Do Opposites Attract?

I recently read in a popular psychology magazine that it’s a myth that “in romantic relationships, opposites tend to attract.” This statement was part of a larger article that debunked several psychology myths, and didn’t further expand on this concept, so this post is not me trying to out-myth-bust the myth-busters. I’ll say up front that I haven’t done any “studies” to prove or disprove that opposites attract (and neither did this magazine—at least not in this issue). What I do know is that this is a really general statement and it would be helpful to get more specific: What kind of romantic relationships? What kind of opposites? What do they mean by attraction?

Whenever you see generalized statements like this, you want to get specific because that’s where the truth v. the myth comes out. For example, this statement could mean that people with opposite personalities tend to end up together in romantic relationships, but it could also mean that once two people are in a romantic relationship, they will be more attracted to each other when one person wears white and the other wears black. Ok, I know it probably doesn’t mean that, but read the statement and you can see that it does include that as a possible interpretation. So getting more specific will help uncover whether this is really fact or fiction: I think it’s a little of both.

Again, the goal in this post is not to trump what this magazine has to say; the goal is to point out that there is no definitive right or wrong in relationships. In getting more specific and teasing out the reality from the misconceptions, you’ll have new ideas to add to your own understanding of how to get the kind of relationship you want.

Here’s that statement again: In romantic relationships, opposites tend to attract.

First question to ask is: what kind of romantic relationship? The kind of romantic relationship that takes place in a motel while he’s got an unsuspecting wife and kids at home? The kind where the man and woman constantly fight, have hot sex, fight again, and throw things at each other? What about those relationships where they get along great but haven’t had sex in months or even years? And how about those that have been happily married for decades and are even more in love now than when they first met?

You can’t lump all romantic relationships into one category and then figure out how they work, because the “fight-fuck-fight again” relationship is going to function very differently than the married-happily-for-decades one. By that same token, you can’t disprove that “opposites attract” by simply noticing that opposite personality types don’t tend to end up in relationships, because there are many reasons why people end up in romantic relationships even if they don’t have a strong sexual attraction to each other.

In other words, there are romantic relationships (of all varieties) and there is sexual attraction, and these two don’t always overlap.

This brings me to my second question: what kind of opposites? Fairy tales and romantic comedies love to churn out lore of the rich so-and-so with the one from the wrong side of the tracks. Or the artsy passionate type with the straight laced business-person who just needs to let loose. Why do stories love pairing opposites? Because it creates drama: great for Hollywood, not so great for making a romantic relationship work in the real world.

In my own relationship, we have way, way more similarities than differences. We are both certified NLP trainers; we both have a passion for healthy eating; we both are huge geeks who got excited that Linda Hamilton is on the latest season of the TV show Chuck. If I was the healthy eater and he smoked a pack a day and ate nothing but McDonald’s, the relationship wouldn’t work.

However, it’s my belief that opposites do attract–not opposite personality types, but the opposites of masculine and feminine. When I say masculine and feminine energy, I’m talking about yang and yin, not about your gender. A feminine man and a masculine woman will have polarity too, and everyone has both tendencies in difference amounts and contexts. When it comes to creating and maintaining sexual attraction, polarity is essential.

The difference between masculine and feminine is a huge topic and one I’ve written about in more detail in other articles. For now, I’ll just use the example of masculine energy as more assertive and dominant and feminine energy as more receptive and surrendering. If you had two people who were both trying to be dominant, the relationship would be a constant power struggle, and sexual encounters would turn into a competition over who gets to be on top. If you had two people who were both receptive and surrendering, the relationship would stagnate and, with no one to initiate, become sexually inert.

This is not to say that the masculine partner always has to initiate and the feminine partner always has to surrender; in a relationship, there will be a natural give and take. The opposites in question here are not the people in the relationship, but the opposite energies. When you give (anything) and your woman receives, that is a polarity, an opposite. When your woman gives to you and you receive, that is also a polarity (an opposite) that creates attraction.

By the way, this is not to say that all polarities create sexual attraction. Polarities are everywhere. However, sexual energy and attraction involve polarity: opposing energies, attracting, to create sparks. And in that sense, opposites do attract.

Finally, the last question to ask is, what do they mean by attraction? I define sexual attraction as a sexual desire for someone—as in, when I want to have sex with someone, I’m sexually attracted to him. Yes, there are other kinds of attraction (as in, I’m really attracted to the idea that we are responsible for our results in life) but let’s stick with talking about sexual attraction since that’s (partially) the glue of successful romantic relationships.

There is sexual attraction, i.e. the desire to have sex with someone. Then there are romantic relationships. Sad to say, these two do not always go together. I’ve been in relationships where there was very little sexual attraction. Oh, sure, I loved these men and loved being physically close to them, but that is not the same thing as a sexual desire. It can sometimes feel that way though—at least, I know I’ve been able to trick myself into thinking I was sexually attracted to someone when really, I just loved him as a person, but if I was to be really honest with myself, I didn’t desire him. Not that way. I stayed in a relationship like this for over a year, and only retrospectively do I realize that that relationship lacked this kind of attraction to each other.

There are other relationships where perhaps they started out having a lot of sexual desire for each other, but over time, the “spark died.” (By the way, the spark dying is usually due to a lack of polarity). So, sadly, I don’t think it’s wise to look at romantic relationships and assume that they dictate what creates sexual attraction.

In my current relationship (in which there is plenty of sexual attraction J ), I’m attracted to both the similarities we share and the differences between us. For example, the other day we were out with friends and, when one of our friends asked a question, we both gave the same answer at the same time, and that made me feel a spark of attraction, knowing how much we have in common. Another time, we were walking on the beach and he pulled me towards him (initiated—more yang energy) and kissed me (to which I surrendered—more yin energy). That also made me feel a spark of sexual attraction. So both an experience of being like my partner and an experience of polarity created attraction.

Rather than buying into broad statements about human psychology, which are simultaneous true and false because they are too general, start paying attention to what you find sexually attractive, and pursue that, whether it’s your complete opposite or someone exactly like you; you’ll probably find it’s a mixture of both.

 

 

Comments

  1. Evannassau says:

    I have recently written an article about whether opposites attract, and if so, how does this relate to the fact that people also are attracted to those who are like themselves? -> http://www.evannassau.com/do-opposites-attract/

  2. There actually was a study done on this, I forget by who or when. But basically what they found was this: When presented with multiple people of the opposite sex who a person KNEW were attracted to them, they most often chose the most different partner. When presented with people that they DIDN’T know were attracted to them, they picked the most similar person.

    So basically the result was, before we know a person, we seek out those who are similar to us. But once we know people and have options, we gravitate towards those different than us.

    This makes sense because generally we (both men and women) always look for those similar to us when it comes to meeting people. But when it comes to forming a serious relationship, so-called “chemistry” or “compatibility” seems to come from people who have different qualities that complement one another.

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