Feb. 14, 2014 at 10:53 AM ET
Bella and Edward in the "Twilight" series are certainly a definition of opposites who can't resist each other. Movies like “Dirty Dancing,” or “Sixteen Candles” play up the idea that we're drawn to people completely different from ourselves. Opposites attract — is that fact or myth?
Indeed, someone whose appearance, personality, line of work or method of play, religion, life circumstances seem totally different from your own can look quite exciting.
For people who are drawn to newness or are looking for something they wish they had but lack, the attraction to someone different from themselves can be quite intoxicating, at least initially. But there have been several studies looking at whether opposites do indeed attract and for the most part the answer seems to be no.
A 2003 study from the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found, in fact, that people really want to be romantically connected to someone they view as being very similar to themselves. They prefer someone of a similar level of attractiveness, wealth and status, and commitment to family and monogamy.
Then, a 2009 study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that among newly married couples, there was a strikingly high similarity to each other in the area of attitudes and values, and smaller amount of similarity to one another when it came to elements of personality. Once again, this demonstrated that people were picking mates like themselves. Another important finding of this study was that when researchers examined the level of marital happiness and satisfaction, the happier couples had the most similar personalities, though not necessarily similar attitudes.
So it may seem like a romantic idea to get involved with a loud outgoing man when you see yourself as a quieter more introverted woman, but the evidence suggests you won’t actually be that attracted to him. If you do end up together, it will be harder on the relationship because very different levels of mood, extroversion and conscientiousness will cause a lot of conflict as you continue to live together.
He might thrive in large groups of friends and during frequent socializing, whereas you will find that exhausting and wish for more alone time or time with a few friends. Many men and women make checklists in their mind of what they are looking for in a mate, though it is usually a list of attitudes rather than personality traits. For example, where you’d like to live, how many children you want, how important money is to you both and how you like to handle finances.
While it’s helpful for your chemistry to share these opinions, it’s even more important to share some personality traits.
Is one of you a "Debbie Downer" and the other perpetually cheerful? Over time, this is the kind of difference that can really grate in a marriage.
Relationships take a lot of work and compromise to make them last. The more similar you are to one another, the easier it is because you don’t have to do as much compromising when you already agree. When you come from a similar place of upbringing, you tend to have similar feelings about raising your own family.
Seeing your partner as having attributes that are in a similar ballpark to yourself also makes it less likely that someone feels itchy to trade up. Of course, there will be some people who find their opposite to be very attractive and even make it work, but going with the odds, look for someone more like you than not for both attraction and longevity.
Dr. Gail Saltz is a New York City psychiatrist and regular TODAY contributor.