our partner. Because it's an age-old question: when do we stop our efforts to change another person? We all know how it's "supposed to be." And yet, instead, we get this life—the sweetly bumbling husband with the grimly overcompetent wife. Or the vague and even-tempered woman partnered with the love of her life, a woman who doesn't suffer fools, who taps her foot in agitation. The slob marries the neatnik. A speeding hornet partners up with a daydreamer.
It may be that every couple is The Odd Couple. Some observers say we marry people with traits opposite our own in order to fill some hole, some missing energy, in ourselves. But I'd add that by the time some people are deep in a long-term relationship, they'll manage to shape even small differences into larger, more dramatic ones. I've sat in my office more than once and watched as two highly congruent people, similar in dress and values and speech, have soberly pointed out to me their dazzling polarity. The last incident, if I remember correctly, pivoted on an issue about time: "Bob never gets anywhere on time," Bob's wife said, a bit smug, justifying the feeling of always being let down; "I don't know if we're compatible."