Beliefnet
I spend a lot of time counseling couples, both married and dating. If they are a troubled couple, the advice they usually seek is whether or not they should stay together. A month ago I sat with Harry and Denise. Married for four years, with a two-year-old daughter, they both looked miserable during our session. They were also unusually quiet, having long since passed the stage where they could muster the strength to argue. "The truth is," Denise told me with reddened eyes, "it's been a long time since Harry and I made each other happy. We're both really depressed. Maybe we should go our own separate ways, but there's our daughter to consider."

There's a single question I ask that serves as the sole criterion for whether or not a couple should stay together: do you still love each other? If there's any affection left, even if it's buried under a mountain of pain, the relationship is still viable. This is not to say that there aren't other important factors in a relationship. Children are extremely significant, as are, to a much lesser degree, considerations of finances and social pressures. But none of these constitute sufficient grounds for the couple staying together once they have ceased loving each other.

The unique thing about love is that it creates compatibility between two people who would otherwise have nothing in common. I'm one of those strange guys who don't believe that compatibility is important in relationships. In fact, compatibility is a myth. It is love that brings them together and creates compatibility.

My kids and I are utterly incompatible. I like writing essays, they hate doing their homework. I love smoking cigars, they run out of the room the moment I light up (on the rare occasions that my wife doesn't shoot the fire extinguisher at me first). I love watching football, while my little baby loves watching "Teletubbies." And I absolutely loathe and detest Pokemon. But the kids love it.

Yet the strange thing is that this thing called love can create compatibility between me and my kids. It has me crawling on the floor, with them hanging onto my back and pulling out the last black fibers of my hapless beard--and me actually enjoying it. It can cause me to sit and do their homework, amid the humiliation of not remembering a thing about multiplication and division tables. And it can even get me to speak in strange languages as I try and communicate with our one-year-old. But without love, my kids and I are utterly incompatible. We have nothing in common.

The same is true of my parents. Divided as we are by a generation gap and the issue of my always being right and their always being wrong, my parents' tastes are utterly different from my own. Yet our love for each other creates communication and a joyous relationship. Because they love me, they take an interest in my life, even in those areas where they would otherwise have no interest, like my athlete's foot.

Similarly, love, attraction, and affection, not compatibility, are the glue that keeps a man and a woman together. In the 1980s Shere Hite published an important finding in her "Hite Report on Male Sexuality." She discovered that most modern men date and marry women based on compatibility rather than attraction. Thus, 94 percent of male college graduates will only date and marry women with a college degree. The trend extends to women as well. Ninety-three percent of women will not date or marry a guy who earns less money than them. (That's why it took a heck of a lot of persuasion to get my wife to agree to marry a rabbi.)

But who are these modern men and women kidding? Is the fact that you both love action-and-adventure flicks sufficient grounds for marriage? Are your similar tastes in music going to keep you from killing each other once you have to share an apartment? Will your common love for Tabasco sauce create the passion that will keep you from boring each other to distraction? And will the fact that you both voted Republican in the last election dissuade you from cheating on each other, even if you're not of the same party as Bill Clinton?

 

One of my students who was an inveterate womanizer called me from Peru to tell me that he had finally met the woman of his dreams. "That's it," he told me. "I'm going to be an honest man. I'm finally going to get married." When I asked him how he knew, he answered, "Well, you know how much I love riding horses? Well, this woman I met, she just loves it too." When I told him that sharing a passion for sitting on the ass of a horse does not make a marriage, he remained unconvinced.

I believe that all this modern emphasis on compatibility is designed to compensate for the dwindling attraction between the sexes. Men and women today are so overexposed to each other that all mystery has been lost. Guys and girls are no longer as curious about each other, as nature designed them to be.

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