Opposites Attract, to a Point

A longtime bachelor finds love and marriage don’t always arrive as planned.

I first met the woman who became my wife on a Wednesday. I asked her out Thursday. Usually I’m a bit more bashful, but I had tickets to a Saturday concert, and I was freaking out. The concert was my dream show, the official Lollapalooza afterparty for The National at House of Blues back in 2010. My normal M.O. with concert tickets was to buy two even if I wasn’t seeing anybody, under the assumption that I’d meet a supermodel type shortly before the show who just happened to love the band and lack tickets.

I always thought I’d marry someone who was my best friend, who liked the same things I liked in the same proportions—someone whose iPod playlist and Netflix queue looked like mine, someone with whom I’d have hour-long conversations every time we got on the phone. But something else happened with Octavia …

My normal M.O. had led to a lot of scrambling over the years, though, a lot of last-second desperation plays such as the same-day all-friends invitation via Facebook status update—the social media equivalent of the Hail Mary pass. I always felt like an idiot throwing that pass, and I wanted to at least feel a step or two above that level of desperation.

Before the show, we met at Heaven on Seven for Cajun food. The dinner conversation was decent, but it seemed like she complained a lot. And when we left for the show, she boxed up her leftovers, even though I was planning on standing very close to the stage, in the crush of General Admission floor ticketees. I’m pretty sure I gave a look of mild disdain, and I wondered—was she planning on holding on to her Chicken VooDoo throughout the whole show, or just dropping it off at the coat check? But on our way over, she gave it away to a homeless man, and I realized I didn’t really have her figured out, after all.

I always thought I’d marry someone who was my best friend, who liked the same things I liked in the same proportions—someone whose iPod playlist and Netflix queue looked like mine, someone with whom I’d have hour-long conversations every time we got on the phone. But something else happened with Octavia—a healthy blend of similarities and differences, two disparate personalities glued together with a healthy amount of mutual openness and love. I’m into depressing documentaries and foreign language Criterion collection movies; I met someone who loves X Factor and Storage Wars. We have some areas of cultural overlap (Synecdoche, NY; Breaking Bad, Jay-Z), but all in all I’ve learned that loving each other is far more important than liking the same things.

Of course, there’s far more to a relationship and a marriage than finding common ground on the remote controls. Before I start reciting the lyrics to Paula Abdul’s “Opposites Attract,” I’ll mention some similarities—faith in God and in the Gospels, a healthy amount of love, generally healthy lifestyles (she’ll go out for a margarita with her friends once in a while; I used to pride myself on being able to close down the late-night bars, but I’ve moved on to bigger and brighter things), a desire to raise a family together. And on the substantive differences, we pull each other in healthy directions; she nudges me towards keeping a clean house and spending money a little more frugally, and she likes the fact that I set out long-term personal goals and stick to them.

Still, there were many times in our two-plus years together when one voice or another in my interior dialogues almost argued me out of the relationship. Octavia and I both thought it strange that we didn’t spend long hours in conversation. But we did talk every day, and every time we wondered if we were going to stay together, we put in a little more effort (and a lot more love), and things got better.

I’ve also come to realize that, to paraphrase a bumper-sticker phrase often misattributed to Gandhi, I have to be the change I want to see in the relationship. If I feel like there’s not enough conversation, I have to make some; if I feel like there’s not enough affection, I have to give some. And love, when push comes to shove, means actions, not words. On our first Valentine’s Day together, I completely half-assed it, and she was rightfully upset. The next time February 14th rolled around, we were living together, and I’d learned my lesson. I surprised her with French toast in bed, and flowers that I’d hidden from view the previous night by putting them in a vase down in my condo’s storage locker—and she surprised me by finding out she was 6 weeks pregnant.

It wasn’t exactly how I’d envisioned starting a family, but I had been thinking of popping the question, so I figured it wasn’t a good idea to get worked up about timelines and societally-approved sequences of events. So I bought an engagement ring that weekend, and we planned and pulled off a great wedding in just over five months, with a lot of love and support from friends and family.

I’ve heard horror stories from guys who’ve been divorced; I remember one friend saying that when he was standing at the altar, all he could think was that he was making a tremendous mistake. When I was up there in my rented tuxedo, I waited for that feeling to come, but it didn’t; instead I had an overwhelming sense that I wasn’t making a mistake, I was making a commitment.

She’d been struggling with morning sickness (which should, more accurately, be called “all the damn day sickness”) and hadn’t want to travel too far, so our honeymoon wasn’t what I’d hoped for—we took the train to Grand Rapids and spent a few days tooling around western Michigan. Still, it was fun, and I’m sure we’ll have plenty of adventures to come. And we welcomed our first child just over six weeks ago, a daughter named Genesis who is, by all accounts, the most attractive baby in human history.

Some things haven’t changed—the little things that annoyed me on the first date still sometimes annoy me. And when I concentrate on those things, they seem larger and more annoying. (I also know for a fact that she can recite her own litany of my annoying traits when it suits her.) But when I concentrate on the things I love about her—her caring spirit, her goofy sense of humor, her gentleness, her willingness to forgive and admit wrong, and her willingness to let me do the same—I realize I really am lucky and blessed.

Paul Newman—who, after an unsuccessful first marriage, ended up in a very happy second one with Joanne Woodward—once said of her, “We are very, very different people and yet somehow we fed off those varied differences and instead of separating us, it has made the whole bond a lot stronger.” And I’m inclined to feel the same way. Life is about growth, and growth is about change, and how can you change if you’re with someone who agrees with you on everything? I’d much rather have what I have—a Venn diagram with a healthy amount of overlap in the important areas and a healthy amount of individuality in the frivolous ones, a relationship where I don’t have to stop being me and she doesn’t have to stop being her, but where we can also both give of ourselves and get something new that wouldn’t be there without both of us.


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Image credit: Hey Paul Studios/Flickr

About Jerry Brennan

Jerry Brennan hails from the eastern half of North America. He's of German-Irish stock, which means (according to one ex's mom) that he's probably drunk and depressed. He's also the author of Resistance, and you can follow him on Twitter @jerry_brennan


  1. This is a great article and I thank you for sharing your story and insight.

    Me and a woman that found ourselves separated for a few years recently found ourselves back together but realizing that while we love being around each other and enjoy each others company whole heartedly and never want to lose the other one, there are little things that tend to annoy us about the other and I think that’s inevitably what may be keeping her from wanting to commit fully because she believes that could be a problem.

    Your statement about thinking about those little problems makes them seem bigger is right on the dot and in order to really make things work, you need to focus on the things you love about the person while continuing to grow together.

    Best of luck to you and your family!

  2. Tom Matlack says:

    Jerry thank you for this. It checks out with my experience. I have been married twice, once unsuccessfully and one I am about to celebrate 10 years. My current wife has filled in my weak spots. The things I hated the most about her at the start where the things I love now because they were the things I didn’t know how to do. The biggest is that I am a strong introvert and she is at ease in every social situation. I hated going to parties. She loved them. It took me years, but she showed how me to engage with people in a way that fed my soul rather than humiliating myself. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to before. People scared me. I was desperate to connect but didn’t know how. She taught me. That is just one example….

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