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What’s More Attractive, Likes or Opposites?

Article by Rick Kirschner

I’m no fan of the so-called ‘Law of Attraction promoted in the heavily hyped self fulfilling marketing vehicle that is ‘The Secret.’ But if like doesn’t attract like when it comes to genies delivering bicycles, do opposites attract instead?

No, not when it comes to people, at least according to some research I’ve seen. But then, it depends on what you mean by opposite.

Back in 2005, Psychologist Eva C. Klohnen, Ph.D., along with graduate student Shanhong Luo, M.A., of the University of Iowa, did a study involving 291 newlywed couples who had participated in the Iowa Marital Assessment Project. The couples met the criteria of being married for less than a year at the time of the study, and the average time the partners in each couple had dated each other was 3 and a half years.

Before I go on, I’ve just got to say that three and a half years of dating before getting married is a heckofa criterion. And it gets me wondering what that might say about the parties in the relationship. What took them so long? What were they waiting for, or needing to resolve? Obviously, that creates the experience of shared experiences, enough working through conflict and dealing with each other’s odd behaviors, before they make a commitment.

At any rate, the couples were assessed on what were considered ‘personality characteristics’ such as attachment, extroversion, conscientousness, positive and negative emotions. Pardon me? These are personality characteristics? These aren’t variables related to time, place, task and people? Sorry, I doubt that these are characteristics of the generalization of personality. I hold the opposite view. And yet, I am attracted to this study.

If you ever studied with me, you learned early on that I have next to nothing in common with anyone who believes in personality characteristics. I think personality is a huge generalization based on limited information. I think the belief in personality is a model that doesn’t hold up to scrutiny, as people tend to change their ‘type’ depending on who they are with, what’s going on, what they need and what is important to them at the time.

A guy walked up to me in a seminar and informed me that he’d just been through a personality profile. I asked him, “What have you learned from it?” He shook his head and said, “I’ve learned I’m an analytical socializer.” I replied, “I think I’d prefer the heartbreak of psoriasis.” Apparently, that was his cue to stop socializing, so he walked away, no doubt thinking about what that meant. I decided, as I stood there after, that I am opposed to the whole concept of personality profiling. And maybe that’s what attracted this guy to the idea of telling me about it. They say ‘Think outside the box.’ So why work so hard to put yourself and others in one?

The interesting thing for me about these things I’m opposed to is how attracted I am to them! And it’s not just me. My Dad told me he watches certain news shows presented by people he finds despicable because he loves to hate them. Our cats, Miracle and Grace, hated Rollie the cat when he came along. Those girls seemed like they were at death’s door, until Rollie started pawing the door. Suddenly, they came to life! Their desire to keep him out of the house kept them going day after day. In this way, I think they found him very attractive.

And that’s what makes opposites attractive…as points of reference for motivations and desires, for insight into yourself, opposites serve well. So if I’m opposed to personality as a way of typing people, then what am I for? Behavior. Hats off to the personality tests, because they’ve inadvertently helped me know myself.

Here’s what my experience tells me about all this. If you have two people in a relationship who are too identical, one of them isn’t necessary. Some differences can be very attractive – men and women are often drawn together by their gender differences, for example; each person in an interdependent but not codependent couple having their own interests, hobbies and circles of friends; the stimulation of exploring meaningful differences as a way of getting to know someone other than yourself and expand your concept of the world you live in!

But when it comes to building relationships, common ground is essential.

About the Author

Dr. Rick Kirschner is a bestselling author, coach and educator. He’s author of the comprehensive ‘Insider’s Guide To The Art Of Persuasion,’ and blogs three days a week at http://drkblog.com. You can listen free to his audio on dealing with people you can’t stand, by visiting http://LearnToPersuade.com

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