Birds of a Feather or Different Strokes?

July 16, 2007

I remember in College Psychology class we were examining romantic relationships and talking about whether or not couples tended to be attracted to people who were similar to each other or to people who complemented them.

I don’t remember all the details, but I remember the outcome: most couples tend to pair up because they are similar.

I guess that’s not surprising, really.

I’m dating an anthropologist right now who has done some work in gender studies, and apparently gay couples tend to pair up in a more complementary fashion, pairing because they can learn something from the other.

I thought that was fascinating.

As I’ve discussed here repeatedly using James Fowler’s work, I truly believe that some people find it very useful and reassuring to be a part of a group that mirror their own experiences, beliefs, and values.  I don’t even doubt that such an experience is useful to them in their faith development.  The problem is that the uniformity of that kind of peer-based reassurance, so necessary for some, is smothering and unhelpful for others.

Some of us find great value in living, working, and worshipping with those who are different from ourselves, growing in faith through exposure to new ideas, perspectives, and ways of thinking that are only available in communities that are highly diverse.  Just like the story of the blind men and the elephant, we can only come up with a fuller picture of the truth by comparing notes of our experiences.

How interesting it is that more GLBT couples pair up with someone who can show them a different perspective, while striaght couples pair up with someone who has a “different view of the elephant” while straight couples tend to pair up with someone who has the “same view of the elephant” (of course there are exceptions to all rules).  I wonder if it is because growing up we have had to learn that the rules society gives us — namely that we should fall in love with the opposite sex — is only one perspective, and that there are other perspectives as well.  That pluralistic viewpoint has been ingrained in us to allow us to understand early on that what appears from one vantage point to be “absolute” becomes fuzzy and clouded when viewed from another perspective.  Perhaps many of us learn early on the value of getting multiple perspectives in order to try and triangulate a clearer picture of just what that elephant “really looks like.”

Unfortunately, I don’t know what to do when one part insists that they have touched the tusk and so elephants must be pointy and sharp, despite others’ experience with tails, feet, backs, and trunks.  Worsening things, when the “tusk people” get value out of rallying other “tusk people” around them to convince themselves that the elephant consists only of the tusk, and decide that all other experiences of the elephant must be purged or ruled invalid, it is difficult to stay in relationship.

But I think that’s what we’re called to do.  To stay, and hold on to the trunk, or the ear, or whatever part we’ve got, and do our best to keep talking and figure out just what this animal looks like.

So when the pope says that our churchs aren’t even attached to this “elephant”, or African bishops say that they can’t talk to us about the shape of what they have felt, or retired bishops get uppity about the cost of litigation, or whatever, all we can do is keep breathing.  And look for somebody else who wants to learn about our part as much as we want to learn about theirs.  And God will worry about the “tusk people.”

Inspired by this post at Fr. Jakes.



One Response to “Birds of a Feather or Different Strokes?”

  1. NancyP Says:

    Maybe also has something to do with numerical scarcity of gays vs rest-of-population? The field of possible romantic partners may not be very large in a given locale, so you look for general values in people who might otherwise be overlooked.

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