Do Opposites Really Attract? 9 Pros & Cons To Consider
Have you ever been attracted to someone completely different from you? You're artistic and shy and find yourself drawn to sporty, talkative types. Or you're a social butterfly who loves to party every weekend, but your partner prefers quiet nights at home. Whatever the case may be, it's a common trope that in romance, opposites attract—like the A+ student crushing on the class clown and other unlikely pairings reminiscent of your favorite rom-coms.
But do opposites really attract in real life, and can they actually work? According to psychology research and relationship experts, the answer is both yes and no.
While it's entirely possible to have chemistry with your total opposite, dating or marrying someone who is very different from you can present some unique challenges. Here's everything you need to know about whether or not opposites attract and the likelihood of your relationship working out long term.
What it means when people say "opposites attract"
"At its core, the idea that opposites attract suggests that people who have different personalities, interests, and backgrounds are more likely to be drawn to each other," says Amira Martin, LCSW, a therapist and adjunct professor at Columbia University's School of Social Work. "This can manifest in a variety of ways, like a quiet introvert falling for an outgoing extrovert, or a free-spirited artist dating a straight-laced accountant."
Sometimes, "opposites attract" is less about having contrasting personalities and more about having opposing preferences and personal tastes—like when your partner blasts country music in the car but you can't stand it, or they crave strawberry ice cream constantly but you only like chocolate. It can also mean that you outwardly appear to be opposites in some way, like having different physical appearances or belonging to different cultures.
Why are we so attracted to our opposites if we have seemingly little in common with them? Lauren Korshak, LMFT, a therapist, former matchmaker, and author of The Mindful Relationship, tells mbg, "People are often attracted to qualities that are either lacking or less prominent in themselves, [especially] when we see another person embodying those characteristics." For example, if you're generally shy or anxious, you might be drawn to someone who is extremely confident and self-assured, she explains.
In other cases, opposites attract due to pure novelty—it's fun to hang out with someone new and interesting. "Learning about someone's different lived experiences can be exciting," says Shan Boodram, the sex and relationship expert at Bumble. "It's a frontier you've never explored, and that level of unknown can be what sparks your interest in someone."
What the research really says
Although it's a common belief that "opposites attract," research shows that couples who share similarities are actually more likely to last long term. A 2005 study of marital satisfaction found that similarity is an important predictor of long-term relationship success, with personality being a key factor in determining whether or not a couple will last.
A 2017 study1 found that close friends and romantic partners tend to share similar core beliefs, values, and hobbies, and other research suggests2 that we're even drawn to people with similar physical traits as ours because we tend to find them more trustworthy. A 2022 study3 about dating app behaviors found that more highly educated users were more likely to choose a profile that flagged a higher education degree as well, suggesting that even online, similarity matters.
But what about your aunt and uncle who have been married for 20 years and are polar opposites? "It might be easy for other people to look at their relationship as evidence for 'opposites attracting,'" says therapist Daniel Matchar, LMSW. "However, when a large sample of couples is examined, this pattern does not hold. Everyone has an example of an 'opposites attract' couple, but if you took an inventory of all the couples you know, it would probably become clear that these are usually anomalies."
Some stats, however, show that opposites can indeed attract and make things work—with a caveat. A 2020 study4 published in Developmental Psychology found that sharing intimate thoughts and feeling appreciated by a partner in a relationship are as important as having autonomy and separate interests. So even if you're total opposites, the relationship can be a rewarding one as long as there's enough communication and common ground.
Modern dating also looks different from it did decades ago, and today, opposites may be more likely to attract than they used to. "The pandemic caused us to throw out our blueprint of who and how we date," says Boodram, who, in her work with Bumble, witnesses many success stories where opposites attract. "A recent Bumble survey found that 1 in 3 (38%) people around the world are now more open to who they consider dating beyond their 'type,'" she tells mbg.
The benefits of dating your opposite
While dating your polar opposite can sound intimidating, experts say there is potentially a silver lining. Here are some of the benefits of dating your opposite:
You can balance each other out.
Clinical psychologist Chelsea Sarai, Psy.D., says that dating your opposite can provide a sense of balance in your romantic relationship. "[You] can complement each other's personalities and provide different perspectives on life," she tells mbg.
Dating your opposite can mean that your lifestyle is more balanced, too, Korshak adds. "If one partner is organized and detail-oriented and likes managing day-to-day plans like finances and the other is a creative visionary who always introduces spontaneous ideas, they can create a more balanced life than either person would have on their own."
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You can learn from each other.
"If you're someone who's always been a bit reserved, dating someone who's more outgoing could help you come out of your shell and explore new experiences," Martin tells mbg. "Similarly, if you've always been very analytical and logical, dating someone who's more creative and intuitive could help you tap into your emotional side."
You're less likely to get bored or feel stagnant.
According to Boston-based therapist Angela Ficken, LICSW, dating your opposite can keep your relationship exciting and always evolving. "Being with someone with different interests can provide a break from routine and prevent things from becoming too predictable or mundane," she explains.
They can challenge your assumptions and beliefs.
"If you've always believed that you need to be with someone who's just like you to be happy, dating your opposite could help you broaden your perspective," Martin says. "Or if you've always assumed that people who are different from you won't understand or appreciate you, dating your opposite can show you that this isn't necessarily true."
You learn how to compromise.
According to a 2022 survey conducted by Plenty of Fish, 41% of singles reported that the most overlooked red flag in past relationships was the tendency to concede rather than compromise. When dating your opposite, being patient, compromising, and the ability to see your partner's perspective are essential skills. You may not always agree, but knowing how to meet in the middle can make your romance stronger.
It can keep the passion alive.
Korshak says dating your opposite can even boost attraction. "In therapy, we look at couples on a spectrum from 'enmeshed' to totally 'differentiated.' Differentiation, or a sense of ourselves as separate from the other, can lead to more attraction and more intimacy. This differentiation can be easier to maintain for opposites."
That said, Martin says the benefits of dating your opposite are only possible if you can communicate effectively and respect each other's differences. "If you're constantly fighting or feel like your differences are insurmountable, these benefits might not materialize."
Problems with dating your opposite
Dating your opposite can be a blast, but it can also present major issues. Here are some potential downfalls:
It takes more effort and communication to get on the same page.
Korshak explains that dating your opposite generally has more challenges than dating someone similar to you. "It takes more effort to understand each other initially," she says. "Misunderstandings can arise from this, but with time, patience, joint attention, a growth mindset, and sometimes couples' therapy, you can learn to understand your partner and have a secure relationship despite your differences."
You may experience conflict more frequently.
A 2018 study5 published in Self and Identity found that if you're too different from your partner, communication and conflict resolution can be a major struggle. "While differences can be beneficial, too many differences can create conflict and make it difficult for a relationship to flourish," Sarai says. Martin adds that if your individual goals and values aren't aligned, the potential for relationship conflict increases.
It can be challenging to find common ground in the long run.
Whether you're dating your opposite or not, if you're unable to compromise or create a shared vision of what your relationship looks like, it can lead to power struggles, an imbalanced dynamic, or general dissatisfaction.
"If you're too different, you might struggle to find common ground or to connect emotionally," Martin says. And while having major differences isn't necessarily a deal-breaker, if you can't generally meet in the middle, the relationship might not be sustainable.
Why similarities can make for a stronger relationship
Research shows that having similar traits to your partner can make for a quality relationship. In general, similarity makes us feel comfortable and may make our partner seem more trustworthy. "Similar" doesn't necessarily mean that you're identical in all aspects and agree on everything—rather, you're aligned where it counts.
A study published in Personality and Individual Differences6 found that couples who shared high levels of "openness" as a Big Five personality trait—aka how curious, creative, and imaginative you are—were more likely to stay together. Similarly, a 2020 study published in the Journal of Research in Personality7 found that people in successful, long-lasting relationships tend to have similar personality traits—namely, honesty, humility, and again, openness to experience. According to one study in the 8Journal of Research in Personality8, similarity may also specifically help folks with anxious attachment styles feel more secure about their relationship.
Along with personality traits, sharing common interests and hobbies can boost your relationship. Shannon Smith, resident dating expert at Plenty of Fish, tells mbg, "Many people are drawn to those who share similar values, interests, and life goals—for example, 44% of singles say a shared interest in sports has brought them closer to someone they were dating." Research even suggests that having similar lifestyle habits—like the time you both wake up and go to sleep9—can improve relationship satisfaction. And on the contrary, having different opinions on important topics can potentially drive partners apart.
How to find a compatible partner
Compatibility is all about existing harmoniously with someone or something. In a compatible relationship, your individual qualities work well together in a natural way, and you can address conflicts respectfully and effectively with each other. Although you don't have to be similar to be compatible, it is important that you and your partner complement each other in some way.
"I encourage my clients to focus on finding someone who is compatible with them in the areas that matter most, such as shared values, goals, and communication styles," Martin tells mbg. "Finding someone who shares your core beliefs and who can support you through life's ups and downs is ultimately more important than finding someone who challenges you in every way possible."
To do this, Boodram recommends having a set of "Frozen Five Requirements" and sticking to them. "These are your core values and traits that are nonnegotiable when it comes to a new potential partner," she explains. Maybe you want someone family-oriented, funny, or someone who is highly empathetic. As long as your "Frozen Five" are met, she says, dating your opposite can work out—but similar to unique love languages, apology languages, and attachment styles, Boodram says that your desired traits will likely change over time. So keep an open mind and be flexible when searching for a compatible partner.
Do opposites really attract?
Opposites can certainly attract due to novelty, excitement, being intrigued by the unknown, and in general. Data suggests that more people are starting to date outside of their normal "type," and there is no longer a set blueprint for who (or how) to date. That said, research generally suggests dating someone similar to you may be more likely to lead to a successful relationship.
Is it better to date someone opposite or similar to you?
Although the answer isn't black and white, research says similarity is a more common predictor of relationship success. However, if you date your opposite and you're compatible (meaning you complement one another), you can certainly experience a strong relationship.
Dating is a vulnerable experience, and it can be tough to tell if the person you're with is the right one—especially if you identify as polar opposites. But don't worry! It's entirely possible to find happiness with your opposite and strike a balance where you both respect and complement each other's personalities.
"Overall, while the concept of 'opposites attract' may have some truth to it, it's important to remember that every relationship is unique and there is no one-size-fits-all formula for success," Sarai says. "It's important for couples to find a balance between similarities and differences that works for them."
The bottom line: When it comes to dating your opposite, compatibility matters more than the specific similarities and differences between you and your partner. "By finding someone who complements you (rather than simply opposes you), you can create a relationship that is built on respect, understanding, and shared growth," Martin says. "What matters most is finding someone who supports you in becoming the best version of yourself."
Tianna Faye Soto, M.A., is a Puerto Rican, Jamaican-Chinese writer, editor, and wellness speaker based in New York City. She holds B.A. degrees in Psychology and Spanish Language & Literature from North Carolina State University and an M.A. in Clinical Psychology in Education from Columbia University, where she received specialized training at the Spirituality Mind Body Institute. She is also certified in yoga, meditation, and Reiki levels I & II.
Tianna was previously the Contributing Editor of Dating at Elite Daily and an Associate Editor at Her Campus Media. Her work has been featured by Cosmopolitan, Conscious Magazine, Thrive Global, and more.
As a professional speaker, Tianna leads keynotes and workshops focused on mental health, identity, and personal growth. She has worked with 50 universities around the country along with organizations like Facebook, Neutrogena, Bumble, and The UN Foundation. She also serves as a board member for the international mental health organization To Write Love On Her Arms (TWLOHA).
Tianna’s work is heart-centered, service-driven, and rooted in empathy. Follow along and connect on Instagram: @tiannafayee.