Bruce Sallan: What do we have in common?
A Dad’s Point-of-View column by Bruce Sallan
While on a recent skiing trip, I had a casual dinner with casual friends, including a couple that had been married, divorced, and were now dating again. As is so often the case, on the surface, they looked great together, so it seemed natural that the conversation went in the direction of “why did you two break up?”
The woman laughed and said, “it’s a long story,” at which point she began, without missing a beat, telling it to us. It boiled down to the simple fact that she and her partner really enjoyed each other but basically had nothing in common. He liked adventure trips, she liked resorts, he liked aggressive skiing and starting first thing, she liked a relaxing breakfast, followed by a leisurely time getting ready to go out, he wanted kids, she didn’t, etc.
It was almost comical and, in fact, they were laughing at each other and ultimately acknowledged all they really had together was a general feeling of comfort and familiarity.
After hearing their story and after making that initial observation that they were a “good couple,” I reversed my opinion completely and agreed that they were not such an ideal couple. Their laughing response to the question of getting married again, made total sense to me (and the rest of the group, I’m sure).
This incident reminded me of one of my favorite movies of all time, the 1974 movie “And Now My Love,” directed by the extraordinary Claude LeLouch. Only a French director would attempt, in those interesting cinematic times, such a conceit–the concept of “love at first sight,” and have his protagonist’s not even meet until the end of the film.
But, at its core, was the idea of having something in common. His male lead gets incarcerated and upon being led to his jail cell, he meets his cellmate, an older man, who is making coffee. The man looks up as his new young roommate and asks him if he’d like some coffee and, upon getting an affirmative response, he asks, “how many lumps of sugar would you like?” The answer, “three,” elicits a sigh and, “Ahh, when you meet a woman who takes three lumps of sugar, marry her.” The young man is taken aback and asks why? The older man, calmly and with the confidence of wisdom on his side, responds, “Because at least you’ll have one thing in common.”
The rest of the movie takes that simple idea and plays out the gloriously clever close calls and misses between our young protagonist and his meant-to-be soul mate (though I hate that term, it seems appropriate for this French movie fantasy). I’ll leave the ending to your DVD rental, but suffice it to say, the notion of having something in common is the core “conceit” of this film. I highly recommend it if you have the patience for a bit of confusion in the opening sequences. Your patience will pay off.
But, back to our point of how important to a couple is having things in common? I assert they are of paramount importance, as a relationship is fraught with challenges under the best of circumstances, and having those commonalities gives you a leg up and a better chance to survive life’s curveballs. And, I assure you; life will throw some your way. It always does.
On my honeymoon, we met a couple that had been married for over a decade and, indeed, almost celebrated their amazing diversity of backgrounds, interests, and world views. She was an African-American, Christian conservative while he was 15 years her senior and a white, Jewish liberal. We spent enough time with them to believe they had managed to overcome their inherent differences and truly had a beautiful marriage. However, as they chose to have no children, we wondered how that might have tested their commitment.
When my wife set out to find a partner, after her divorce, she was very clear that she wanted a couple of basic things in common. First, as she loved to ski, she sought a man shared that passion. Second, as her values were of a certain complexion, she also wanted a man who saw eye-to-eye on those core issues– let’s just say The Ten Commandments meant something to her. She was committed to not letting go of those ideals in finding a partner.
As luck would have it, we did find each other and do share those and other similar interests and values. And, in spite of these common interests and values, we’ve had our share of challenges as blending my family–two boys and two dogs–with her decade long single life, was more difficult than either of us assumed. But, our common interests and values have helped us through the bumps in our road I asserted before will always occur.
I guess I’d have to argue that life and marriage are hard enough without believing that “opposites attract” vs. “opposites attract, but ultimately clash.”