Different is dangerous - but similar is stifling

I never thought I'd have anything in common with an engineer. Must be the attraction of opposites, says Annabelle Thorpe

It is a Sunday morning and all is right with the world. Barely awake, I see the next few hours shimmy in front of my slightly hungover eyes: more sleep, then breakfast, huge and unhealthy, a read of the papers, a quick doze, a call to my mum, and a blissful return to sleep. Up in time for EastEnders. Perfect.

An hour later, things are not going as I had imagined. The stereo is on, loudly. There is banging and crashing in the kitchen, and the smell of burnt scrambled egg and strong Sunday coffee that wafts down the hall can mean only one thing. Rob, my partner, is up. The idyll is over. The plan for the morning fades before my eyes.

We're very different, Rob and I. On the surface, at least, we are living proof of that old "opposites attract" adage. He says potayto, I say potarto. He says tomayto I say tomarto. He says ergonomics, I say - what? I say Ben Okri, he says who?

Life likes to trip you up. After 24 years of surrounding myself with fellow arty types, wafting around quoting Lawrence and turning down Jean Claude van Damme in favour of Jean de Florette, I have fallen in love with a man who did maths and physics at A-level and a degree in engineering. In three years at uni I never befriended a single engineer - they were best off left in the boffin encampment on the edge of campus. After all, they were obviously on the outskirts for a reason.

This is not how I imagined things would be. I had always envisaged staying up all night with my partner, discussing underlying themes in The Tempest or arguing about Austen's sexuality. Though I have to admit that when I did - albeit briefly - get involved with a fellow arty type it was a disaster. My boyfriend's ego couldn't deal with my disagreeing on matters literary, and the evenings inevitably ended with either an argument, or my falling asleep.

According to Roger McGhee, a psychologist, competitiveness can be a feature of relationships where partners are alike. "If both partners have similar areas of expertise there can be problems. Both think themselves right and this can often lead to disagreements and resentment."

This is certainly not a problem we face. Most of Rob's interests are so far removed from mine that I don't have an opinion on any of them. Six months ago I couldn't spell ergonomics, let alone define it. I'd never heard of Jungian philosophy or homeopathic medicine. (Yes, he is an engineer, honest.) Rob's way of thinking is so different from mine that it's made me see other ways to took at life. Until I met him I'd always been terribly unaware of my surroundings - if I'd been in a bank when a robbery took place, I'd probably have held the door open for them to leave. Rob, being interested in design and how the world works, has changed all that.

"Being with someone whose interests are different means you learn from them," says Roger McGhee. "If you are too similar, you may use them as some kind of indicator of your own quality and competence. This is dangerous - this kind of personal comparison belongs at work, not in a relationship."

It does seem easier to keep a sense of individuality when you are very different from your partner, and it also gives you the pleasure of opening up your life and showing them around. Rob loves explaining the theory behind things, from nature to aeroplanes, and I like to listen. I'm still unconvinced as to why aeroplanes don't fall out of the sky, and simply don't believe that clouds contain six million gallons of water (or something like that) but it's made me think.

So the attraction of opposites is generally a good thing, it seems. Wrong. Roger McGhee believes that in the long run it is much harder for very different partners to have a successful relationship. "Two people who share similar attitudes to life have a much greater chance of success than two who are poles apart. Nearly all the research that has been done has proved that the idea of opposites attracting is simply a myth. What does work is when superficial interests are different, but deeper attitudes and motivations are similar."

I suppose that underneath the English Patient (me) or Star Wars (Rob) debates, we do both want the same things from life. But our temperaments are very different. I can be quite volatile, while Rob has an aura of calm around him like a Ready Brek glow. He'll be trying to understand why I've flown off the handle again, and I'll get increasingly irritated by his ability to stay in control. It does annoy me, but it calms me down, and, most important, shuts me up. At 9am on a Sunday morning with the stereo blaring, however, it can be difficult to bear that in mind.

"It's a difficult choice," says Roger McGhee. "Do you go for the comfortable, safe option, or try something different and more challenging? If you spend your life with someone similar to you, often your prejudices are never questioned and your aspirations never heightened. Being with someone different is far from easy, but it stretches and changes you."

He's not wrong. There are times when it seems that there are no differences between us, curled up on the sofa ploughing through piles of hot buttered toast (a shared passion) watching The Holiday Programme (another shared passion). But as the credits roll, reality dawns. Peace is shattered. EastEnders is on BBC 1, Equinox on Channel 4. The debate begins.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Arts and Entertainment
Kara Tointon and Jeremy Piven star in Mr Selfridge
tvActress Kara Tointon on what to expect from Series 3
Voices
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
Sport
footballBrighton vs Arsenal match report
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has spoken about the lack of opportunities for black British actors in the UK
film
News
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

    Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

    Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

    Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

    £15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

    Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

    Day In a Page

    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
    Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

    Diana Krall interview

    The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
    Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

    Pinstriped for action

    A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
    Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

    Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

    'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

    Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

    Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
    Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us