When Opposites Attract: Does it Last?

oppositesPhoto courtesy of Ragnar Jensen

We all know that the ever elusive ‘true love’ is a mysterious phenomenon that happens at least in a lifetime – if you’re lucky.

So what exactly constitutes “falling in love?” On a quest to determine if there is indeed more than one way to find your “love of a lifetime,” I set out to do some reading on one of the most debated of relationship types - The Odd Couple.

Does the theory that opposites attract hold any weight? Psychoanalysts have been debating this concept for years, and some believe that when we feel an attraction to someone who is very different from us, there are very scientific reasons at work.

Feeling drawn to a lover simply because they possess qualities we may be lacking can elicit a heady high that is sometimes mistaken for true and long-lasting love.

It’s actually quite common for people with vastly different romantic ideologies to make a love connection. The reasoning behind having an attraction to your exact opposite may go something like this, “He completes me.”

But will it last?

Relationships between people with extremely conflicting personality types are often filled with passion and fire. The bad news is that the passion and fire often shift to irritation and arguments. Especially in the case of polar opposites – soon enough the early passion may fizzle, leaving two totally different people looking questioningly at each other, as if to say, “What are we doing here?”

When the initial appeal wears off like a buzz, what’s left is similar to a bad hangover. You’re in despair and agony and probably vow never to do it again – but the attraction of someone with abilities and traits that you lack can repeatedly draw you back because you find them so fascinating and attractive.

The good news is that you absolutely do not have to seek out and marry someone exactly like you. How boring! Most people with the longest lasting and most satisfying relationships have some really solid things in common with their mates. Notably, they also report that there are at least a few things about their partner that are strikingly different from their own personalities.

And the proof is in the…sweaty t-shirt?

You may not understand where I’m going with this, but bear with me. The most interesting study (to me) was one in which researchers at the University of Liverpool asked women to smell men’s dirty t-shirts.  They were then asked to rank the shirts according to how attracted they were to the smell. The results implicated that women typically sniff out men with at least a 50% difference from them in a specific set of genes. The MHC (major histocompatibility complex) were the genes in question during this particular study.

Women who reported marital satisfaction (in heterosexual relationships) showed differences in their MHC genes when compared with their husband’s. Couples who shared more than 50% of the same MHC genes typically admitted to an adulterous affair on the part of the wife. The MHC gene has not been shown to affect men’s relationship satisfaction at all.

Just as it is with all of the other fun stuff on this journey called life - for best results in the relationship arena – everything in moderation. Next time you’re on a date, you’ll know what to do. If the pit fits, he’s a keeper!

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