It's okay to be different: Sumiko Tan

Do opposites attract? Or are you better off with a partner who is very similar to you?

He is a honker, I am a flasher, and never the twain shall meet.

No, I'm not being rude here.

What I mean is that when it comes to dealing with pesky motorists when we're driving, H honks whereas I flash our car's headlights.

It's a difference that irritates us both to no end. He says he honks because how else can he get the other driver's attention, which he must if the person is driving in a dangerous manner.

But honking is rude, I say. It's better to flash the headlights.

But the driver might not notice your flashing light, he argues. And in some situations you need the other driver to react fast or you'd get into an accident.

In any case, he adds, in Britain people flash their headlights for positive things - to signal that they are yielding the right way, or to thank another driver, or warn them of danger ahead.

Well, I say, you're no longer living in Britain. In Singapore, flashing is what you do to tell another driver off. And to show you are angry with him, which is what I mostly use it for.

Anyway, you better be careful. Honk at some Ah Beng in a souped-up car and he might just come out and punch you (and, for that matter, punch me, since I'd probably be in the car with you).

It's an argument we've had countless times, and it's reached the point where we've realised it's futile to raise it anymore.

So, when he honks or I flash, either one of us will just take a deep breath, look out the window and let the moment pass.

It's not the only area in which we clash. We've had quite a few exasperated moments in the supermarket too.

He never used to look at the "use by/best before/sell by" date of a product, whereas I won't buy anything unless I scrutinise that label first to make sure the deadline's a long way off.

After some urging, he now looks at these markings. So long as something hasn't hit the date, he'll buy it, even if it's just one day shy of the deadline.

It's still edible, he'll say. Even if it's a few weeks past the date, it's still safe to eat.

I'll say: Do you really want to eat something that was made in a factory one whole year ago, maybe two? You shouldn't buy something so close to the date.

It's on sale, he'll point out.

Exactly, I'll say. That's because it's no longer fresh and the supermarket needs to get rid of it because most people steer clear of products that are old.

I've since concluded that there's no point arguing about this too.

If we're buying something that everyone at home will eat, I will insist on my way. But if he's getting something for himself, I bite my tongue. It's his stomach, and he's a grown man.

Sometimes, though, I can't help but impose my will, like the other day when I threw away his facial wash, even though it wasn't half used.

I was shocked to find a manufacture date on it that said 9/2012, which meant it was two years old.

Yikes, I told him, you've got to get rid of it at once. Body products have a shelf life. Bacteria and water can get into them and you don't want an allergic reaction or something worse happening to your skin.

He insisted it was all right, that he didn't use much of it anyway, and it didn't smell bad or anything.

I held my tongue.

When he was at work, I threw it away.

He noticed it that night.

You threw away my cleanser didn't you, he asked.

Me? Why would I do that, I said. It's only two years old.

Luckily, he found it funny and we had a laugh over it.

There are other areas we're different and which have led to more haggling and eye-rolling on both our parts.

He's an optimist, I'm a pessimist.

He likes adventure-type holidays, I prefer lazy vacations where I can go shopping.

He takes forever to decide which dish to choose from a menu, only to then ask the waiter to recommend a dish. I almost always know what I want to eat even before I see the menu.

He can live with an unmade bed. I can't.

He reads the newspapers in bed and leaves them in a mess on the floor. I treat my Sunday Times with respect, making sure each page is perfectly aligned after I'm done, and I read only at the dining table.

Differences are par for the course in any marriage, and in the bigger scheme of things, ours are minor skirmishes.

But they do prove how it's difficult to find a person who sees eye to eye with you on everything. Then again, do you really want a mate who is exactly like you? Won't it be boring being married to your replica?

I suppose what's important is that even though you might have different personalities, tastes and habits, there must be enough common ground on things that really matter, like values.

We share the same attitude towards money, our families, the type of friends we have, animals, and how we want to live in our old age. In these areas we don't clash.

I guess what's also important is that you don't try and change a person into your image.

Firstly, it'll be a futile exercise as people don't change that easily.

Secondly, it shows a lack of respect for the person.

Thirdly, differences aren't that bad if you think about it. They can help you grow, experience new things and force you to leave your comfort zone.

I also ask myself: Just as I might want H to be more like me, am I also trying to be more like him to meet his needs?

Marriage counsellors say that if something really irks you about your spouse, it's best to raise it in a calm manner and to discuss it.

I did that when I explained to H that it bugs me when he reads the newspaper in bed because our sheets might get ink stains, and I like sleeping on a clean bed.

He seemed to get it, and has since stopped doing it.

He has also persuaded me to take our first "adventure" holiday in December, to go skiing, something I normally wouldn't do. But he explained that he wants me to experience something he finds thrilling. I want to make him happy, and so I'm keeping an open mind about it.

Still, some things won't change, I know.

He'll always be a honker and I'll always be a flasher.

But if either method keeps us safe on the roads, then who's complaining.

This article was first published on Sep 28, 2014.
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