Opposites attracting always makes for a great story. For us die-hard lovers of mush, it’s thrillingly romantic. We can always thank books, films and television shows for convincing us that the nerdy good girl dates the most popular ’bad’ boy in school, or simple bookstore owner can marry a glamorous Hollywood actress. For K-drama bingers, it’s the arrogant CEO who falls in love with a middle-class earnest employee whose parents work at a fried chicken restaurant. We can even go back a couple of centuries and recall Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, possibly the ultimate opposites attract romance.
The list is endless. The truth is that most of us love this trope so much that we are determined to believe that it exists. It’s a pity that most of these classic films never actually delve into these ‘happily-ever afters’.
The question: Is life really like the films, and books? Do two people, with different personalities and interests find eternal happiness with each other?
For Namita Thakkar, a PR professional based in Dubai, the answer is a resounding yes. She enjoys being ‘poles apart’ from her husband. “Our differences keep us together. We balance each other well. Whenever he says something that I do not agree to, I react instantly. He calms me down, and gives me a new perspective,” she explains. On the other hand, he is more of an introvert, while she makes friends easily. “So, that helps in maintaining a healthy social circle,” she adds. Thakkar believes that their personality and core differences strengthen their relationship. “He makes up for my weaknesses, and likewise. It would be so boring to be married to someone exactly like you,” adds Thakkar.
Being so different adds the spice, spark or whatever we can call it, to a relationship, she feels.
A blessing and a struggle
Being attracted to an opposite personality could arise from seeking qualities we would like to have, explains Serene Saed Ziadeh Khalil, a Dubai-based relationship coach and wellness expert. It could also be how impressed we are with the traits in the other person. Sometimes, we look for a validation from an opposite person, becoming whole with someone who complements us, adds Khalil.
Understanding attraction to a person isn’t particularly straight-forward either. “Attraction to other people has so many variables that play on stage,” explains Khalil. “We might find ourselves attracted to people who are generous and kind-hearted as this is important for us. Sometimes, our hearts might skip a beat for a charismatic sociable successful person because we lack such traits and qualities in our personality and life,” she adds.
Attraction to other people has so many variables that play on stage. Sometimes, our hearts might skip a beat for a charismatic sociable successful person because we lack such traits and qualities in our personality and life...
How do we know which attraction works best for us? It doesn't matter how we subconsciously get attracted, as long as we come from a place of abundance and not scarcity, says Khalil. Being able to consciously assess if our energies and traits are balanced, how our values are aligned, and how our needs are fulfilled and met. What matters is how we complement and not vacuum each other. For instance, an introvert might get attracted to an extrovert owing to their openness, sociability spontaneous personality, high exposure, and entertaining conversations. Extroverts might be attracted to introverts for their ability to soothe them, listen to them and engaging in quiet conversations.
“Being with a person with opposite traits might be a blessing that brings the best in us or a struggle to strengthen the relationship,” she says.
However, the harmony between opposing traits in a relationship depends on the extent to which each partner facilitates the fulfillment of another’s needs. It is important to respect each other’s individualism, catering to differences, which can bring out the best in each other, says Khalil.
‘You have to know what is a deal-breaker is and what’s not’
We may question whether two people who are opposites can come together and still form a good long lasting relationship, says Meenaxi Iyer, a Dubai-based relationship and mental health coach. On one hand, seeing the strengths you know you don’t have, is attractive. It could work when you become partners. It complements each other, while your differences can be used to support your partner and vice versa. This can create a good foundation for couples.
Javed, an Indian 39-year-old Dubai-based engineer considers himself a relatively relaxed and laidback person. His wife, on the other hand, prefers to methodically plan her days carefully and is upset if she doesn’t keep to the plan. He would rather watch the hills and drink a cup of tea; she would insist on a trek. “At the beginning of our marriage, it was so hard. She likes everything planned to the last detail; I just want to relax on holidays. So we fought a lot. She’s also quite hot-tempered, so our arguments never ended well. She would keep fighting and then I would just leave the room,” he says. Their fundamental personality traits and habits kept clashing in the first year of marriage. “She is very neat and tidy; I am rather messy. I never remember to fold the clothes, which makes her so angry,” he said.
Seeing the strengths you know you don’t have in your partner, is attractive. It could work when you become partners. It complements each other, while your differences can be used to support your partner and vice versa. This can create a good foundation for couples.
Five years after their marriage and several stormy evenings, the couple has found common ground. “I think, what matters is when two people try hard. We just found a way to keep talking it out. You might be fundamentally different, but if you know that some differences can be overcome, then you just make it work. You need to know what’s a deal breaker, and what’s not a deal breaker,” explains Javed. He elaborates that he has finally agreed to go for treks and to do more sight-seeing on vacation. “She has agreed that on one or two days we can just take it easy,” he says.
Despite all the ups and downs, Javed says it’s a happy marriage. “She got me out of my shell; pushes me to do things that I would never do. I am actually glad that she does that, because I feel that I would just live a very solitary, and perhaps boring life,” he says.
On the other hand, Anna George, a PR professional shuttling between Canada and Dubai, has mixed views about opposites attracting. “I don’t think there’s a definite answer. Every relationship is so different,” she says. “I am quite the social, outgoing person. And I was with a particularly reserved person. He didn’t like parties; I loved them. But he was really a grounding effect in my life. He knew how to calm me down, and always approached everything in a level-headed manner, which I couldn’t do,” she says.
However, the initial attraction faded away and problems began to arise, as he withdrew into a shell whenever he was upset about something. “He would just become quieter, stay silent and not talk. We started fighting about things that hadn’t been in a problem at the beginning of our relationship. I got impatient with him not doing much of the housework, or spending most of his time with his books. I got so frustrated and I didn’t know what to do. I stopped talking too. Finally, we called it off, realising that we didn’t make sense,” she says.
‘The science does not support the notion of opposites attract’
People have always believed that ‘opposites attract’, someone who is an introvert will fall for the extrovert, and the bad boy will be attracted to the straight-A student, says Iyer, a Dubai-based relationship and wellness expert. However, contrary to popular beliefs, we tend to look for someone who is similar to us, she adds. “Various studies have shown that romantic partners tend to share the same core values and belief systems; people tend to be attracted to and trust those with like personalities.”
The science unequivocally does not support the notion that opposites attract in relationships, says Tara Wyne, a Dubai-based clinical psychologist. She details the complementary hypothesis. “That theory suggests that people tend to be attracted to others who are quite different but have complementary needs to their own, she adds. For instance, a person with a high need for dominance will be attracted to a person who is more passive and submissive. “The studies tell us that most people in fact are not seeking their opposite, and when they do, it does not lead to successful relationships,” says Wyne.
Theory suggests that people tend to be attracted to others who are quite different, but have complementary needs to their own. For instance, a person with a high need for dominance will be attracted to a person who is more passive and submissive. The studies tell us that most people in fact are not seeking their opposite, and when they do, it does not lead to successful relationships.
Shailaja Sudhir, an Indian journalist based in the UAE, recalls a horror story from experience. “I was eighteen…. I was very quiet and shy back then, and my fiancé was this rather rough-and-tough aggressive man, several years older than me. Everyone used to say ‘oh how sweet opposites attract’, because I was so quiet, and he was just very loud. He would keep imposing his will on me, so I had to do whatever he wanted - go for parties that I didn’t like, visit friend circles that I didn’t want to do, but I still did. He would often order me around … he just wanted me to help him keep his life in order. And I did, because I didn’t know any better,” she says. “It went on like this for two years, where I appeased every will of his, whatever he wanted. I thought he loved me, because he kept saying that he was so glad for my existence. Only gradually, I realised why I was so unhappy. I was losing sense of myself. Finally, I started putting my foot down and arguing, thanks to the help of my friends. He hated that. He hated me opposing him in any way, and tried turning my own parents against me,” she said.
Finally, Sudhir realised that this relationship was scarring her emotionally and had the courage to break it off. “He just needed me to make him feel good about himself. I was just good for his ego, because I agreed to everything,” she adds.
Will a relationship between two similar people have more chance of working?
Almost all studies across cultures suggest that partners are attracted to those who are similar to them and these relationships are more successful in the long term, says Wyne. Similarity in our personality, values, habits, interests, age, intelligence, and education will make a partner more attractive to us. “We all recognise the ease we feel when we sense someone is on our bandwidth, when there is alignment and congruence in all the things that matter to us,” adds Wyne. “Ease is a rare and much needed state in our lives today. A partner who makes innate sense to us allows flow to occur between us effortlessly,” she adds.
Merdedes Sheen, a professor in psychology at the Herriot-Watt university complements this point and says, "We feel more comfortable spending time with people who are like us. We think they 'get me'. From a psychological perspective, the reason we are motivated to be around similar people is because we like the feeling of stability that they provide," she says. "They confirm that our outlook on life is right, and that we are living life 'the right way'." She adds that we partner with people with whom we share the same beliefs and values. "The Matching Phenomenon Theory of interpersonal relationships argues that both friendships and romantic relationships are formed between people who are similar in terms of social desirability," adds Sheen.
However, things didn’t work with someone for Anna George on her wavelength either, she elaborates further. “We both loved the same activities, watching football, same films. But the thing is, we both had quick tempers. And neither of us would listen to each other during an argument, and we both had big egos. So that ended badly too.” It depends on the two people themselves, and how much they’re willing to overlook, adds George. “Everyone’s different and complex, but what matters if you aren’t heading towards a similar goal, then that’s the problem. You need to be on the same page. It is also about how you react to the problems, and address issues before it becomes a bigger obstacle,” she explains.
Is opposites attracting a modern myth?
Life doesn’t often mirror the movies, unfortunately.
“We seem to be drawn to the stories where people have overcome unimaginable differences and obstacles in the name of love,” says Wyne.” Interestingly if you track these stories you see that very rarely is there a ‘happily ever after’ and lack of common values and beliefs fundamentally undermines the health and well-being of these kind of relationships,” she adds.
Calling opposites attracting a ‘modern myth’, Wyne adds further, “We can also be attracted to difference, because we think it complements our ways of being. However, in the long run it appears more often than not, differences become more amplified and lead to real divergence and gridlocked issues.”
People often feel incomplete in themselves and search for completion through a partner who brings ways of being that they need to feel whole. “In psychological terms it’s critical that we do our inner work on wholeness and being able to flourish and thrive as an individual in order to form a healthy partnership,” she adds.
There are problems in every relationship, opposite or otherwise
Nevertheless, Iyer believes that the answer to opposites having the fairytale happy ending is subjective. “It depends on who you ask and at what stage they are in the partnership. A new couple will likely have only positive replies. However, two people who have been together for an extended period will have a history and can answer more authentically,” she says.
It’s totally possible to be complete opposites and still get along seamlessly, she adds. “The key is both partners have to commit to understanding how each best function in the world and honour that. Finding the right balance and discussing your differences can go a long way in maintaining a healthy romantic relationship.”
Moreover, every relationship has their set of issues, opposite or otherwise. “Problems develop in either scenario for the same reason, which is lack of communication. How you communicate entirely depends on each individual. The most important thing is that someone starts the conversation,” she says.