Attraction, Relationships & Compatibility

So, the other day I’m on the bus and I see a young man and a young woman get on together. I assumed they were brother and sister because they looked so much alike and thought, “Aw, that’s nice to see a brother and sister doing stuff together.”

Then they sat down and started canoodling and I had to revise my opinion of their relationship. I suppose they could still have been brother and sister, but let’s assume not. So then I started thinking about how perfectly normal it would be for people to be attracted to people who look like them.

Why shouldn’t it be that very familiarity that draws you together, I thought.  You’re both ectomorphs; both have fair skin, light hair; both have small facial features; both have an overbite. These are things you’ve seen in the mirror every day of your life. You know them and are, at least on some level, comfortable with them. So, you see these features in someone else and that person isn’t going to seem like a stranger to you; which has to make them more attractive, right? (This could explain why you so often see older couples who look so much alike – it’s not being together for so long that has turned them into twins, it’s that they looked alike to begin with! Brilliant.)

Makes sense, no? It’s sort of the same principle that comes in to play when you’re forced into close proximity with someone day after day after day  — like the workplace. You might not look twice at this person if you’d just met them casually somewhere; you might even think they’re completely unattractive when you first meet. But because you’re together every day and their features become so familiar to you, you eventually begin to find them attractive. Not just their personality — you actually start to find them  physically attractive as well. (This would be a good time to switch jobs, by the way. Getting’ down with someone you work with every day is never good, is it?)

Anyway, during this bus ride with these two lovers, who may or may not have also been siblings, I began pondering the notion of opposites attracting and who would have come up with such a notion and why.

Because it can’t be true, can it? Surely the best relationships are between people who have more similarities than differences? Of course, clones would probably bore each other to death, but there must be some fundamentals that couples need to have in common in order to succeed as couples, no? Can people who are opposite in these fundamentals be compatible for the long haul?

  • Introvert/Extrovert:  One likes to go out and be with people, talk, party, have fun. The other likes privacy, quiet, reading.
  • Ingrained Personal Habits: One is punctual, clean, tidy, efficient, exercises, an early bird, eats well, takes care of him/herself, focused on career. The other is a slob, always late, a procrastinator, a night owl, a couch potato, junk food lover, chronically jobless.
  • Sex: One of you thinks twice a year is perfect. The other feels deprived at twice a day. And the problem with this one is that you don’t really settle into your natural pattern until way late in the relationship.
  • Money – A biggie. One likes to save, invest, make money grow, spends carefully. The other wants to live for today and blow whatever money there is on fun, vacations and cool stuff.
  •  Education/Profession:  Let’s say one is a scientist and the other a street performer. Neither would be able to understand what the other really spends most of his/her day doing. What would you talk about?
  • Background: Most often people with a similar social class, culture, family structure, geography end up together. First because you are more likely to meet someone of your own background than someone from a very different background. And, people with similar backgrounds have similar frames of reference from which to build a relationship. (That being said, however, as the world shrinks this seems to be becoming less and less of an issue).
  •  Philosophy: This would include politics, religion, personal values. Can a vegetarian be with someone whose favourite restaurant is The Keg? Can someone with a very socialistic, humanitarian attitude be with someone who is a stodgy, conservative corporate person?
  •  Family: Is family important? Yours. Theirs. Does one live a very family-centered life and the other has been estranged from their family forever? Does one want kids and the other has no desire to have kids?
  •  Physical Attractiveness: Do you ever see couples where one is gorgeous, fit, confident, well turned-out and the other is the exact opposite? No, not often. (Teenagers don’t count since the girls all look pretty good, while a good-looking teenaged boy is a rarity. Seriously, is there anything more awkward, gawky, gangly, spotty, slouchy, scruffy and dopey than a teenaged boy?)
  • Gender:  One is male, one is female. How do two people ever work their way through this vast abyss? Ha ha ha…
  • Sense of Humour: For me this should be at the top of the list. If you can’t laugh at the same things and make each other laugh every day, you got nuthin’ – in my opinion. You know sometimes you meet someone and you make what you think is a pretty hilarious remark and they just look at you blankly before continuing on with whatever they were saying? This is when the relationship death knell sounds for me.

Anyway, where am I going with all this? (Who knows, it was a long bus ride. )

Oh yes, back to the opposites attract thing. So, ya, I reckon we need someone similar to ourselves as life partners, but aren’t we also always looking, on some level, for someone to complement us?  If we’re an introvert, we may need to have someone who will draw us out of ourselves more. If we’re a spendthrift, we would be much better off to have someone who can rein those habits in a bit. If we’re lacking in education or career direction, someone who will encourage us to learn and grow may be just the thing.

Which brings me to a final thought. Flexibility. (No, not that kind you, guttersnipes). I think differences in a relationship can be okay as long as both people are flexible. As long as both can compromise a little without feeling resentful for it. And while that sounds really nice in theory,  I find it’s a bugger to put into practice.  But maybe that’s because I’m inflexible…mentally….which is why I’m single….


28 responses to “Attraction, Relationships & Compatibility

  1. I think people need to have most of what you listed in common in order to succeed as a couple but yes still some differences in order to keep things interesting. I must mention also that my husband is a life long vegetarian and my favorite restaurant used to be a steakhouse. LOL. (He used to watch me eat blooody steaks and lament jokingly: “Poor cow.”)

    But I changed, partly due to his influence but also because I gave more thought into how many resources goes into those steaks and how cows often times aren’t treated well. It was part compromise and part personal decision. 🙂

  2. “Opposites attract” rarely means opposite in every single way. Absolute complete opposites would probably never get together long enough to develop a strong bond. And for individual opposites, sometimes it’s like “Wife Swap”, where each family has something to learn from their polar opposite. The people who make “opposites” work tend to meet somewhere in the middle. Or they fit like puzzle pieces. That being said, sometimes I still wonder why certain people are still together when they have so little in common with one another.

  3. you need both.. for sure. and i am SO with you on the sense of humor thing. i crack some pretty silly stuff that *I* think is funny and if you can laugh with me, then its not possible.

    thankfully raspy and i are a lovely combo of both similarities and opposites (he is a sports guy, plays, coaches, watches.. and i could not be bothered at all) so altho we have a boat load in common we still have the differences that keep things fun cause we are always willing to try something different.

  4. Good point, about the Vegetarians versus MeataTarians.

    That’s a good indicator, actually.

    Because often, someone who shuns The Keg will come with additional beliefs/values, that are not always compatible with carnivores.

    Not saying it’s right or wrong. Just something to be aware of.

  5. Oh and another compromise he made for me is that he tends to clean up around the house a bit more. (He’s messy, whereas I’m more organized) Which is a nice slight change he made in his habits for me.:)

  6. We balance each other more than we agree. We spend a lot of time disagreeing. But we’re both people who tend to try to bully our way into being in charge. Having to work with each other has been good for both of us.

    Over time we agree more on some topics. On others our viewpoints are nearly switched from what they were before. In politics we take turns being more liberal or more conservative.

    ‘Arguing’ (or discussing) it out is one of our favorite things to do.

    Over the course of a long marriage (we’re still practically newlyweds at only 9 years married here!) I believe that an uncompromising commitment to each other matters more than what you agree on. We agree on very little, but that has never stopped us from having a great marriage.

  7. Hannah – I think it would be really difficult to live long term with someone whose diet is completely different from yours – especially if the dietary choices were philosophical in nature rather than biological. That’s a big change you made. It’s nice that he’s making some compromises of his own.

    Louise – I don’t know what they mean about opposites attracting at all. I can’t imagine being attracted to someone who is “opposite” me in some immediately recognizable ways — because it would be the initial attraction they’re talking about,no? But ya, having some funadmental things in common and a few things to complement each other, is probably ideal.

    Jobthingy – I know a couple that have been together almost 30 years. He’s a bit of a clown – very funny, takes almost nothing seriously, always has a clever response. His wife is completely humourless on the other hand. She just looks at him like he’s an alien life form when he’s being funny. I’ve never understood how they can co-exist.

    Friar – Probably most of my friends are meatatarians and that’s totally fine with me. I don’t mind them eating what they want to eat and they enjoy mocking me for missing out on bacon and stuff. But, the thought of living with someone day in and day out who is not a vegetarian seems daunting. As you say there are some basic values that go along with those dietary choices and while it’s not a problem to accept those differences in your friends, it would be a problem if it were someone I was going to share a life with —- especially if we are going to have children.

    Wendy – Interesting that you say you switch each other off on some topics. Many times if one spouse is really laid back for instance the other will become proportionally less laid back over the years than they were when they started. You see it a lot with parents. One is very casual about parenting, making the other the disciplinarian all the time. The stricter one gets the more casual the other gets. The messier one gets, the more anal the other gets. Shifting dynamics. I’m glad to hear that you guys have made even the disagreeing work well!!

  8. I haven’t seen these commercials in a long time, but EHarmony used to show cupples that looked like siblings all the time who probably were not even members of that service. As other commenters have said, I think people need to balance out each other somehow.

  9. Well it’s all the old Jack Sprat rhyme. As you say, being clones of each other would bore each other to death. In some ways, complementariness does not mean similarity.

    For example, the Introvert/Extrovert could be spun instead as “likes to talk/likes to listen,” which makes them quite compatible.

    I’m friends with a couple, been married for years, he’s a Roman Catholic who goes to church every week, she’s an atheist. They get along great (well, in that the way they disagree with each other keeps them together by giving them something to argue about. Also fun to watch, better than TV).

    Look at famous people for the best case studies. How many politicians or celebrities are paired with a relative nobody or a hermit? (By definition, this is hard to tell because the partner is not well known) This avoids conflict because they aren’t competing for the limelight. I can imagine that most politicos partner with apolitical people (and are interested in each other for other reasons) so as to avoid having to think/worry/talk 24/7 about political issues.

    Great post once again, XUP. Good food for thought.

    – RG>

  10. @Jen

    Those “E-harmony” commercials drive me nuts.

    Especially that lady who falls in love with “Josh”. Phoney actress pretending to own her own business, and pretending to have found her soul-mate.

    With her fake laugh and fake smile (tilting her head back, and opening her mouth to bare her teeth).

    I bet you when the camera stops rolling, she and “Josh” don’t even talk to each other.

    It’s about as convincing as Madonna going out with Michael Moore.

  11. I agree with a Sense of humour topping the list – followed closely by SEX.
    I was married for 30 years to a man I had nothing in common with – different nationality, different religion, different food likes and dislikes, very different political ideas.
    As Wendy says, it’s about commitment and striking a balance. We argued about practically everything – we were both hot tempered and loud. But arguments were never about us – our feelings or family life, which meant after the argument on why France protected Bokassa,e.g., we’d go back to planning a holiday or sharing a good movie.
    It worked, we shared a sense of humor, lots of laughter, fun and good sex for 30 years. When things started not being quite the same, we split but we are still great friends and meet often on account of our daughters.
    Age may also play a role. What yu expect from your partner, etc.
    I now live with someone who is exactly like me. Vegetarian, same political ideas, a sense of humour of sorts, bad sex and …yawn, yawn.
    You got me thinking here – I do have to do something about my life sooner or later.

  12. Mr. Jazz is very much the extrovert while I’d probably be happy if I never had to have any social contact again. And it’s worked for over 20 years – and granted, he does draw me out of my cave, which is definitely a good thing.

    Funny enough, that’s what most people see first – and wonder about. How can it work? We’re alike on many other levels. And where we’re not we complement each other. I guess it’s all a matter of degree.

  13. My ex-husband and I cracked each other up most of the time, but we couldn’t even travel in the same canoe together without wanting to commit murder. We’ve been divorced ten years and still crack each other up when we run into each other. But his commitment to Rush Limbaugh pretty much killed it for me.

  14. Bandobras – Who was this wise man?

    Jen – Well, on TV couples always seem to be polar opposites – it’s what drives the sit-coms and most commercials and even movies. Somehow it always works for fictional people.

    Grouchy – I don’t know. Arguing is so draining. It’s energizing in some respects, but also energy draining. I would find that very difficult to live with all the time…but then I find a lot of things difficult to live with, don’t I? And famous people almost always seem to be with other famous people as far as I can tell. Only another actor could possibly understand the lifestyle these people have to live. Same for politicians — they’re spouses are usually also very political (Bill and Hilary)

    Friar – Madonna is dating Michael Moore? She’s gone from toy boy to troll boy?

    Patsy – Oh dear. Sorry to hear things aren’t going well. Bad sex is definitely a deal breaker. But then is the sex bad because the relationship overall is bad or is the relationship overall bad because the sex is bad? How do you even marry someone you have bad sex with? And isn’t it interesting that to men there is no such thing as bad sex, but for women they’d rather have no sex at all than bad sex? Or am I generalizing agai?

    Jazz – The introvert/extrovert thing can work if both want the other’s influence. Maybe he wants and needs you to keep him home once in a while whereas on his own he’d be out being a social butterfly all the time and getting no down time. And maybe you need him to make you get out and socialize or you’d become a hermit. Some people would resent having to stay home for the introverted spouse’s sake or having to make all the small talk at functions or carrying the entire social responsibility load. Just like some introverts would resent being dragged out to events or to meet new people or having to put up with “people” for the spouse’s sake. So, a difference like that doesn’t work for everyone, but it obviously works perfectly for you guys. Interesting.

    Lola – There is the other side of the coin to most people with a cracking good sense of humour — their dark side comes with a lot of anger. I’ve seen it many times. Rush Limbaugh – gadzooks. Didn’t you know this side of him when you got married?

  15. great post. maybe some of this explains the mystery of GSA , genetic sexual attraction, which sometimes happens when adoptees and their biological family reunite. it’s quite interesting.

  16. I laughed as I read your bolded ‘fundamental’ points. Hubby and I are at opposite ends of many of those points. I’m an uptight silence-loving clean freak, an introverted, penny-pinching quasi-vegetarian who dislikes children and the messy biology of sex. He is a ‘let the chips fall where they may’ lover of chaos and noise and casual disorder, has four children and no concept of what happens to his money, loves meat and potatoes and frequent nooky.

    You may well wonder how on earth we find common ground. Sometimes; maybe one or two weeks of the year, I wonder how we do, too. The rest of the time we are engaged in a dance of constant compromise and negotiation that tends to smooth out the rough patches of both of us. I need him and am a better person when I allow his excellent qualities to rub off on me. I hope the reverse is true.

  17. I’m twice divorced and neither of my wives have looked anything like me. I think you’re on to something here and I if I find this vision of a woman, I’ll probably still require she shave her beard and do something about the nipple hair.

  18. I think that there is the opposite attraction thing…up to a point!

    My husband is the introvert, I’m the extrovert. He did his degree in chemistry and engineering, I did mine in music! He’s uptight, I’m laid back…but we tend to like the same things AND we seem to think a like.

    I remember people saying that when someone is adopted they start to take on the look of the family that they are adopted into.

    Funny thing is, I heard this from a girl whose parents adopted a baby when she, herself was in her late teens…guess who was the biological mother?!?!?! Can ya?!?!?

  19. Well, I can’t imagine living with another woman. (Sorry, I just couldn’t cope with all y’all.) I just like men a lot more on many fronts.

    In terms of this relationship, I think it has a lot to do with temperament, I need someone who is as fluid about life as I am. I can’t explain it more than that… we’re both passionate about things. And sometimes are passions overlap, but sometimes they don’t. And we give and we learn… and well it just is. Because while we are sometimes opposite at our core we are working towards a same life vision…

    I couldn’t be someone who didn’t think this family wasn’t the core of who we are, someone who didn’t believe we could change the world, who didn’t work hard and play harder…

  20. I’ve always said that the reason my husband and I get along so well is because we are exactly alike and completely opposite. I guess what really matters is which things you have alike and on which things you differ.

    As for the lookalikes, I’ve heard about that since the 70’s. Remember Bianca Jagger? Also 9 years ago Noah Wylie’s wedding pic was on the cover of “People” and I showed my husband and asked “Notice anything about this couple?” They looked exactly alike! In the letters section after that, someone mentioned it. I think the real explanation, although yours is good, is that some part of you wants to make sure that your children will look like you.

  21. Hmm. I’ve been married to my opposite for like 100 years. His nickname is not fit for print. Find me the similarity guy and I’ll give him a go for the next 100 years. Then I’ll get back to you with the research results and the nickname he acquires.

  22. I adore my Jo for his opposites – he keeps me grounded. He seems to adore me for my differences – I think we complement each other quite well. I do worry sometimes though when we have more time on our hands (kids are gone) that we will have to indulge in each others interests a bit more (I hate football, there is no time for us to both watch football, so he gets to. He hates the ballet, there is no time for both of us to go, so I get to go). I’m sure we’ll figure something out.
    I can’t imagine being married to someone the same as me.

  23. Raino – It actually does. There have been studies!

    Susan – It’s always amazing what works for people. We all have our different needs and sometimes we’re lucky enough to find someone who meets them and whose needs we meet in return. I’ve learned long ago never to question why two people are together.

    Mayopie – Twice? You’re like 22 or something aren’t you? Have you tried just dating?

    Alison – Ya, he played a hell of a practical joke on you, too, didn’t he?

    Helen – Ummmm…the teenage girl? For a lot of adoptions, I think they try to match babies up with families that have genetic similarities. So if the adopted parents are tall and blond, they will try to match them with a baby whose biological mother/parents were tall and blond, too. That might explain some of it.

    Nat – “Life vision” — that’s a very good term and I think probably at the core of what makes couples work or not work. You can have all the differences or similarities in the world, but without that life vision in common, you’re going to be in trouble.

    Geewits – Interesting explanation. Another explanation is that we are attracted to people who look like our parents. Women look for a man that is physically similar to their father (completely subconsciously of course) and men look for a woman like mom. So, odds are that the couple is going to look alike, too. Ya, that’s kind of a creepy explanation, but sometimes true.

    Charlene – Oh dear. Why have you been married to him for so long if he has a nickname so vile?

    Meanie – There’s no reason why you can’t go on enjoying those simple things individually even after the kids are grown, right? No need to suddenly have to live in each other’s pockets is there? It’s really nice that you can love and appreciate each other for exactly who you are.

  24. My husband had never been overly political. Rush Limbaugh showed up about two years into our marriage. He not only galvanized the conservative right, he galvanized my husband right into the conservative right. I never understood it…it seemed like it didn’t fit…but he’s still a Rush fan and is even on the city council in his new home town. Yikes.

  25. Pingback: No One Does…Do You? « XUP

  26. very interesting post. i do believe i saw something on the boob tube about couples who had no idea they were related finding each other and becoming couples. the common thread is that they resembled one another and the study confirmed what you are saying. very interesting.

    i believe we are attracted to qualities in other people that we’d like to strengthen in ourselves which makes for the opposites attract, but agree that i do not want a clone of myself.

    something to think about; if we project our ideals onto a future mate, thinking we’ve found “the one” does that also mean we fall in love with ourselves? scientists are trying to prove that falling in love is another type of mental illness, which is why we sometimes fall head over heals and realize months later that we’re involved with the antichrist. that sucks.

    it’s been said that the husband and i favor one another, but i’ve never had a specific “type” for a partner. they’ve come in all shapes and sizes, so i like to think it’s b/c i’m digging the insides regardless of how they look.