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Jan 4, 2012

Separateness, Sameness, Equality and Relationships

America is built on a great many values, one of which is the idea that separate is inherently unequal (learn about the Civil Rights Movement for a detailed history). That difference either "is" or "leads to" oppression of some kind -as a law of reality. In that sense, "equality" is often measured in "sameness," assuming that separation inherently devalues one side. Which leads to the thought process that difference means one is better. Not that one is better in some ways and worse in others (and vice-versa), but that one is simply better overall.

Most days I really question that assumption. Sure, there are many situations where there are differences, separation and inequality. I'm just not sure that pointing the finger at the differences really helps. I think it's important to understand and handle the underlying values. Because whenever we value one thing over another, we separate them and create an imbalance; just because we attempt to re-balance doesn't mean our values will change, per se. Still, that is the hope and expectation behind ridding ourselves of difference -to restore a sense of universal value.

In some ways, I think that may be immature, to attempt to put everyone on "one side" because that's the "side" we value, but that's how it's going nowadays. The result of these different perspectives has interesting implications for shidduchim. One can split approaches to dating/matchmaking into a spectrum that has two extreme poles:

One perspective values differences that complement each other –both in terms of personality and in life roles –fitting together like two pieces of a puzzle that are opposites in ways that fulfill one another while completing a picture. Spouses could be very different and make it work by taking up different responsibilities and (hopefully) learning from each other. Roles like one person working and being the breadwinner while the other takes care of the home and children.

(Whether the man or woman is doing either one is less relevant to this discussion, as the focus here is on polarity, though it must be acknowledged that the traditional and more common way of dividing often places the man as the breadwinner and woman as the homemaker. This system, of course, cares little for individuality that would allow for a business savvy woman and nurturing man to switch roles comfortably within society. Again, that’s important to acknowledge, but not the discussion point here.)

The other extreme revolves around sameness, equality and fairness in finding someone similar to themselves so that they could look at the other person and almost sees themselves as though in a mirror, validating their own perspective through consensus and requiring minimal accommodation or change. Ideas like both the man and woman working outside the home and inside the home –both doing pretty much all the same things. Each person would have to wash dishes, vacuum, work, change diapers, feed kids, etc. all because this is how the arrangement is set up.

And so, sitting at a particular meeting with a shadchanit, I found myself hearing about suggestions talking about how a particular woman is practically the same as me, or picking on a few qualities I have and talking about how she is the same way on those points. I couldn’t help but ask myself, “how far do I want to take this obsession with similarity? Does it really matter if she’s from the same Sefardic background, or even Sefardic at all?”

Clearly the “golden path” is important here, recognizing that either extreme can spawn all kinds of trouble. Sure, it’s easier when more things line up. Sure, I have certain values that I feel must exist to create the foundation for a unified home, in particular raising children. But maybe I want a woman who has some differences, a woman who will inspire me to grow in my spirituality; a woman I admire and want to learn from.

I’m just saying.

On the other hand, it really bothers me when I see someone who is preoccupied with sameness or fairness in a relationship. At this point, I recognize and have no issue doing dishes, changing diapers or taking care of whatever needs to get done because, well… it needs to get done. But when I hear that phrased as an equality or fairness issue it seems somewhat immature to me. Tacking on a reason like “fairness” or “sameness” implicitly (or often explicitly) points a finger at the other person and says “you’re not playing fair! Do what I’m doing!”

Here’s why –I have no problem giving. That’s what relationships are about. At the same time, I feel that they must be built on a foundation of respect and desire to fulfill each others' needs. Not based on ideas like "fairness," which vaguely remind me of two kids arguing about who has more orange juice in their cup. If someone has a need in a relationship, being there and helping them with that need is a core part of that relationship.

Perhaps my issue boils down to this: When someone communicates their needs, I'm right there wanting to give. But pointing the finger at "fairness" or "sameness" as the reason communicates nothing about needs, giving, connecting or anything else I value in building a relationship. It inspires resistance, defiance, defensiveness and justification ("but I do such-and-such, and you don't do such-and-such!"). Just own up to your own needs, we all have them and we should not be afraid to show them to others, least of all our (potential/future) spouses. Being so afraid that it goes unsaid... speaks volumes about the relationship and/or the people involved.

At least, that's how I see it. But I know fantastic couples that scrupulously keep track of who does what and makes sure it's all even. Hey, if it works, it works... right?

1 comment:

  1. Wow, I was actually discussing some of these topics with a friend the other day and I was saying something along a similar line (although I didn't put it quite as eloquently as you did). Very well written.

    Something I've realized while growing up is that sameness does not mean equal. I wrote a post having to do with this, but it focused on parent child relationships (