Three of the four people I’ve most recently dated have been, more or less, my exact opposite. Where I’m bubbly, they exude subdued confidence. Where I love the hustle, they live for the weekend. Where I get excited for a night of Netflix and chill, they prefer the bar with friends. It seems pretty obvious, based on my pattern, that I agree with what 80 percent of people think: opposites attract. But why is that? To compensate for qualities we subconsciously feel we lack? To push our boundaries? Because we don’t really like who we are? And, like, should opposites attract? Because my track record of 100 percent of relationships having ultimately ended doesn’t lead me to think so.
According to experts, a lot of the attraction has to do with having a healthy sense of curiosity. “Difference is compelling,” says relationship therapist Shadeen Francis, LMFT. “People who make us feel curious are the ones who hold our attention. It makes us want to get to know them, understand them.” In fact, the newness of the qualities can even skew lust-worthy. “It’s easy to eroticize things we are not, or not ready to be right now,” says integrative holistic psychotherapist Rebecca Hendrix, LMFT.
Being able to decipher traits you find intriguing simply because they’re different than your own from ones you desire in a partner is crucial.
The attraction could also be emotionally-driven, stemming from the belief that the other person’s complementary features could level you out, or even complete you in a sense. For instance, a person who is detail-oriented may feel stabilized by a person who is a big-picture thinker; a shy person may feel balanced by someone who can work a room. “If you bring your individual ‘opposite’ traits to the relationship and can work as a team, this can create a balance,” says Francis.
But the synergy really only works if you’re on the same team and very much aware of that. “Opposites dating each other only works if you have shared goals, respect each other’s strengths, and communicate clearly about what you need,” Francis says. Otherwise, you put yourself at risk for trying to change your partner when the differences aren’t convenient, rather than honoring the unique perspective they bring to the table. And that, right there, is a hotbed for disaster and a good sign you’re not right for each other.
It’s also why being able to decipher traits you find intriguing simply because they’re different than your own from ones you desire in a partner is crucial. For instance, as someone who loves routine and hates to fly, I find travel to be totally anxiety-inducing. Yet, I’m often drawn to risk-taking, Amelia Earhart-types who have a passport full of stamps. Sure, their sense of adventure intrigues me, but ultimately, my homebody tendencies aren’t compatible with their drive to explore. Examples like this are exactly why Francis compares the whole concept of opposites attracting to the difference between a spark and slow burn. “Opposites attract but don’t burn long because while it may be fun and hot exploring what can feel like another world, its is more likely to be a temporary romance rather than a long-lasting love,” she says.
That said, being too similar to your partner isn’t necessarily the goal either. “Not only can it get very boring—some people say it can feel like dating themselves—but you both might also get stuck in similar ways,” says Francis.
There is a benefit in having a partner who adds novelty or excitement into your life so things don’t get too samey, though. “If you like the same music, the same food, the same tv shows, the same way of having sex, there is a chance you could miss out on some exciting growth,” says Hendrix.
But before you go into a full-blown panic attack about needing to find your perfectly measured Goldilocks for love, there’s good news: most traits exist on a spectrum. “Rather than being exact opposites, there may just be a big gap between your point of view and theirs,” says Francis. The bigger the gap, the more negotiating and communicating the relationship will require—which isn’t necessarily the kiss of relationship death either, BTW. “You probably don’t want to be opposites in regards to big things like having kids or political views, as differences in these are usually nonnegotiable deal-breakers. But there are differences that communication and negotiation can fix,” she adds.
Ultimately though, no matter where your partner falls on the similar-opposite continuum of attraction, experts agree it’s most important that you can communicate with them—often and about everything.
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