Do Opposites Really Attract?

The old trope falls short of reality

Wikimedia Commons | Photo Courtesy
Are we attracted to those who act just like us?

As a society, most kids in the United States are raised idolizing couples whose differences are what inevitably tie them together. We had Belle and her Beast, Rapunzel and Eugene, even Wall-E and Eve, which showed us even robots have their differences.

We fantasize about the idea of finding someone different from us in the hopes that we find someone who is right for us. There are those stereotypes of good girls being attracted to bad boys, geeks to jocks or the everyday civilian finding love with the ultra-famous.

It seems the old trope of “opposites attract” has more stout in movies, television, and our imaginations than it does in successful relationships. So why do we continue to look for romantic partners so different than ourselves?

Everyday people talk about celebrity attraction, finding people on Tinder so different from themselves or cravings to talk to their crush on campus, even when that crush runs in completely different circles. All the while we discuss relationship problems with friends that often stem from differences of opinion with our romantic partners.

It seems the old trope of “opposites attract” has more stout in movies, television and our imaginations than it does in successful relationships. So why do we continue to look for romantic partners so different than ourselves?

Looking at a few examples from the media, we can see reasons why we should have reservations about looking for opposites in partners.

Belle from “Beauty and the Beast,” seems to be a prime example of Stolkholm syndrome, rather than a lovestruck heroine we should try to live up to. She falls in love with her captor, only after he is abusive, both through violence and verbal taunts. We are meant to see his animal-like nature as brutish and cute, rather than immature and dangerous.

Another great example comes from Taylor Swift’s music video that plagued many late 1990s and early 2000s childhood. In the video for “You Belong with Me,” a geeky Swift slowly wins over the heart of her handsome and popular boyfriend only after she shows up to prom looking like the regular Taylor Swift her fans had come to know and love.

Not only does this send some mixed messages about ways in which young girls should get guys to notice them (put on some makeup, lose the glasses and the marching band uniform), but it also promises that the people who are opposite to us and maybe initially unkind will slowly warm up to us over time.

We see this perpetuated in the ways that we tell young girls who get picked on by boys, “Oh that just means he has a crush on you.” If we meet someone who shares opposite personality traits or is initially indifferent, that difference of opinion could eventually transform into lust.

While we see individuals in the media with opposite personalities fighting and bickering, then eventually ending up in a lustful kiss, the reality is rarely ever so dramatic. More than likely, we will never really get close to people who are opposite from us. And if we do, chances are high that we will never feel a romantic connection due to the things we don’t have in common.

Looking at the interactions college students have on a daily basis, we are much more likely to find and meet up with people similar to us. It’s nice to imagine a love story between a member of the Gold Star Marching Band and a member of the football team, attending games together and falling in love. 

However, it’s much more likely that two football players or two marching band members fall in love; they have similar interests, spend more time together and understand exactly what it takes to do well at both.

Most of us don’t go out of our way to spend time with people that aren’t different from us. The College Democrats and College Republicans aren’t throwing mixers to get to know each other better. We don’t cheer on the UND student section to better understand their hopes and aspirations.

Looking at any group of friends here at NDSU, it’s likely that they share similar backgrounds, have similar drives for success or have similar political and religious leanings. Mainly, there is always something strong binding them together rather than a series of factors working to drive them apart.

The same can be said for romantic partners. Stable relationships often seem to be built on shared interests, morals and goals. People aren’t interested in building a life with someone who wants completely different things. On top of that, most divorces aren’t founded in liking the same things, they’re founded on hating the things the other likes.

Upon talking to several people, very few could think of an example in their lives of a real-life couple they knew who were polar opposites. One person said, “My aunt and uncle are completely different!” Here’s the problem though, when I asked if the couple was happy they answered, “Well their marriage problems led to my uncle becoming an alcoholic.”

Sure opposites may attract, we may draw to the celebrities, the bad boys, the people whose actions are foreign and interesting to us, but few happy relationships can withstand based on immediate attraction alone.

Psychology seems to confirm the theory that we end up attracted to people that are similar to us in background, interests and religion. Donn Byrne, a psychologist, found that humans are twice as likely to be attracted to someone when we agree on six out of 10 basic issues rather than when they agree on only three out of 10.

Simply having slightly more in common with someone can double our ability to be attracted to them. 

Just taking a look at our own lives, we can see that the phrase “opposites attract” often does not hold up in the long run. Do happy couples in your life share the same religion, political beliefs or upbringing?

While the answers to these questions might not always be yes, because we, of course, can all think of exceptions to this rule; we wouldn’t have an intercultural marriage without it, but for most of us, we are going to end up with someone not too unlike ourselves. 

Taylor Swift’s video would have been a lot more accurate if she’d ended up with another band “geek,” and quite honestly, she would likely have been happier for it.

Leave a Reply