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Do Opposites Attract?

Experts say having more of the right similarities is more helpful in a relationship.

The Match Game

Yet -- Ickes points out -- matching people is now a growth industry. Susan K. Perry, PhD, a social psychologist and author of Loving in Flow: How the Happiest Couples Get and Stay That Way, is also a psychologist for an online dating service. Perry says, "People tend to look for almost a clone of themselves. They are very specific -- too specific."

In the real world, Perry says, you may find more appeal in someone who is different in some ways. "The key is, which ways?" she says.

What might be a bad way to be opposite? "I'd say if one was an avid sports fan, watching and playing, and the mate only likes to read, that couple might have difficulties," Perry says.

What if one was detail conscious and the other was "big picture" oriented? This might be a better set of opposites, she says.

Bottom line: If the people's values and ways they want to spend time are different, this could lead to "big trouble," Perry says.

As for looks, people think they deserve more than someone inferior in looks, she says.

Seeing Into the Future

The study cited above showed people take their own inventory and compare it against possible mates. Do people really do this? "I don't think so," Perry says. "A lot of people don't bother. They make up a shopping list instead."

While in the "market," do they evaluate the goods carefully? "People don't know how to see traits and extrapolate to the future," Perry says. "You don't notice a guy leaves a small tip every time and think, 'Uh-oh, he's stingy.'"

Once people do notice the differences, that's where the changing comes in, Perry says. One tries to change the other (this can eliminate the opposite traits that were tantalizing in the first place).

Do "likes" have more stable relationships? There is a huge body of research that says yes to this. "But stable isn't always happy," Perry points out. "So much depends on the willingness to be tolerant of the differences. It helps if one person in the couple is more easy-going than the other."

Genetically, finding someone different in many ways means a diversity of genes and healthier offspring.

"You need a certain amount of strangeness," concludes Perry. "Some people spend 30 years fighting over elections -- and canceling each other's vote every time."

Star Lawrence is a medical journalist based in the Phoenix area.

 

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