No dating cliché has endured quite like the infamous belief that “opposites attract.” Clichés are often rooted in some truth, and while this one has been upended a little in these divided times, there are still elements of honesty within it. Here’s what to know about why and how opposites attract—and what you can do to stabilize a relationship with someone dissimilar to yourself.
What does “opposite” even mean?
Before spending too much time worrying about whether or not you should be with someone just like you, think about what “opposite” even means to you. You might be thinking in terms of political beliefs or cultural traditions, but there are a lot of ways a person can be dissimilar to you—and just like you. You might not agree on whom to vote for in a local election, but you might agree on where to raise your kids. The trick here is figuring out which opposite and similar qualities are important to you and which aren’t.
“’Opposite’ is a broad statement because, like, what are we talking about exactly?” asked Brooke Sprowl, clinical director and founder of My LA Therapy and author of the forthcoming book, Why You Should Date Emotionally Unavailable Men. “Are they opposites in terms of their daily energy level and temperament? Are they opposite in terms of their values? Are they opposite in terms of their political views? Are they opposite in terms of how they show affection?”
You might not have the same love language as a partner, for instance, but that doesn’t mean you can’t overcome a little difference and work together to find solutions. Focus on the things you have in common, but stay alert in case any of your dissimilarities fall in your dealbreaker zone.
So, do opposites still attract?
The “opposites attract” thinking made a little more sense at one point, when people were more limited to connecting with those in their immediate area and social circles, and potential partners were most often met through school, work, or basic proximity. The internet has expanded the dating pool—and the ability to screen would-be mates—so much, however, that the cliché is meeting more resistance than before.
“It’s a real generational shift,” said Melissa Hobley, a dating coach and the chief marketing officer for OkCupid, who said that the prevailing guidance in the olden days was, “don’t talk about your views on politics until you’re, like, six months down the road.” That’s not the case anymore, she said, and she’s noticed that agreement on fundamental issues is becoming more and more of a requirement for daters before they’ll even agree to a first date.
You have more opportunities than ever to find someone who gets you
Gone are the days of getting together with someone because, well, they’re the best available option. (That’s not to say someone with dissimilar views won’t still be your best option, but at least you have more opportunities to look around.) These days, it’s easy to figure out whose views and behaviors align with yours—and whose don’t. Dating apps like Tinder, OkCupid, and Hinge feature profile badges you can activate to let potential matches know, for instance, whether you’re a smoker, a religious person, or vaccinated against COVID-19. OkCupid announced recently that the “Climate Change Advocate” badge is returning to its platform just in time for Earth Month, and pointed out that their research shows that is the top issue daters care about—even more than world peace—and indicating an interest in it makes someone statistically more likely to secure a match. There are even specific services that match people based on factors like those. The Lox Club bills itself as “a members-only dating app for Jews with ridiculously high standards” while Unjected says it’s “a platform of unvaccinated humans,” for instance.
The rise of trait-specific matchmaking services and loud-and-proud profile badges does away with the risk of dating someone for a while only to learn you disagree when it comes to one of your non-negotiables. That’s actually pretty important: Consider OkCupid data from last fall that revealed people who indicated they were pro-choice are nearly two times more likely to get a reply from another user than those who didn’t say they were. Following the implementation of a law in Texas that effectively banned abortion access, singles rushed to declare where they stood on the issue—there was an 18% increase in “pro-choice” mentions on OkCupid user profiles during the summer of 2021—and they got more engagement on the app because of it.
Just don’t become obsessed with dating a clone of yourself
Fine, it’s easier to find similar and likeminded mates these days—but is that always the right thing to do? In its 2021 Singles in America survey, Match found that 46% of the 5,000 single respondents they polled said they’d dated someone with different political beliefs. That would certainly be a challenge, but the other person could be worth it.
The reason dating someone dissimilar is “so appealing,” according to relationship expert Dr. Karen Ruskin, is simply because those unalike aspects are different: “We get to experience something that we don’t normally and it is exciting to fill in parts of ourselves that are not instinctive for us, that might not come naturally for us, that don’t come easily to use, or are not comfortable for us,” she said.
She likened the experience of dating someone with different beliefs to exercising a rarely-used muscle. There’s growth involved, and it can benefit you overall. She and Sprowl both pointed out, too, that the cliché is rooted in some serious psychological facts about how we tend to date someone who is similar to our parents, especially if we’re searching for some nurturing.
“There’s a lot in the culture pathologizing like, ‘Oh, you’re just repeating the same old patterns and you’re just attracting terrible people and you keep doing the same thing over and over.’ It’s not untrue that [we’re] repeating the same patterns, but there’s a lesson to learn there,” Sprowl said. “You can’t force yourself to be attracted to someone or not be attracted to someone. It’s not something in our conscious control.”
So, focus less on whether your potential partner is your “opposite” or just like you, and focus instead on the relationship you can build together. If you’re too opposed in your beliefs, it may not work, but you can grow and learn while you figure that out.