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Do Differences Attract or Repel?

In the first phase of a relationship, it can be hard to tell a distraction from a deal breaker

Couple flirting at restaurant

Are you attracted to the people who are right for you? — Mie Ahmt

En español | A woman I know got divorced in her 30s, went to medical school and became an internist in her 40s, then married a hairdresser at 56.

"Where did you meet him?" I asked. (Clearly not at his salon; she looked like she didn't go.)

Discuss: What do YOU look for in a relationship?

"We belonged to the same gym," she explained. One night, after chatting on adjacent treadmills, they had dinner. "And every night after that," she said, grinning. "I fell madly in love."

"How is this marriage different from your first?" I asked. (Husband No. 1 had been a successful architect.)

"My first husband didn't get me. This guy does." Her smile widened. "I'm a lucky lady."

Luckier than I'd been, I had to admit, with my own post-divorce dating years earlier. One of the first guys I went out with was a plumber. Because he intrigued me, I overlooked the fact that my work (teaching writing) and my interests (movies, theater, books, swimming, hiking in the woods and killer cutthroat Scrabble) seemed to hold his interest less than a clogged toilet. Eventually he became depressed and incommunicative, forcing me to face up to the real problem: He just did not get me — nor I him.

Mutual understanding can neutralize all sorts of disparities in a relationship: differing backgrounds, differing employment, differing education. Shortly after my divorce, for example, I fell for a guy who had little in common with me. Yet I could overlook his lack of interest in reading, I quickly realized, because he filled larger needs: He was flexible and kind to me and to my daughter (for whom he babysat on the evenings I worked). He loved to cook, to fix things. He was a joy around the house. With his two daughters, a few years older than mine, we enjoyed group meals and weekend outings.

Indeed, we were well on our way to becoming a regular Brady Bunch when he confided that he had strayed when problems arose in his marriage.


 Next page: Is cheating OK? »

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