Why Do Opposites Attract, Anyway?

Man and woman sitting in cafe flirtingAdam surveyed his desk and breathed a deep breath. A smile lit up his face: The project was not only done, but done well. He was very pleased and very excited. He hurried home. So what if the clock said 10:45 p.m.? So what if he had skipped dinner—again? The business plan was done, and investors reading it would just feel compelled to invest. He was quite sure of that.

He hopped in the car and headed home. As the house door shut, his wife popped into the room, rubbing her eyes; she’d fallen asleep on the couch waiting up for him. “Are you sure you’re not having an affair?” she said with a half smile.

“OK, Eve, cut the comedy. Look! Let me show you the papers,” Adam answered as he guided his wife by the elbow into the kitchen. He took out a ream of material and spread it out in front of her.

Eve picked up the first few papers, marveling at her husband’s total attention to every “i” that needed to be dotted and “t” that needed to be crossed. She knew without a doubt that she could never do that. After about five minutes, she had completed only a couple of pages and started shaking her head.

“What’s the matter?” Adam asked.

“I’m sorry, Adam,” she said. “It’s just too late at night and this stuff is not getting into my head.” Eve inhaled deeply, still marveling and feeling very inadequate. Her husband was a genius for detail. “I do believe, however, that you will succeed. The very fact that every single thing has been thought of means that prospective investors won’t be able to come up with objections.” She smiled in admiration.

Adam was a bit disappointed. He had been on a high from five months of work that he had finally completed and wanted to share that with Eve. He could see that she was proud of him, and that would have to suffice for this evening. He felt relaxed and happy because the painstaking effort would surely pay off.

“Do you want to eat something?” Eve offered.

“Oh, no, it’s too late,” Adam said, and they trudged off to get some sleep.

The phone rang early the next morning. One of the mothers of a child in their daughter’s class was frantically looking for Eve. “Hello?” came the voice on the phone when Eve picked it up. “It’s Annette. Listen, I’m in trouble. My mother went into the hospital last night and I was supposed to do a presentation at school on my line of work. I know you work from home; do you think you can substitute for me?”

Eve took about five seconds to think about it: She knew what she could say in the presentation; the kids were taken care of since they would be in school. Her own projects were moving along nicely as well. “Sure,” she answered. “No problem. And I hope your mom will be OK.”

Adam was just gulping down his coffee when the call came in. “You’re doing it?” he asked incredulously. “Yeah,” Eve said. “Why not?”

“But you’re not prepared!” Adam practically choked on his coffee. “What will you say? These kids aren’t in elementary school anymore, you know. They’re going to ask you a bunch of questions that you’ll have to be prepared for. How can you do that?”

Eve shrugged, perplexed that he would even ask.

Finally, she said to him, “If it were you in the hot seat, you don’t think you would come up with a reasonable discussion?”

“No,” he answered honestly. “I’d be too stressed doing it by the seat of my pants.”

“Well, that’s how I do most things anyway,” Eve laughed.

That night, after they’d both had a full day of work, Eve curled up on the couch, put her reading glasses on, and grabbed Adam’s business plan. The clock ticked. The house was quiet. Twenty minutes later, Eve said, “You’ve got a typo here.”

“What?” a surprised Adam responded.

“We all make mistakes,” Eve said sweetly. Adam came over to look and, sure enough, she was right. “See?” Eve said. “Something of you has rubbed off on me after all.”

“That’s true,” Adam replied thoughtfully.

At that moment, the doorbell rang; it was Annette. “Mom’s doing better,” she said. “She needed emergency surgery and it went OK.” They invited her in for some hot tea and the warmth of their company. She needed that. Warmed by the fact the plan had only one typo, Adam relaxed and joked, “Knowing your mom, I’ll bet she’s telling the doctors and the nurses what to do. That’s the sign she’s getting better.” Everyone laughed.

“What’s that?” Annette asked, pointing to Adam’s business plan in Eve’s hand.

“Oh, Adam wrote a business plan for his new venture and I’m just reading it for him,” Eve said.

“Interesting,” Annette said. “I couldn’t do that. I wouldn’t have patience to figure out what it was talking about. My husband’s work is like in another dimension.” Then she paused and looked quizzically at Eve. “Well, you’re in the same boat. You’re an artist and he is a program developer. How do you do it?”

Eve laughed. “I was just telling the same thing to Adam—something must have rubbed off after all these years.”

“Interesting,” Annette said again before leaving.

There’s a reason we’re attracted to our opposites: It’s the best way for us to grow.

Let’s start with the premise that we are here to make the world a better place. We do that by starting with ourselves—we have to be better than we were, maybe even better than the potential we started with.

The best way to be better is to learn from someone who has the characteristics we lack. So we are attracted to someone who embodies those characteristics.

The unfortunate problem is that no sooner does the glow of the attraction wear off that we forget that this oppositeness was the very reason for it. We forget that we were supposed to be learners. Instead, we think we were supposed to be teachers: Our partner has it all wrong and we are supposed to enlighten her or him!

This couple, however, got it right. Adam knew Eve’s propensity for impulsive and last-minute operations. Instead of getting frustrated with her over it, he learned to cherish it as a needed dash of fun in life. Not only that, he allowed her light-hearted ways to affect him. Before their marriage, he would have been too serious and worried about Annette’s mom to make a joke of her condition. But the joke was good; its lightness was healing for Annette.

On her side, Eve knows of Adam’s carefulness and could have been annoyed at how long the business plan had taken him. Instead, she took pride in her careful husband and allowed something to rub off. That is why she plunged into reading it: In the old days, she never would have tried.

We are attracted to our opposites because growth is part of the human soul, just as wanting to survive is part of it. The very best medium for growth is in an environment where the special qualities of our significant other can rub off on us.

Of course, that works only if we are open to it. If we allow our discomfort with differences to get in the way, we can miss a golden opportunity. Yes, marriage is a golden opportunity, but it’s up to us to see it.

© Copyright 2013 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Deb Hirschhorn, PhD, Relationships and Marriage Topic Expert Contributor

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Aiden

    December 16th, 2013 at 9:36 AM

    Probably because if the truth be told most of us couldn’t stand being with someone all the time who is exactly the same as us!! It would drive us too crazy!

  • cass

    December 17th, 2013 at 3:42 AM

    A huge part of this is all about needing some balance in our lives. I think that being attracted to someone so different from who we are is a natural way to seek out this balance in our lives and to try to get it all settled out that way. Sometimes this attraction to someone totally different from us works wonders for us and then there are other times it becomes a flame ready to ignite. It works for some and not for others.

  • sally

    December 18th, 2013 at 12:31 AM

    have seen couples that are opposites and ones where they are exact copies of each other.as long as the relationship is fine and you are content,does this even matter anyway?!

  • Kelli

    December 18th, 2013 at 3:36 AM

    There are those things that tend to drive me crazy but I know that in the end those are the things that led me to him in the first place. I just try to smile and go with the flow.

  • Margaret

    December 19th, 2013 at 3:46 AM

    I guess that on the surface it seems that you would be happier with someone who thinks just like you do. You would never fight, never argue, always agree on everything… and probably be bored out of your mind!! Don’t they say that variety is the spice of life? Well I think that you need those varying ideas and opinions and ways of doing things to be happy and fulfilled in your relationships. If you don’t have a little bit of that then I can pretty much guarantee you that at some point you will be bored to tears and you will go out searching for something else (or someone else) to fulfill you.

  • Ron

    December 20th, 2013 at 3:43 AM

    It’s purely all about survival. You need someone to balance out your weaknesses because chances are these will be their strengths.

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