Compatibility schmatibility. You’ve got to work at love
Compatibility is such a clunky, utilitarian word for the delicate harmony that exists between two people. Yet here I am in a Melbourne cafe, scoffing lemon madeleines and discussing how much of it you need to make a relationship work.
I’ve always thought 80 per cent, give or take another five to accommodate mood swings (mine) and bloody-mindedness (a quality every man I’ve ever fancied seemed to possess). One friend insists on 95 per cent, because “any less and you may as well tattoo ‘doormat’ on your forehead”.
Meanwhile, another pal reckons 60 per cent is sufficient if there’s a reasonable chance of fixing the other 40 (cue much coughing on cake).
But how do we know if we have enough, especially if we’re being hurried along by biology? When IVF supremo Gab Kovacs tells us to give up on Mr Right and settle for “Mr Not-Too-Bad”, which bits is he suggesting we compromise on? And how can we do that when Hollywood, chick-lit and, to a certain extent, feminism and its most powerful manifestation – the cult of girlfriends – tells us we should be holding out for “the one”?
Personally, I believe the notion of ‘the one’ is as nonsensical as astrological matchmaking; I’m a Scorpio, so I should be shacked up with another water sign. I am, as it happens, but here’s the rub – he believes in all that planet poppycock, while I fall about in mirth at the mention of star signs. Surely grounds for incompatibility? Particularly if my ‘one’ is actually a Bolivian brickie called Pedro or, say, Alex Dimitriades.
I’ve been married twice. The first time, I leapt in, sure of little more than the poetic perfection of what we had. The second time, more saddle shy, I tallied, not on paper – what nutcase does that? – but in my head. He wants children, tick. He’s funny, tick. He’s handy with a tea bag, tick. But still I wondered, and while I was wondering, I fell pregnant.
A good friend, cantering towards the end of her 30s, chose her husband because the timing and the person was right by enough degrees. “What’s wrong with striking a deal with another human being?” she says. “I’ll ignore your flaws if you’ll forgive mine.”
Another friend, convinced life would be better played as a team sport, chose to “pick the least worst and make it work”.
People don’t fit together like jigsaw pieces. There are always pesky bits – dodgy dress sense, Xbox addiction, razor borrowing (her), a mother you want to punch (his). The question is, what can you live with and what will turn from compatible to combatible two, 10, 20 years from now?
Let me put on my counsellor hat… Here goes: Differences in core values are hard to overcome and marriage magnifies them as mould multiplies in a Petri dish. Likewise, differing degrees of optimism; one of my friends wakes up every day spilling sunshine, while her partner sees only problems. Innate nastiness only gets worse. Saying sorry is as essential as sex. Violence, insurmountable. Kindness is relationship Super Glue.
Finally, if there’s something you’re not getting, try giving it. At a Kabbalah course I was sent to by an editor hoping I’d become Madonna’s bestie (she never showed and I didn’t get my red bracelet), I learnt this: If you want to be heard, listen. If you want to be understood, understand. And if you want to be loved, love. Simple, but it works.
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