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Opposites Do Attract: Lessons I've Learned From My Parents' Happy Marriage

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PARENTS
Courtesy of Nina Friend

My parents are opposites.

My dad is a thinker. His business mind and cunning entrepreneurial instincts make him judicious and diplomatic.

My mom is a creator. Her ingenuity and artistic flair -- both in her business, which she started at 16, and in her life, as she wears too many hats for one person yet manages to pull them each off with generosity and poise -- form a vibrant, dynamic person who puts everyone before herself.

My dad plans ahead and my mom is spontaneous. My dad likes sunny days and my mom loves rainy ones. My dad is reserved, my mom spews the f-word every other sentence. My dad loves an ice-cold Heineken, my mom doesn't drink. My dad's cookie of choice is small and crisp, my mom's is soft and chewy.

It is these conflicting qualities that I believe are the key to my parents' happy marriage. Throughout the past 22 years, my parents' differences have woven together to form a tower of compatibility that manifests itself as a strong and indestructible team, which is a testament not only to their contrasting personalities, but also to their commitment to openness.

My parents don't hide anything. The good side of this is that my brothers and I are able to always see the true colors of their relationship... The bad side of this is that my brothers and I are always able to see the true colors of their relationship. We've heard them swear at each other. We've watched them fight. And yet we've seen them kiss for no apparent reason (which often gives the three of us a reason to cover our eyes).

Growing up with parents who aren't afraid to be themselves around each other has shown me how necessary it is to feel comfortable around your spouse or partner. It's shown me that trust follows honesty, and honesty is only possible if both parties work for it. It's shown me that admitting when you're wrong, and forgiving people for their mistakes, is crucial to a healthy relationship.

Openness doesn't stop with their marriage; my parents raised my two brothers and me on this same foundation.

Every night as we sit around the dinner table, we offer up the best and worst parts of our days (a ritual called "high/low"), discuss issues plaguing our school and the world, and help each other work through our own personal dilemmas, with friends, with coworkers, with life. This consistent sharing of information makes our willingness to talk to each other effortless and our ability to trust each other inherent.

My mom recently sent me a quote from baker Dan Lepard's cook book, Baking With Passion, that seems not only to be a recipe for superior desserts, but also, strangely enough, for a healthy marriage.

Lepard writes, "Good ingredients are the foundation for excellent pastry making. Take the finest you can find -- the butter from your table, good dark chocolate, the cream you would serve with the ripest strawberries -- and search for the right flour, soft and unbleached. Never, ever economize on flour (one of the least expensive ingredients you will use) as its quality will enhance the flavor of everything you mix with it... Pastry making is a skill that really does improve with repetition. You learn about getting it perfect by doing it over and over. Enjoy your work. Allow it to become a pleasure, and it will soon feel effortless."

Lepard's words are reminiscent of my parents' recipe for marital success, which requires several cups of communication mixed with heaps of commitment, lots of love, teaspoons of reliability and countless sprinkles of kindness and fun.

Yet these raw ingredients won't alone make for a happy marriage; couples have to mix and try and taste over and over again until they find the right combination.

Of course, it's true that some people just have better luck. How do you know when you're 25 that the person you're in love with will be the right person for you to spend your life with? I guess the short answer is you don't. My parents got lucky, but they work hard to maintain that gift. They've taught me that at the end of the day, the way a marriage or family looks to the outside world means nothing; it's about what goes on behind closed doors. Nothing is perfect. And everything, from baking a cake to building a career, from maintaining a marriage to starting a family, takes work.