Opposites Attract? Or Is It the Opposite and Likes Attract?

I’ve often believed that opposites attract, or at least that complementary temperaments and traits attract.

I’ve also believed, though, that like attracts like. Having similar interests and values often breeds mutual interest.

What’s the real scoop?

Some myth-busters assert that science has contradicted the “opposites attract” theory over and over. It’s included, in fact, in 50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology: Shattering Widespread Misconceptions about Human Behavior (2010) by Scott O. Lilienfeld, Steven Jay Lynn, John Ruscio, and Barry L. Beyerstein.

Studies apparently show that similarity of personality, attitudes, and values wins out over complementarity most of the time. It’s similarity that not only sparks attraction but also is more likely to help determine long-term couple satisfaction. One example of a trait that’s especially likely to draw someone of similar ilk is conscientiousness, say the above authors.

But wait a minute. Clinical social workers Linda Bloom and Charlie Bloom tell us on Psychology Today, on the other hand, that complements do actually attract.

Introverts and extroverts, morning people and night people, impulsives and planners, steady plodders and adrenaline junkies, adventure-grabbers and security-seekers…there’s no denying the idea that something in us is drawn to people who counter some of our dominant inclinations with complementary tendencies. And while this can create some interesting challenges for most couples, these differences are actually the source of what is considered by many to be the source of the most important aspect of any successful relationship: chemistry. Chemistry refers to that undefinable quality that is the basis of the attraction that fuels the impulse to be drawn to another.

Randi Gunther, PhD, also on Psychology Today, has a different take on this, however. “It is not that opposites attract, as many believe, but that the hunger to be complete drives people to vicariously live through the other. For example, people taught in childhood to sacrifice self as a chosen virtue may seek partners who do not feel conflicted when they go after what they want. Or those taught to live in the moment without regard to future security may seek out partners who feel compelled to ‘save for a rainy day.’”

This can backfire over time, though, as qualities initially liked may eventually become unneeded or unwanted.

Jeremy Dean, PsyBlog, adds yet another wrinkle, this one on the “likes attract” end of the spectrum. Fresh research apparently shows that people choose spouses with similar DNA. How’s that for taking this argument into a whole new direction.

Not such a new direction, says an even more recent source (though citing older research). “Opposites attract may be programmed into your DNA so says a study from the European Society of Human Genetics in 2009. The study suggests that people are attracted to diverse genetic differences” (Chron).

Hmmm…

Do opposites attract? Yes, sometimes.

Does like attract like? Yes, sometimes.

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