When I wrote my response to Owen Strachan's piece on compatibility I argued that compatibility in marriage is a thing, and it’s an important thing. In response to that article I got some great feedback (thank you to everyone who commented!), including a couple of ideas that I would like to consider.
One idea that came up a few times is that compatibility is a nice thing, but it’s a dangerous notion. If you tell people that compatibility is a good thing, it is far too easy for them to become obsessed with the idea of perfect compatibility, which of course is impossible. Their life will be spent in a futile quest to find a soulmate, or if they marry someone who they think is their soulmate, they will divorce them as soon as they realize that they have been duped.
I agree that looking for a soulmate, defined as the one, single person who is your perfect match, who will complete you, who will make you happy, who will never fight with you, who will fulfill your every wish, and who is one hundred percent compatible with you in every way, is a very bad idea. Perfect compatibility doesn’t exist, because we are all sinners, and we are all individuals, with different needs and preferences and upbringings and everything. No one is going to click with you perfectly all the time. It would actually be really creepy if they did. If you meet someone like that, you probably aren’t in a fairy tale, you are more likely in some kind of horror movie. Don’t walk into any dark, scary places.
All that to say, I agree that encouraging people to find their one and only soulmate is a bad plan. But I don’t think that encouraging people to marry someone with whom they are basically compatible inexorably leads to soulmate hunting. The reason people think it does is because they believe in a compatibility slippery slope (a fancy term I just made up). Allow me to explain.
Some people believe that you can value compatibility with your spouse a little bit (at the top of the slope) but then you can eventually you can value it TOO MUCH and be a soulmate hunter (the bottom of the slope).
According to their thinking, once you start telling people compatibility is a good thing, they will slip right on down this greased slide and will be satisfied with nothing less than a Prince Charming/Mr. Darcy/Jim-from-the-Office/Channing Tatum/Ryan Gosling (although honestly I do not really see the appeal of Ryan Gosling). Or Scarlett Johanssen/Emma Watson/Jennifer Lawrence or whomever is the ideal composite female (although soulmate hunting is a stereotypically female problem, I’ve known more guys who suffer from it than girls. In my experience girls are far more likely to settle).
Once the victims have slipped down the slope, they will either never get married, or they will go into marriage with impossible expectations that will lead to its inevitable demise.
The fear is that this slippery slope is just so darn slippery that it’s best to stay away from it altogether. It seems that this was Owen Strachan’s basic concern, and he encouraged everyone to stay off the compatibility slide and stick to the safer end of the playground, where you can find the gender role sandbox. If you should happen to find some compatibility in the sandbox, that's cool, just don’t worry about it and everything will be fine.
But that isn’t how the compatibility slippery slope works at all. The compatibility slippery slope doesn’t even really exist. It’s more like drinking alcohol and alcohol abuse. You could say that there is an alcohol slippery slope, with people drinking a little bit at the top and people becoming raging alcoholics at the bottom. If you tell people that alcohol is a good thing, they will get on that slope and then slip off the edge into drunken abandon. Far better to keep them off the alcohol slide and stick to the grape juice sandbox.
But of course that is not the right way to think about alcoholism. Alcohol, properly handled, IS a good thing. It’s a great thing! It is certainly possible to abuse it, and the abuse can lead to some horrific consequences, but that doesn’t mean that alcohol is inherently bad. Just like alcohol, compatibility is a great thing when properly handled, but it can be abused. Acknowledging that it’s good doesn’t inevitably lead to people abusing it.
So how do you properly handle compatibility? When you’re looking for a spouse, know that you are both imperfect sinners, and no other person will ever fully complete you. Realize that you have some less-than-perfect features, so your spouse is bound to have some less-than-perfect features as well. You will argue. They will do things that annoy you. You will do things that annoy them.
Know that, and then look for someone who you really enjoy. Someone who makes you laugh. Who agrees with you on important issues. Who sacrifices for you. Whom you find attractive (this is the only/last person you get to have sex with. Make it count). Whom you love hanging out with. Whom you can productively argue with. Who believes in your dreams. Who loves you for who you really are.
Finding a person like that isn’t going to eliminate all conflict or make everything perfect. But in my experience it makes for a pretty great marriage.
Another way to properly handle compatibility is to know that once you’re married, your commitment is not based on how compatible you are or remain. It’s based on the fact that you made vows to one another. I’ll be writing more about this next week, but for now suffice to say that you can abuse compatibility by making it the foundation of your marriage, such that if you feel the compatibility is lessening the marriage is destroyed. Compatibility is a great thing, and I wouldn’t recommend going into marriage without it, but even so it cannot be the foundation (Strachan is right about that).
So the idea of compatibility is not so dangerous after all. It’s a great thing that God created. As long as you properly handle it, it’s very helpful. Enjoy it!