When Your Plaid Clashes With My Polka Dots
Opposite patterns that just do not go together. That’s how I describe the relationship I have with this person I know on Facebook. I am allergic to him. Don’t laugh. You’re allergic to people, too. You just didn’t know it until reading this.
Have you ever known someone or known of them from a distance, and on the surface your potential for friendship seemed so promising? Your child’s algebra teacher, who seemed like such a cool chick when you first met at orientation. Your favorite student’s mom, who was so hysterical and real the first time you spoke over the phone. The other parents you were introduced to at the ballpark last week, realizing with amazement how many common friendships you shared with each other. All of the factors for a promising camaraderie were in place. The problem is, you realized there was a rub there and you couldn’t quite explain it or name what it was about her stripes or his plaid that didn’t match one of the polka dot patterns in your personality.
This is wholly different from blatantly disliking someone for identifiable, annoying reasons. Those lists are easy: So-and-so is loud and obnoxious. She gossips too much. She’s doesn’t discipline her kids. He’s an arrogant a-hole. Any of these might easily explain why we can’t be friends with absolutely everyone. It’s a numerical impossibility. My workplace, my neighborhood, and the checkout line in Target are all places where I can quickly point out for you the people that I am absolutely certain I could never get along with, at all, ever.
But then there are others…people that I want to like and who I feel would be incredible friends to have around. These are the folks I admire and respect for their skills and their talents, for their heart for living, for their affable demeanor. I love hearing them tell stories, how they make me laugh, and I dig the fact that they have their act completely together! But the ugly underbelly to this hopefulness comes when I realize that we have absolutely nothing in common philosophically. See, philosophical compatibility is at the heart of every good relationship…romantic ones, friendly ones, and even professional ones. Simply having common interests isn’t enough for two people to really get along. This is so disheartening to accept, because I genuinely like so many people, and I think I would enjoy having them in my life…for about one minute…before, I am certain, we would start getting on each other’s nerves.
You know which people bother me the most? The ones who are just like me.
Too many chiefs and not enough Indians.
I get irritable every time I’m in a room with other loud or outspoken women who like to control the conversation and who are always armed with advice on how people should manage this or that. What a pan to the face it is to realize that as often as I critique the aggressiveness of other big personalities, I must realize that others are critiquing my aggressiveness as well. Am I always the one pointing the finger at others for their brazen honesty and calling it rudeness? And am I not exactly the same way? I am. The difference between us lies in the things we are passionate about. It’s effortless to share a room with another big ego when your interests are pointed in the same direction or when your goals fall completely in line with one another. But to find yourself sharing space with a mirror image of your own big identity and to realize that other person’s opinions are in direct opposition to your own, well, I promise you this: you will bounce of each other like the positive and negative poles of a magnet and you will likely never, ever be able to come together in a close, personal, lasting friendship.
Facts: Every magnet, whether large or small, has exactly two poles. Each pole is either north or north-seeking, or south or south-seeking. Like objects repel each other. Unlike objects attract each other.
It’s physics. It’s a law of nature that is defined and proven. No matter how hard you push, you will always end up a bit sideways with one another if your personalities are totally the same but your opinions are exactly opposite.
So take a person who holds the view that children should never be spanked — we’ll call her Parent A. It could be assumed that in most other areas of parenting, a person who spanked their children, Parent B, would likely disagree with many other areas of parenting, according to Parent A, as well. How long should a baby nurse, if they should even nurse at all? Should girls play with guns and should boys play with dolls? What if I said absolutely and absolutely not to those questions? Would you agree? Would you disagree? Are you passionate about your disagreement with my position? No? Yes? Sigh. We might be repelling each other right now.
Take another example. Boyfriend A: he is a popular, outspoken young man with a sexy confidence about him who was raised in a home with a hyper-attentive, stay-at-home mother, alongside several brothers and sisters, with a strong emphasis on academics and a traditional, dominant father in the family. It is unlikely that the equally popular Girlfriend, a well-liked only-child and a beautiful, confident and self-assured young lady with a working mother, whose grades were average at best and who mostly had to raise herself, would be philosophically compatible with Boyfriend A. Their dynamic personalities clicked all day long and on the outset they might appear to be a super couple but nothing else about their futures aligned. Before long, I would wager that she would find herself being criticized for her “slack” ambition and he would be accused of being controlling. Their life goals might seem totally different because they were raised using completely different handbooks. Hence, I’d guess that they will quickly begin to repel each other in spite of the way their personalities might have initially drawn them together. Boyfriend B is a better choice. Boyfriend B, the driven young man who holds down an after-school job, who takes the non-honors track classes at school and who expects his wife to work outside the home…he might fit inside Girlfriend’s life puzzle much better, their rub will be more minimal and there will hopefully be less to disagree on.
So back to my adult relationships. They can be complicated, especially when in our forties we all become less flexible with just about everything. My aim is to continue to be self-aware of the irritating parts of my personality and to remind myself that we’re all super different people. I hear myself saying so often, “It’s not an easy gig being my friend. Some people are not cut out for it.” People might be allergic to me, and even if I’ve never done anything wrong to them, we are, by the laws of nature, probably not going to hit it off deeply like best friends would. My own best friends would even attest to this fact with a affirmative nods of their heads and noticeable eye rolls. The rubs we’ve occasionally created between each other have been minimal and unintentional and came from those core parts of their personalities that drew me to them in the first place: their confidence. During these episodes our big personalities crashed into each other a little bit, but our philosophies didn’t. That’s something our friendship can overcome. I am drawn to powerful people but not all kinds of powerful people. It doesn’t mean that I don’t like any of the folks I disagree with. That’s the farthest thing from the truth. I can disagree with someone and even if I know we will never become good friends, I should still be able to show them respect. That’s not being two-faced. What it means to me now, at my age, is to realize that there are people who like me and there are people who don’t. There are people I want to be around and there are people I don’t. There are people I can have coffee and conversation with and then there are people I should just smile at and say hello to as I pass.
Remember, we are all really good people in our own way. We each have people in our lives that love us exactly the way we are. Somebody loved you so much that they wanted to marry you and have babies with you, right? I had that, too. Most of my students like me, but there have been a substantial handful that felt that itchy rash of an allergic reaction coming on after the first week of school. Usually it’s other aggressive girls. My friends love me, but more importantly, my friends get me. And if they ever have to tell you, “She’s really not like that, you just have to get to know her,” you might just be allergic to me.
See, I was born this way and so were you. I’ve been cultivating my personality for, literally, decades. I can’t change. So let’s accept that the wiring of humankind is altogether different and don’t let it get to you. Love people right where they are and hope they let it slip by when you’ve gotten under their skin, too. It’s an easier way of living knowing that each day will bring people into your life that nobody is forcing you to get along with. Let yourself off the hook, take your people-Zyrtec and remember the Golden Rule: Treat others, even the ones you sometimes don’t like, they way you would have them treat you, and let that be good enough.