Woman with a rose
Illustration: David Pohl
"At first I thought Jack was just a rebound dater wanting to make a conquest," said Fiona over dinner with her girlfriends. "But he's called every day since our first date, and he's really sweet. He remembers my favorite song, he reads my blog—I think we really connected."

"Sounds like a dream come true," said Judith.

"On the other hand," Fiona countered, "he talks about his ex-girlfriend a lot, and he started hinting about sex five minutes after we met."

"Bad sign," Kathleen said. "Don't let the whole 'favorite song' thing fool you. He's just a player. He's thinking, 'Oh, yeah, I'm all that.'"

"What if both things are true?" This came from Deborah, who'd been listening silently in the corner. "Maybe he's a man-slut with a bruised ego trying to get someone in the sack, and he's a thoughtful person who really likes you."

The pregnant pause that followed could have given birth to triplets. When the conversation resumed, it was suddenly...deep. If the guy in question could be a combination of seemingly opposite traits, might not the same be true in other instances? Could Judith's recent job loss also be a stroke of great luck? Was Kathleen's workaholism both vaunting ambition and a humble desire to serve? And what about all those politicians and athletes—could they truly have the ideals of angels in their hearts and the morals of goats in their pants?

Uh...yes. Think of dilemmas like these as dual-emmas. Unlike standard-issue questions, dualistic dilemmas confuse people by leading to two apparently true but contradictory conclusions. Maybe you've found this in your own life: Perhaps your marriage is both wonderful and terrible, your job both wretched and stimulating, your worst habit both destructive and helpful. Reconciling these apparent brain-benders seems impossible, but if you understand the dynamics of dualism, you can transform bewildering dilemmas into sources of insight.

Next: What to do when you're faced with a dual-emma

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