It goes down as one of the most humiliating moments of my life. Here I was, a graduate student at Yale University, the school I’d dreamt of attending since childhood. But instead of making my way through the charming coffee shops of downtown New Haven or reading Thomas Aquinas in a musty library with stained glass windows, I found myself weeping in my professor’s office. I needed an extension, I admitted through downturned teary eyes, because my boyfriend and I were arguing too much. It also goes down as one of the most merciful moments of my life. My professor kindly responded, “One needn’t know the two of you very well to know how opposite you are.”
I did manage to get that extension, but my professor provided me with something even more comforting: recognition and compassion for my situation. My deep-felt shame for having continual, intense conflicts with my boyfriend suddenly lifted because even this person who barely knew us could see how different we were, yet how hard we were trying to make it work.
Our differences are marked, if somewhat stereotypically gendered. I’m sensitive, introspective, and emotive, whereas James focuses on his external surroundings instead of his internal world. He’s more oriented toward reason than feelings. There were multiple incidents when I would initiate an emotionally significant conversation to connect with him on a deeper, heart-to-heart level, and he would suddenly interrupt to tell me about something going on in the background, or laugh because something I said reminded him of a movie he saw 15 years ago.
I’m an early bird; he’s a night owl. I’m a first-generation Korean American from the West Coast; he’s a white guy from the East Coast who doesn’t even know how many generations of his family have been in the United States. I tend to always say yes to people, which has gotten me into trouble; he tends to always say no to people, which has gotten him into trouble. Our inherent differences led to many conflicts, misunderstandings, and disappointments, but our magnetic pull toward one another never dulled.