Myth #2: Opposites attract and are more likely to stay together.

Truth: If you want to find someone to grow old with, look for someone who has values and attitudes that are similar or compatible to yours.

Do you wonder why certain patterns seem to happen over and over with the people you date? You know, like constantly being attracted to the wrong person or wanting a relationship with someone who doesn’t know you exist? (Does any of this sound familiar?) These types of frustrating dating patterns can usually be traced back to one little myth that’s leading you right into relationships that are less than ideal. What is this small-but-powerful myth? The false belief that “opposites attract
and are more likely to stay together.”

Here’s a story from Karen, a divorced woman in my study, that will probably sound very familiar:
Karen’s Story: I’m thirty-two and looking for a healthy, stable relationship, but I’m always attracted to the wrong guys! I’m smart, fit, and I’m told all the time that I’m good-looking. I have a good job with a good salary. I have great friends, a close relationship with my parents (who are also pretty cool), and I love to go to baseball games, eat out, work out, and have fun. I’ve been divorced
for a while and don’t need to get remarried right away, but I’d love to find someone who can at least see a future with me in the next few years. I’m constantly finding myself with the guy who doesn’t have a stable job, is broke, can’t stand my family, hates to work out, or who wants to go motorcycle riding across the United States—without me!

My last relationship was with a thirty-five-year-old musician. He was really good-looking and said he played guitar in a band, but he never landed a gig during the entire three months we saw each other, so he worked construction part-time just to get by. He was fun and passionate about life, but he seemed to be more interested in seeing the world from his imaginary band’s tour bus than in seeing whether kids and family were a part of his future.

What am I doing wrong?
Like Karen, many people are attracted to their opposite. However, research studies show that similarities are what actually keep people together for the long haul. There really is no danger in having too much in common with your partner. If you’re interested in a committed, happy,
long-term relationship, you’ll want to look for someone who is very similar to you—and you’ll want to stay away from someone who is your opposite. Researchers have found that this type of “attitudinal similarity”— the sharing of beliefs, opinions, likes, and lifestyle—is what really
helps two people get along.

There are three reasons for this.

First, similarities validate our own view of the world; people who hold similar values provide us with support and affirm our own opinions. For example, if you and your partner were brought up in the same religion and still practice it now, your shared beliefs will make you feel good about your religious commitment, and this will be a strong bond in your partnership or marriage. Or maybe you feel very strongly that when you make money, you should give a part of it back to those in need. If this sounds like you, finding someone who shares your love of giving to others will support your way of life and become the “glue” that holds your relationship together.

Second, similarities lead to less conflict and tension between partners. You and your partner won’t end up disagreeing about issues that are most important to you: your core values and underlying attitudes.

And third, similarities often lead to positive mutual feelings. The fact is, we simply like others who share similar points of view because we expect they’ll like us in return.

Even when you know that opposites attract, and even when you do your best to stay away from these types of relationships, it’s still easy to be attracted to the wrong type of person or your opposite. Typically, this happens because we’re fascinated with people who aren’t like us. This also happens when we see qualities in someone else that are exciting, exotic, or represent parts of our character that are less developed. So if you’re a reliable, hardworking “good girl,” you may find yourself fantasizing about that stud over in the corner with the cowboy boots, the four o’clock stubble, and the black Harley parked outside. You may think you want to go boot-scooting into the sunset with a guy who’s unstable, commitment-phobic, and unemployed, but it’s actually more likely that you’re dying to bend the rules once in a while. Or maybe you’re a straight-laced corporate kind of guy, but your last two girlfriends had pierced tongues, loved Goth music, and were covered with tattoos. Instead of salivating over Mr. or Ms. Wrong, try sowing your wild oats in a healthier and less complicated way—say, by calling in sick to work so you can go hiking or mountain biking with a friend! Playing hooky may not sound like “living on the edge,” but I think you’ll find that it satisfies a lot of the same urges as going after your opposite.

While dating your opposite might be exciting and fun at the beginning, after a while you’ll lose interest in each other if your underlying values and attitudes are not in sync. Does this mean you have to like the same music or food? Absolutely not, although these differences might be important if you’re set to marry a cellist or a chef. If you like to play golf and she prefers to spend time at the gym, no big deal. If you like chick flicks and he prefers foreign documentaries, that’s also fine.
What’s important is identifying the similarities in your key life values.

are not your fault. You’ve picked up a lot of your attitudes, assumptions, and behaviors from believing in untrue or misguided relationship myths. It’s so common to be attracted to your opposite. But now that you know similarity is what predicts relationship success, you’ll be equipped to make better decisions next time.

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