Opposites attract– but can they last?

4 11 2009



When Harry Met Sally

I always hear people describe their own or other people’s relationships using trite phrases like “They complement each other,” or “We balance each other out,” or “He completes her.”  What all these phrases mean, in short, is that the two people in question are very different from each other, and that’s what makes the relationship work.

In almost every romantic comedy I’ve ever seen, this seems to be the case.  In When Harry Met Sally, an uptight, perky girl falls in love with an angsty eternal pessimist.  In Dirty Dancing, the rich, innocent Daddy’s girl falls in love with over-sexed, blue-collar playboy.  In Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (not a rom-com, but romance for sure), the introverted, OCD nerd falls in love with a spontaneous, blue-haired wild-child.  I could go on, but I’ll spare my male readers the agony. 

The problem is, those movies stop at the point where the two characters realize they’re in love and start making out in public.  But what happens after that?  In a real life relationship, those major differences in personality, taste, background or philosophy can cause problems.  An introvert and an extrovert may find themselves very attracted to each other, and maybe they do “complete” each other, most of the time.  But there’s always going to be that one party where the extrovert becomes frustrated with the introvert for being anti-social, or the introvert becomes frustrated with the extrovert for accidentally blurting out some private piece of information.

Same goes for people with very different backgrounds.  In real life, I’m not sure if Johnny and Baby from Dirty Dancing would have worked out.  A naive rich kid and a rough-around-the-edges blue collar bad boy may be attracted to each other, initially, but could they really sustain anything long-term?   How are they going to deal with finances? What kinds of vacations will they take, where will their kids go to school? 

Sometimes, of course, it does work.  Being from a small town in the deep South, I’ve always found myself attracted to urban dudes from the North.  Men from Boston, New York City, Philly, Chicago– they’re the most interesting and exciting to me because they’re the most different from me.  But along with that comes a certain number of cultural differences that we have to work towards understanding.  

For instance, I can’t not talk to my cab drivers.  It just feels wrong.  They’re giving me a ride somewhere, so I strike up a conversation with them.  Then, over the course of the ride from U St. to Southeast, I learn where they’re from, how they met their wives, how many kids they have and what their hopes and aspirations are.  I feel so attached them by the end of the conversation that I’ll give them $20 on a $7 cab ride, and my boyfriend looks at me like I’m some kind of otherworld freak.  He’s from Manhattan, which means he’s all business in a cab– tell him where you’re going, be cool, then give him a dollar and change at the end. Wham bam thank you ma’am.   I just can’t do it, it makes me uncomfortable.  But is it a deal-breaker?  No.  It’s a challenge, in a good way.

I do think some differences between couples are manageable and even positive.  I do think an introvert can balance out an extrovert for the most part, and I do think a city person and an outdoorsy bohemian can learn to accept and even appreciate each other’s lifestyles.  But I also think that in order to make that one major personality or philosophical difference work, two people need to be on the same page in most other aspects of life.  You better have the same sense of humor, a similar approach to religion or spirituality, an equal intellectual curiosity, a shared passion for music– otherwise, your differences are going to rub each other raw. 

What’s the consensus here?  Have you ever dated your opposite, and does it cause more problems than solutions?  Or is she the Sally to your Harry?  I’d love to see some case studies here.



10 responses

4 11 2009

You could do an entire post on people who time and time again end up dating the same “type”, only to find that their “type” actually ISN’T their “type” because…it never works out. Until they meet someone so different and awesome, leaving the former prototype in the dust.

You pretty much summed up my view: date someone that’s complements (and, well, compliments) you personality-wise, but that tends to share the same general ideology (whether it be culture, politics, music, whatever). I’m not looking to date myself, I’m looking to date someone who consistently challenges me and pushes me to be a better version of myself. Corny? yeah. But I think that’s what everyone is looking for out of a constructive relationship.

4 11 2009

Dead on girl! I experienced this in my marriage and it’s devastating. Live with the person before marrying if u are a sucker for opposites attract

4 11 2009

I like a challenge and would never want to be with anyone like myself, but I draw the line at social conservatives. I definitely could never be with a real republican. most enjoyable thing about the husband becoming a US citizen? filling out his voter registration card as a dem and not consulting him. if only I could go into the booth with him like they used to allow husbands to do to wives back in the day.

4 11 2009


4 11 2009
Edward Dandyhands

A relationship is all about give and take. Sacrifices here and there to maintain the overall happiness of the relationship. This blog post reminds me of one of my favorite scenes in Rocky 1:

Rocky is in the meat packing plant visiting Paulie, its after the first couple dates he’s had with Adrian (Paulie’s sister). Paulie, already drunk, asks Rocky what he sees in his introverted and nerdy sister…the Exchange goes as follows:
Paulie: [talking about Adrian] You like her?
Rocky: Sure, I like her.
Paulie: What’s the attraction?
Rocky: I dunno… she fills gaps.
Paulie: What’s ‘gaps’?
Rocky: I dunno, she’s got gaps, I got gaps, together we fill gaps.
Paulie: Are you ballin’ her?
Rocky: Hey!
[punches Paulie in the shoulder]
Rocky: You don’t talk dirty about your sister!

I am also reminded of Portfolio optimization in Financial Investing. Risky and non-risky assets are paired together based on levels of risk and expected return. Modern portfolio theory says that given an investor’s preferred level of risk, a particular portfolio can be constructed that maximizes expected return for that level of risk. Gotta diversify that portfolio!

ALSO…. in “Love Actually”….the author guy learns Portuguese! omg!

That’s all.

4 11 2009

Wow Dandyhands, you definitely just referenced Rocky I, portfolio optimization and Love Actually in the same comment. I’m awestruck.

4 11 2009
Jayne Yomamasfreind

The same reason you fall in love with a man ultimately ends up being the reason you can’t stand him. Familiarity breeds contempt. And, wow, Ed S., you are so, uh, diversified.

4 11 2009
Geof Boyle

An important point in a relationship is the 18 month or so point where the infatuation chemical cocktail in our brain we call ‘love at first sight’ wears off. At this point, the differences really start to matter, because when deeply seated differences rear their ugly heads, the love that exists is not the same as it was during the first months.
As far as relationships in lieu of a good self-help library or a therapist who doesn’t just tell you what you want to hear:
1) The challenged has to have accepted that there is room for improvement. That shit don’t work when a person thinks they are fine the way they are. Challengers need to know when to step back and maintain a healthy level of introspection regarding their need to challenge.

2) As long as the communication lines are open AND functioning, the gap-filling and you-challenge-me-to-be-better can be great. Consider the four spectra in Jungian personality stuff like Myers-Briggs. Rambler brought up the first: intro/extroversion. The other spectra also go into how two people of different personality types can be totally open and honest, yet totally fail to communicate with each other because different types listen for different things, value different aspects of people, and deal with the world in fundamentally different ways. The miscuing et al can be overcome, but it is difficult especially when pride and/or defensive behaviors arise during conflict, because then it becomes a competition instead of communication.
Best teaching certification class I took taught MB typology as a way to understand various classroom (read human) behaviors. I amazed students with broad fortune teller-like statements about their personalities once I got to know them (Student: YEAH!! I DON”T like planning anything and I hate being alone! How did you know that?? My private thought: ‘You don’t turn anything I assign and you can’t physically can’t shut up for more than a minute’ )

5 11 2009

Ha! I’d kick your ass with that tip too! Good man. Except with me, I’m the bastard that gives to the homeless…oh well. I say compartmentalize and iron out your differences in the bedroom. Ignore the disparities. Drink the kool-aid.

5 11 2009

I agree with ramblings – all of it – however noone has mentioned the posibility of marriage when you are deciding if this is the guy or girl you want to live with forever. Religion can hopefully be worked out – yes, music is imporetant, sense of humor is hopefully coming from both of you – etc. etc. but as my Mother always said – if you want to marry this man, don’t forget – you are marrying his family too.

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