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On the Attraction to the Not Really Contrary

By Carl S ~

Many years ago, a British book was published about studies to determine if “opposites attract.” The conclusion: a person is attracted romantically to another who is like oneself. It makes sense, since ' like oneself ' feels familiar, and who wouldn't want to spend time and effort on someone who enhances and offers the future of fulfilling your own estimation of yourself? The Roman poet Horace had an idea: a man and woman are half persons, each needing the other to become a complete person. Bosh. I was idealistic in my first marriage and thought about such fusion becoming real, long before “soul mate” became popular, but time proved we were each individuals.

I've been married for 23 years to a churchgoing woman who identifies herself as “a Christian.” If she entered a room with Pat Robertson, the pope, or any of the evangelical politicians, she would quickly turn and leave. She and I see ourselves as complete and equal individuals with equal rights. Neither of us is a “better half” to the other. I've thought about what we have in common. We both dumped Catholicism and have a mutual moral compass, and we don't believe the clergy have moral authority. She's more outspoken than I am when it comes to confronting unfairness; I do it by writing. And our tastes are pretty much alike. One time we came close to crashing, and that was over religion, when I saw just how much terror indoctrination and fear of doubt could affect a good and loving person. You want to unchain someone you love from irrational fears by showing your concern, but then you risk losing that person.

Now, I've heard the advice given to Christians: Marry only another Christian; don’t be “unevenly yoked.” (As if Christians are dumb oxen needing to be steered.) Religions exist to preserve the faith and don't care about the lovers. This was made clear to me before I married my first wife. After leaving two monasteries in a row, and serving three years in the army, I still didn't have goals. I felt I was owed something for the time I put in the religious orders, so I went to the parish for counseling to adapt to secular society, talked, took psychological tests, etc. After a few sessions, I told the counselor, “I met a woman. I'm thinking of marriage.” His reaction wasn't “I'm glad for you,” or, “You look happy,” or anything else I expected someone to say who'd been listening to my concerns for the future. He said: “Is she Catholic?” I'm glad I didn't ask her to “turn.” I'm thinking of the danger I might have put my kids in with those priests. Things went downhill after that; two more meetings and I never went back.

His sole concern was based on reality. I did scrap whatever remained of my beliefs by marrying an atheist/agnostic who challenged and mocked those beliefs. She asked a lot of questions. One will give you an idea: “Why are you against abortion?” I hadn't really thought about that before. But I'm usually open to differences of opinion, to think about them. My experience tells me this is definitely not a Christian attitude. Never expect a Christian to respond to your rational argument with, “You may have a point there.” The best I've gotten is: “Well, that's your opinion” (To which I could respond, “Well, your beliefs are your opinions.” Not original. Jefferson said it first.)

That first relationship lasted for 30+ years. I think in both relationships there's been doubt, whether expressed or not, plus not taking our differences very seriously. Free-thinking meant more in the first marriage than the second. It appears that, both times, something familiar, not “opposite” in the other's personality is connected to my own. Perhaps doubt unites both Christians and none, but the doubt is openly expressed in the actions and/or words of the non. This can be a relief to the believer who has doubts, listening to them spoken aloud by a caring and trusted spouse. It may erode the anxiousness of beliefs by making them no big deal.

I think I've got her to re-consider what “Christian” means. I'm hearing more often, especially in regard to different politicians' statements and decisions, “And he calls himself a Christian!” I remind her that “he” is exactly a Christian. And just tonight, after reading a commentary in the paper, she admitted she agreed with the liberals, and did not disagree when I said Republican attitudes were akin to the policies of Old Testament punishment, while Democrats stood for the Gospel messages of compassion! Little by little, over the years, I suspect my wife has changed her thinking because of my emphasis on the priority of integrity and compassion over what she's been led to believe. Appeals to honesty, integrity, caring and respect for reason are what we have in common. And she has given me insight into the thoughts of her church's members, one being: “Don't think they don't doubt. They have doubts.” And, “Just because there's a list of beliefs on the church's bulletin, it doesn't mean they believe them.” I get it.

Between the two of us, our lives have been enhanced, and I owe a lot of it to something significant she said many years ago: mutual respect. She has a name, and I call her by name. Terms of endearment are nice and necessary, but recognizing a beloved not only as “my wife” or “my husband” does make a difference in how you treat each other. “Thank you” and “please,” and other signs of courtesy are little ways we show we notice the other cares, we reinforce our relationship and show appreciation. When I look back on my own parents’ relationship, I remember that during their arguments, my father always talked to my mother with respect, although he was much smarter.

My experiences might be helpful for others or not. After writing for many years, I wonder if I might be guilty of the same delusion I accuse believers of having when they pray: wishful thinking. This I express in writing as hope, probably doesn't amount to a rat's ass as far as changing anything. (What a crazy world we live in. Right now, thousands of starving innocent men, women, and children in Yemen are being killed and mutilated, and their homes leveled, while a Christian politician is putting off any U.S. help until later. Meanwhile, millions of dollars are being sent to Christian con men to raise money to “save the unborn!”) I won't stop financially contributing what I can to making life better for everyone everywhere. But I'm beginning to doubt contributing my thoughts makes even the slightest difference. I think I'll spend my efforts instead on finding, each day, more reasons why I love Kathy.