Why Grease Stinks: The Bad Solution to the "Opposites Attract" Motif (with Some Suggested Good Solutions)

The Problem

Many romances deal with a hero and heroine who seemingly have nothing in common. It's a popular motif and one reason the film versions of Pride & Prejudice do so well.

Modern Elizabeth and Darcy
I have written elsewhere about why I believe Darcy and Elizabeth actually have more in common than they appear to have at first glance. Although Darcy is an introvert and Elizabeth is an extrovert, they share a similar worldview plus mutual respect. The same is true of Bones and Booth who share a similar view of the world despite their supposedly subjective/gut versus objective/scientific dichotomy.

Still, I have to admit, I enjoy the supposed "opposite" romance. What I dislike is when the "opposite" romance is solved by having the hero or heroine cave

This is the end of Grease, and it's the sort of thing that brings out my feminist side. (To be fair, Danny also  changes who he is, the slight difference being that Danny only has to endure ridicule; Sandy alters her entire personality.) This is love? Pretend to be someone else, and you too can get your guy/gal?! 

Oh, puh-leaze.

However, now that I've expressed my displeasure, I will admit: from a writer's point of view, solving the "opposites attract" motif is difficult, especially since--reality-wise--many successful marriages are actually the result of "similarities attract." Successful couples do things together, talk together, solve problems together. It's kind of hard to do this if one member has zero interest in the other member's activity, discussion, solution, etc.

This doesn't mean the couple has to be entirely similar. I think Niles-Daphne's relationship on Frasier, despite it's intense romanticism, is surprisingly believable. Daphne is such a wonderful person, it isn't hard for the viewer to believe that she ought to be swept off her feet by a total romantic like Niles. And Niles is so sweet, it isn't hard to see how he could win Daphne's heart. Although they like different activities, they discover enough common interests to sustain the relationship. And they have a similar way of dealing with people and problems.

And I think a solution to the "opposites attract" problem is possible (see below), but it has to be done with full knowledge of what it means to keep the hero and heroine's "selves" intact. I recently wrote a semi-negative review on Amazon in which I stated the following:
One aspect of the author's writing I admire is bringing the hero and heroine together without either one being forced to sacrifice their integrity or point of view--instead of the hero and heroine trying to make themselves into what they think the other person wants, each stays him or herself. Unfortunately, [the book under review] does not provide this type of ending. It is extremely difficult for me to believe that the main male character would make the choices that he does at the end of this novel. (In the interests of keeping readers aware, the reviewed book is fantasy/erotica.)
The book was truly disappointing since the ending revealed a complete lack of understanding of how a philosophical or religious conviction can utterly define a person's mindset. (Showalter does better with more "worldly" protagonists.) Such mindsets aren't just given up or shrugged off. Although I have no doubt that Mr. B could survive in the modern world (human beings are amazingly adaptable), he would survive in it as himself, not as some politically-correct twinkie.

Love just doesn't kill a person's basic personality or perspective.

Possible Solutions 

There is the "each side sacrifices something" solution--as in O'Henry's "Gift of the Magi" short story. But sometimes, one side shouldn't sacrifice. There's a Friends episode where Monica finds out that Chandler is extremely well-off (he's a hoarder!) and could pay for the wedding of her dreams. Chandler is at first reluctant--he wants to save the money for a house/kids/etc.--but does eventually cave. Fortunately, Monica decides he was right. Me, I don't think he should have caved in the first place!

Another solution is to create an old-fashioned romance: you have my life/I have mine/we have things or people or kids in common, and that's enough! A number of Shojo manga and older romances (from the 80's) use this approach. It isn't a terribly popular solution these days. But it does have its strong points in that it avoids the tiresome "you must be all things to me everyday" demand.

My personal favorite solution is friendship. In the Agatha Christie novel Murder is Easy, the detective Luke and possible murderess Bridget experience instant attraction. The relationship is stormy and conflicted despite their mutual desire to solve the case. At the end of the novel, Christie has this wonderful scene:
"Luke, do you like me now?"
He made a movement toward her, but she warded him off.
"I said 'like', Luke; not 'love.'"
"Oh, I see. Yes, I do. I like you, Bridget, as well as loving you."
Bridget said, "I like you, Luke."
They smiled at each other a little timidly, like children who have made friends at a party.
Bridget said, "Liking is more important than loving. It lasts. I want what is between us to last, Luke. I don't want us just to love each other and marry and get tired of each other, and then want to marry someone else."
"Oh, my dear love, I know. You want reality."
I love this passage, especially since Christie knew what she was talking about from her own experience! She was enormously attracted to her first husband, and they got along when they were younger, but they weren't friends like she was with Max Mallowan, her second husband.

Friendship can solve the problem of "opposites attract" because it is through friendship that the relationship can discover those hidden similarities. Sure, this kind of thing can happen over time, but, returning to the issue of writing, most novels are bound by a narrow structure; lots of things have to happen within either a short amount of time or a limited amount of pages. Friendship can bring the characters together. Most of my favorite books, television shows, movies focus on the dialog between the hero and heroine since it is through the dialog that we learn about how the couple interacts.

The romantic friendship winner this week: Mulder & Scully. I guess I really like that subjective/gut versus objective/scientific combo!

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