We know the concept well—the bad boy falling for the good girl. The member of royalty falling for a commoner. The sports-obsessed jock falling for the scholastic nerd. Opposites attract is a trope that’s stood the test of time, be it in film, novels, and music alike.
Maybe it was love at first sight, or maybe it was a relationship that was built over time. However, why this is the case often remains a vague mystery. To gain some insight, we spoke with two relationship experts on the subject. So, why do opposites attract? Read on to find out.
Naturally, we’re more attracted to people who possess qualities we wish we had more of. In other words: If we see something we like in someone—specifically, something we don’t see in ourselves—that quality (or qualities) can be attractive. This is especially noticeable in someone whose personality type or approach to life differs from your own. For example, if you wish you were more outgoing or take-charge, it’s likely that you’ll be attracted to someone who already acts in that way.
“There may be a respect or regard for that person that one is admiring and desires to be more like,” says Lisa Bahar, marriage and family therapist and adjunct faculty for Pepperdine University’s Master of Arts in Clinical Psychology. Moreover, in building a relationship with this person they may help you learn and adapt to qualities and practices you’d like to have yourself.
Your pull towards someone opposite of you could also be a strong interest in what makes them so different. When you’re getting to know this person, you’re charting unexplored territory, which can prompt a lot of genuine curiosity. Being presented with a different perspective, and parts of someone you haven’t seen before, is exciting and satisfying, even more so when you like what you find. “[Opposites] can present different perspectives on life, creating less rigidity and a more objective way of looking at the world,” Bahar tells us. The more your interest in a person brings you to discover about them, the more you’ll find to love and appreciate.
Seeing someone unlike yourself provides an abundance of opportunities to learn from one another, says Dr. Paulette Sherman, psychologist, author of “Marriage and the Law of Attraction: The Secret to Creating Your Perfect Relationship”, and host of The Love Psychologist Podcast.
On one hand, you could be introduced to new hobbies and interests that you may not have been exposed to before. In participating in them or talking about them, you open yourself up to learn about things that you aren’t experienced with. However, on a bit of a deeper level, you’re also seeing things through a fresh perspective when you have different personalities. Communicating your differences in opinions and worldviews allows you to learn new ideas that’ll either strengthen your beliefs or challenge you to think differently.This is usually the recipe to a great relationship.
Dating someone who’s your opposite in many ways takes patience, understanding, and compromise. It’s attractive when someone is able to not only recognize that, but execute it in their relationship with you. Being able to accept another’s differences shows a certain level of maturity, which could be very alluring if you’re looking for a stable relationship. A couple with opposing belief systems or interests set each other up to learn to compromise and respect each other, which are important attributes to any lasting relationship, Dr. Sherman explains. So long as you’re able to communicate effectively and appreciate these differences, they can help you build a strong, lasting foundation.
We know you’ve heard it time and time again: Opposites balance each other out. While its repetitive use might have it come across as cliche, it does hold a lot of truth. Our relationship expert states, “There may be something in the other person that you’re lacking and are unable to access, whereas that person can act that behavior out.” When you both contribute each of your qualities to a relationship, you come together to create a strong unit, with a diverse combination of perspectives and skills.
Likewise, when you put your opposite traits together, you’ll naturally help each other move towards the middle. As a classic example, take someone who’s very energetic and someone else who’s more even tempered. When around each other, they’ll both influence the other person to move closer to a middle ground. This can be beneficial to you individually, as well as to the relationship as a whole.
Don’t take this the wrong way—we aren’t encouraging you to pursue someone simply to see if you can do it, just because you guys have different personalities. What we mean when we say challenge is the ability for someone opposite of you to challenge your opinions, perspectives, and beliefs. Seeing someone unlike yourself means that inevitably they’ll present you with an opinion or idea that’s different from your own. When handled in a mature way, this will either strengthen what you already think or introduce you to a new way of thinking. It may even change your mind. Challenging each other in this way encourages you to be considerate, step out of your comfort zone, and ultimately grow as individuals.
Dr. Sherman puts it well: “With opposites, things are rarely boring.” As mentioned before, seeing someone dissimilar to yourself can introduce you to plenty of new things and experiences, which can really be a lot of fun. Not only that, but it gives you the opportunity to show someone the things that you’re interested in and passion about, too. In other words, there’s a lot of room to explore and discover. This opens up the possibility to expand each other’s horizons, share new things, and fuel the initial spark. Likewise, Bahar adds that relationships between different kinds of people have a spontaneity to them that makes for an exciting participation in each other’s lives. When you’re willing to take a chance, dating someone opposite of you can be thrilling and inspiring.
Remember when we said that we’re attracted to people that possess qualities that we wish we had more of? And, how, by being around them, we might adapt to those qualities and practices? Along those lines, dating or being in a relationship with someone different from yourself can be attractive, because this person might draw out traits of yours that typically aren’t present. “In this case, one partner often brings out an undeveloped side of the other,” says Dr. Sherman. Furthermore, someone’s differences may encourage you to lean into these new parts of yourself.
It isn’t too hard to find someone who likes the same activities, TV shows, or music as you. However, it takes a real connection to develop something deeper, despite having different interests or personality traits. When you’re willing to work through your differences, you can be confident that your relationship isn’t only based on surface-level things that you have in common. Whether you’re seeking a long-term relationship or someone you simply connect with, this deeper bond is incredibly attractive.
Having different qualities, interests, and opinions from your partner creates a space for you to be your own person within the relationship. When you’re opposites, you both add unique value to each other’s lives and the relationship as a whole. If you’re someone that values his or her individuality, this is notably satisfying and, maybe even, relieving. Being allowed to be wholly yourself, regardless of differences, is also telling that your partner likes you for exactly who you are—not because you’re easily agreeable, or a projection of themselves.
While being with someone who’s opposite of you can be exciting, there’s also potential for both of you to become better, more well-rounded people. When faced with someone’s differences, don’t consider them deal-breakers off the cuff. Hear them out and see if they could contribute to an interesting, steady relationship.