Do opposites really attract?

You're the peanut butter to my jelly: Do opposites really attract?

Story highlights

  • Our culture roots for mismatched pairs -- opposites attract!
  • But, it turns out, we like people who are a lot like us
  • Many successful couples are different in minor areas, but share core values

The rumor: Opposites attract!

As a culture, we seem to love saying that, and when opposites do attract -- whether in movies or in real life -- we're fascinated. The rich sophisticate and the working-class hero. The popular guy and the nerdy bookworm. The dwarf and the elf. When romance blossoms between a seemingly mismatched pair, we root for them. We wait to see what kind of fireworks will happen, and hope their relationship will succeed. It's like a fairy tale: Two totally dissimilar people celebrate their (extreme) differences and live happily ever after. True love wins!

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The verdict: Generally speaking, opposites don't attract at all

Put simply: We like people who are like us. And the more we have in common with someone, the more likely we are to get along. (Sorry to burst your bubble.)

Sure, the idea of two incredibly different people being able to find love is cool and spirit-lifting. It makes for great movies and books and daydreams. But in real life, mismatched couples rarely last. "Based on what research evidence shows, similar people are more likely to get together in the first place -- and are also more likely to find satisfaction in their relationship," says William Ickes, distinguished professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Arlington and author of "Strangers in a Strange Lab." "The theme is that love is such a powerful force that it can transcend all those differences. What we know in real life -- after the honeymoon, or maybe sometimes during the honeymoon -- is that all those differences suddenly emerge and foretell doom for the relationship."

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That doesn't mean you have to be utterly identical to your partner, says Sean Horan, an assistant professor in relational communication at DePaul University. Successful couples can be different in some minor areas. But most people who have great relationships share similar backgrounds, core values and attitudes about what they like and dislike, he says.

Still not convinced? Consider your BFFs. "If you look at who your friends are... they're more similar to you than different," says Horan. "In general, humans are uncomfortable with uncertainty. Similarity allows us a certain level of predictability. [When situations occur], you can generally predict how your partner will react." And that's a comforting thing.

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One case where opposites really don't attract, according to Ickes? Introverts vs. extroverts. Through his research, he has found that two introverts get along fine, two extroverts get along fine, but an introvert rarely gets along with an extrovert. "If you think about it, it makes sense," he says. "The extrovert is going to want to go out to parties and events, spend time with other people and socialize a lot. The introvert isn't going to want to do that. It's going to affect how they spend their time."

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