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Compartmentalized Relationships

Did you hear the story about the Bosnian couple who met online — only to be repulsed when they met in person?  It wasn’t that they found each other unattractive. Apparently they were attracted enough to marry each other at one point.  But they were looking for someone else when they each went online under fake names and had an “affair” with each other — each complaining about their miserable marriage and thinking they had finally found their soul mate.

Realizing they had only found the person who had disappointed them in marriage, they decided to get a divorce — claiming marital unfaithfulness.

There’s a lot you could say about this story, but here’s the question I’m perplexed by:  How can a man simultaneously show love and disdain to the same woman — and vice versa?

Consider what the couple was quoted saying about each other:

I thought I had found the love of my life. The way this Prince of Joy spoke to me, the things he wrote, the tenderness in every expression was something I had never had in my marriage.

To be honest I still find it hard to believe that the person, Sweetie, who wrote such wonderful things to me on the Internet, is actually the same woman I married and who has not said a nice word to me for years.

This story reminded me of one the writer Ethan Watters told in his book Urban Tribes. He described how strange it was to have a woman find him to be a good confidant in which to share a story about some jerk who offended a friend of a friend of a friend of hers. He found it strange that he could be simultaneously perceived as a confidant to this woman and also be that jerk she was describing.

I suspect it takes a lot of compartmentalization of our thoughts and words to pull off these kinds of tricks. While you may not have seen any examples quite this dramatic, have you seen compartmentalization in relationships where someone can come across substantially different based on the setting? What do you think causes that?

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