Do Opposites Attract? The Psychological Explanation

According to conventional wisdom, opposites attract! This means we’re drawn to those who are dramatically different from ourselves. You may well have noticed this pattern in your own relationships, observed it in the partner choices made by your friends, or even felt it in your platonic relationships. Sometimes, there's an intense type of chemistry between people who seem superficially incompatible. And while there are benefits to being with someone who is similar to you, there's no denying that being with someone different can help you to grow in important ways.

However, when we explore the psychology behind attraction, does the evidence suggest that opposites do attract? Or, is this a mistaken assumption that we make about romance? We’ll look at some of the most powerful reasons why opposites attract in relationships (when they do). Then, we will delve into what science has to say about the underlying motivations that influence our attractions.

Why Opposites Attract In Relationships

Most people date a wide range of people in their lifetime, some of them for the short term and others for years. For the majority of individuals, at least some of these relationships are special and transformative, offering crucial life experience even if the partnership ultimately ends.

Often, when discussing dating history, people have particularly strong memories of times when they were with someone who seemed like their polar opposite. This often presents some significant challenges and may prove to be unsustainable over the longer term, but it can also be an emotionally rich, educational choice.

So, is it true that opposites attract in most cases? Here are five reasons to think they might, which also highlight some of the most exciting advantages of being with someone different. Regardless what science has to say about how the average case of attraction works, it seems like just about everyone should try dating their opposite at some point.

1. They Challenge Your Ideals

By the time we've reached adulthood, many of us have developed a core set of ideals that we no longer challenge. When we're with people who are similar to us, we don't tend to reflect on these basic beliefs, values, and expectations.

On the other hand, when we make a connection with someone who is our opposite, we are suddenly prompted to reexamine the things that we previously took for granted. If we value this individual's judgment and respect their intelligence, we naturally begin to question what we once simply assumed was true.

Of course, this clash of ideals can lead to conflict. In turn, this can make it difficult to decide how to live a shared life.

However, if you and your partner can push through this, you may emerge with more self-knowledge and an updated set of beliefs that actually better suits your present self. At the very least, you'll develop more empathy for other perspectives.

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2. You’ll Constantly Be Introduced To New Things

Once again, there are undeniable perks to spending time with people who are similar to you. You'll enjoy lots of the same things; it will be easy to plan time together; there will be a reduced need for compromise.

The downside is that you might just end up repeating the same habits and hobbies until a level of boredom and routine habits. This can stagnate growth and can make the relationship less stimulating as well.

In contrast, if you're paired up with your opposite, they'll always be introducing you to new activities and new ways of being. If you're open-minded and trusting, you can end up going to places you'd never otherwise have visited. You may even end up acquiring skills you may never have planned to develop.

Meanwhile, you can offer this to the other person too! You can enjoy the satisfaction of knowing that you're constantly broadening someone else's world.

3. They Always Have A Fresh Outlook

When you seek advice, it's likely that you often gravitate toward people who intuitively understand you. Consequently, many of these people will also be similar to you in basic ways. While they'll know what you want and be able to shift into your perspective very easily, they also can't offer you that much beyond your own thinking.

Seeking the advice of someone who differs from you affords you a chance to think completely differently. This is especially useful when you have exhausted all your usual strategies and solutions.

Having a polar opposite partner means direct access to someone who looks at your situation in an utterly new way, offering thoughts and ideas that simply wouldn't occur to you given the way you usually think. You can offer the same, which makes the two of you a formidable duo. Between your respective minds, there's very little that won't occur to you when you encounter a problem.

4. You Complement Each Other

When you think about whether opposites attract, couples who complement each other may quickly come to mind. The potential for complementary traits is another major advantage of dating someone who seems like your opposite.

It can help you to create a wonderful sense of balance, compensating for each other's weak spots and highlighting what you both bring to the relationship. For example, you might be extremely polite, and your partner might have difficulty holding their tongue. Between you, you'll likely figure out how much to complain about when some kind of injustice is done to you!

Complementary traits can provide deeper benefits, too. If you're optimistic and you have a partner who is pessimistic, you can make more realistic assessments of the world (and potential choices) by putting your heads together. You may even find that you have complementary skill sets. For example, one of you may be very physically capable while you have sharper reasoning skills.

5. Genetics Tell Us To

Finally, there are good reasons to suppose that our genetics encourage us to approach and pursue people who are very different from us.

In particular, studies suggest that we are often more attracted to people who have different immune systems. We all have certain genes that play a role in how well we fight off bacterial and viral infections.

Interestingly, we may be able to subconsciously detect people who are better at fighting off different infections. The evolutionary explanation here is that if we pair up with people who fall into this category, we may maximize our chances of having children who have robust immune systems.

In experiments exploring this theory, scientists concluded that how attractive we find a partner's scent is partly determined by immune system compatibility. Of course, this difference doesn't necessarily translate to personality differences. However, it may help to explain that initial strong attraction we feel to certain individuals.

Birds Of A Feather Flock Together…?

Now, in spite of the popularity of the “opposites attract theory” and the fact that most of us probably do believe that difference is attractive, there’s compelling evidence to the contrary. According to science, opposites attract less often than similarity attracts. While the latest research doesn't indicate that we're looking for someone who is just identical to us in every way, studies on the online behavior of over 45,000 people shows that people who behave similarly (at least on the Internet) are more likely to connect romantically.

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What explains this?

There are a few relevant factors in play.

Firstly, comfort is key. When we're with people who have a similar background, career, level of education and political affiliation, we tend to feel like we can relax and be ourselves.

In addition, it's very validating to meet an attractive person who seems similar to us. It can boost our own confidence levels, and make us feel understood. This is especially true if we meet someone who shares idiosyncratic tastes or interests. Many couples report that this type of connection immediately felt special. So, to a certain extent, we're looking for ourselves in others.

The reasonable conclusion to draw is that we work best with people who are not entirely similar to us and not completely different. Difference helps us grow! However, too much of it makes it hard to understand our partners.

In turn, this can lead to stalemates when trying to decide what your future life should look like. In sum, don't rule out someone who seems like your opposite. But, be sure there's at least some common ground to work with!