We met each other at work. He was a longtime salesman, and I had just started working as a recruitment coordinator on the same floor. I liked him from the very first moment. He was humorous, sociable, and self-confident. After two weeks and several lunch breaks together, he asked me to go out with him.
A month later we were officially a couple. We were in love. It was a perfect match. We came from similar backgrounds, we could read each other’s body language, and we had good chemistry. Everything was going smoothly. After six months I moved in with him. We both thought it would lead to marriage. Our family and friends were all in favor, but we preferred to wait until we were ready.
After a year and a half I was no longer so sure. I loved him, but I didn’t feel as close to him as in the beginning. It seemed that as time passed, we were growing further and further apart. We went to counseling, we tried hard, but our relationship got into a rut, and the distance between us was greater than ever.
One summer night I went to a Buddhist service at a private home. The Japanese family that performed it had emigrated from Osaka, Japan, more than twenty years ago. They had turned their living room into a temple with an impressive statue of Buddha in a wooden armoire and their back yard into a Zen garden with myriad bits of gravel meticulously arranged. There were five guests that night. After the service we sipped green tea and asked the monks questions. I wanted to know about Buddhist relationships.
The youngest monk told us he had met his wife through matchmaking. She came from a well-to-do Japanese family, and he had just got his pharmacy degree and was about to join his family’s pharmacy in Japan.
They got married two months after their first encounter. He said they argued for hours on their wedding night. They couldn’t agree on anything.
“How could you get married after two months?”
“We trusted our matchmaker who knew us both,” replied the monk.
“Did you have sex before the wedding?” I asked prudently.
“Not full sex. We knew we’d soon be married, so it didn’t matter.”
“It sounds a little old-fashioned,” I said hesitatingly.
“Maybe,” he said. “But we’ve been together for 14 years, and we only grow closer as time goes by.”
“What makes you marriage work?” I was genuinely curious.
“We made a commitment. Each of us fulfills his role in the family, and our relationship works.”
One year into their marriage they had a daughter, and four years later a son.
“Are you happy together?” I insisted.
“We have a strong bond. Our love has grown over time, and we are now closer than ever.”
That conversation uplifted my spirit. I realized that a good, healthy, lasting relationship could develop even if the partners were clearly different from each other. Until then I couldn’t imagine being with someone I didn’t feel very close to. I overlooked men who might have made wonderful partners.
My co-worker and I decided to break up after two years together. I think our relationship was a form of self-love: we loved each other because we saw ourselves reflected in each other. It’s easy to fall in love with someone who is similar to you. You don’t have to make a special effort to understand or accept them.
Equipped with this insight, I’m now willing to be in a relationship with someone who comes from a different background from mine.