The Opposite Attraction

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Story by Rita Goldman  |  Illustration by Guy Junker

opposite-attractionWhen Ira Levin’s book Rosemary’s Baby came out in 1967, I was captivated by the fact that the Antichrist was born on June 25th, six months to the day from Christmas. The brilliant simplicity of Levin’s logic impressed me: one’s antithesis would be born when the Earth was in the opposite part of its orbit around the sun.

This led, inevitably, to wondering who my opposite was. Six months from my birthday is February 2nd.

Groundhog’s Day.

By Levin’s logic, I am the Anti-Groundhog.

There wasn’t a lot I could do with that knowledge. If I saw my shadow on August 2nd, we’d have six more weeks of summer? I live in Hawai‘i; we have summer all year long. But the concept did inspire a memorable “Come as Your Opposite” party. I gave friends a month to decide what their opposite would be, and to show up in appropriate costume. I, of course, made a groundhog suit, but that was just timing. My divorced friend Ann wore her wedding dress. A closeted gay friend showed up in flamboyant attire. Goldie, a Greek interpretation of the quintessential Jewish mother, arrived at my doorstep á la Marlon Brando in The Wild One.

My favorite was the chubby girlfriend who came as the Thin Man, a William Powell mustache penciled on her upper lip, a Dashiell Hammett novel tucked under one arm, a toy dog Asta under the other. My least favorite was the droll and irreverent history buff I had counted on to be the life of the party. He showed up as Calvin Coolidge, sat in the corner, and didn’t say a word all night.

The interesting thing about that party was how much their opposite personas said about the way my friends perceived themselves. Having to think about what their opposite might be made them focus on what they found important in their lives, even if others disagreed. (Silent Cal’s date showed up as a hooker; he thought she should have been a nun.)

The other thing I remember, after all these years, is how much fun we had playing our opposites, if only for a night.

I thought about that party a number of times in the waning months of 2010, shaking my head at the negative campaign ads on TV, listening to people complain of a do-nothing Congress, while telling their candidates not to compromise with the other side. I don’t know much about governing, but it seems to me that we’ve got some pretty big problems ahead of us, and that the way to solve them is to work together, regardless of party.

A year ago, I wrote to Nancy Pelosi, then-speaker of the House of Representatives, to suggest a way to overcome the difficulty of reaching across the aisle. Get rid of it, I told her. Have everyone sit alphabetically, the way we did in grade school. We didn’t always get to sit with our friends, but being mixed up together made us to learn to get along with all kinds of people—or at least behave in class.

I never heard back from Speaker Pelosi. I’d like to think she’s sorry now she didn’t take my suggestion; maybe it would have helped. But I don’t think it’s too late. If we can come to the party, not just seeing our differences, but being willing to look beyond them, there’s no limit to what we can accomplish.

And you never know—being willing to consider the opposite might just teach you a thing or two about yourself.

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