Growing up, I’d hear adults in relationships talk about how they and their partners were very different people, they’d romanticise their roles in these relationships claiming to be the other’s “balance”. Way older adults were quick to acknowledge that it was a good thing. In conversations, I heard stuff like “You are good for him, your calmness will tame his wildness” and for a very long time I subscribed to this school of thought and I know I wasn’t alone. So many people have internalized this idea to the extent that more than 85% of people on dating platforms seek partners with opposite traits to theirs.
Many of the love stories out there are filled with people seeking or being attracted to partners who have traits that they lack, all in a bid to complement each other; like the ‘hot girl’ falling in love with the ‘nerd’. From the outside, it’s easy to say that each individual’s character balances out the other’s, but in reality though, there are rarely any happily ever afters for the adopters of this kind of dynamic.
Over the years, in film, there’s been a host of romantic dramas that have glorified this relationship dynamic, often starting relationships between characters from a place of dislike, before slowly finding common interests; The Notebook (2004), LoveBirds (2020), Revolutionary Road (2008), and Kasanova (2019) are just about a handful of them. For some reason, people have found these hate-first, love-later relationships enjoyable to watch.
When it comes to attraction, studies have shown that similarity in attitudes, personality traits, outside interests, and values play a major role, and individuals in romantic relationships tend to be alike in so many ways, but as similar as they are, matching in tons of characteristics, each individual still possesses something slightly different, and it is this contrast that tends to get noticed, becoming obvious to the public eye.
Other studies have also shown that these little personality contrasts tend to stand out and become bigger over time. Why? Because over time in the relationship, partners move into taking complementary roles. For instance, if a member of a couple is slightly more daring than the other, the couple may settle into a pattern in which the slightly-more-daring spouse claims the role of “the adventurous one” while the slightly-less-daring spouse slots into the role of “the cautious one.” Scientists have demonstrated that, yes, partners grow more complementary over time; while they may begin as quite alike, they find ways to differentiate themselves by degree.
With these studies, we can come to a conclusion that the myth that people become attracted to their differences is vastly outweighed by a human’s attraction to similarities. A number of people still believe this notion, when in reality, relatively similar partners just become a bit more complementary as time goes by.