Complementary Relationships

“We never-ever argue, we never calculate

The currency we’ve spent

I love you, you pay my rent”

Pet Shop Boys


 by Bill Chapman

Within the limitless array of personal relationships there are nonetheless conspicuous patterns. Some of the more provocative are those embracing a seeming disparity between the two persons, everything from a mere inconsistency, imbalance or variance to egregious divergence, dissimilarity and contrast. Take for example the consortium of a retiring intellect with a convivial bombshell, never an impossible union but one which traditionally inspires an uplifting of the brow and less than seemly innuendo about hidden talent. Then there are the differences promoted solely by physical dissimilarities, say along the lines of the English nursery rhyme of Jack Spratt and his morbidly obese wife. Others constitute mere gaps of age. Equally common is the gulf that exists between people of distinct social backgrounds, George Bernard Shaw’s 1912 play Pygmalion being a popular example (involving phonetics Professor Henry Higgins and the bedraggled Cockney flower girl Eliza Doolittle).

Whatever the contrast between the parties and howsoever wide the apparent chasm between them there is invariably an underlying theme which is more than unconcealed love. I won’t go so far as to suggest the inspiration is calculating but at least pragmatic and symbiotic. As quick as we are to condemn certain cultures for their conventions of arranged marriages, the reality is that many of our own personal alliances are founded on a good deal of planning or “mutuality” typically to the advantage of both. There is however an even larger and more prevalent realm of relationships which, while practical from a working point of view, has nothing whatever to do with vulgar pecuniary matters. Instead the operative word is complementary; namely, combining in such a way as to enhance or emphasize the qualities of each. Inevitably the scheme comprehends not only harmony but also reciprocity. It is also important that the parties are interdependent much to the disappointment of those wound up by the modern rage to remain one’s own island. Certainly there is a selfish element to the arrangement; specifically that people seek others with characteristics that are different from and complement their own. On a higher philosophical level, it is the Yin and Yang concept. The important derivation is this:

“Yin contains the seed of Yang and vice versa. They constantly transform into each other.”

This heady intellectualism however is soon jettisoned when the bond enters the sphere of what is disparagingly called “gold digging”. Then the boxing gloves come off and there usually follows some pretty round conversation. Before being quick to judge I have to ask whether the arrangement was worth the price of admission; and further who it is that is getting the better deal? As popular as it is to observe that whoever marries for money will earn every cent of it, this overlooks the more complicated aspect of the confederacy wrought by the exercise of economic power and the need of the exponent to satisfy the urge.

No matter how one characterizes or explains the foundation of a personal relationship in the end the relationships which persist for longer than a weekend are more likely than not driven by elemental components having the primitive and inescapable force of nature. As with any puzzle the pieces must fit and this can entail some fairly distorted combinations. There is for good or bad room for experimentation. Clearly things do not always work out as one had hoped. As we reassess our own needs the formulation of the perfect partner can assume unusual and unintended results but whatever the repercussion it is assured that the model is complementary. Making music is not about discord but harmony. If a relationship is to be a continuous narrative it must at least be parallel if not perfect. While the need to rationalize the relationship is more apparent when the parties are seemingly incongruous, this does not mean that any relationship is less complex and more easily defined than another. To work, the relationship must be complementary.