Do opposites attract? Recently, a niece of mine who is of “marriageable age” asked me for advice about relationships and choosing a life partner. She didn’t actually ask, but I felt compelled to offer some words of wisdom. After all, one of the perks of being an adult is that you don’t have to ask your mother before reaching for a chocolate or, for that matter, 10. And one of the perks of being in a relationship is that you can freely dole out gyan to all and sundry about what makes these couplings work and what doesn’t.
One of the most common truisms on relationships, including arranged ones, is that opposites attract. On the face of it, this appears self-evident. Just look at all our grandparents. In every successful marriage, it seems, the involved parties have proclivities that are totally opposite: The wife likes fusion food, the husband loves desi khana; the wife is a socialist, the husband, a capitalist; the wife drives a BMW, the husband, a beat-up truck. And this applies even to the smallest of factors. I am doing a running tally of couples based on temperature tolerance. So far, I haven’t come across a single instance of a couple desiring the same temperature. If the man likes cold weather, the woman likes it hot, or vice-versa, as is the case with my in-laws. I have been to homes where the wife’s areas (which, in many cases, seems to be the entire house!) are kept piping hot, while the husband’s domain (the study, usually) is cooled by an Arctic blast.
Paul Cutright, a relationship coach and author, says that “unresolved patterns” attract. In other words, he says, what most people call falling in love is really about falling in pattern. We—each of us—have certain patterns that define us and we seek complementary partners. This cosmic rebalancing works on many levels. Arranged marriages with their astrological predictions are all about matching and balancing. The very term, magnetic attraction, comes from opposing magnets; chemistry is full of ionic neutralization that happens when strong acids and bases are mixed together. At the subatomic level, protons and electrons come to rest, figuratively speaking, when they cancel out one another’s charges. To carry these loosely-arrayed proofs to their logical, but somewhat lunatic, conclusion: If opposites can attract for atoms, why not for humans?
Role play: He probably wishes he was elsewhere (in front of the telly, for example)
Let me quote another study here to justify just the opposite. A few years ago, the University of Iowa conducted what was then a very comprehensive study of some 290 couples. Each couple was given an exhaustive Marital Assessment Test to find out what factors contributed to marital bliss. The study concluded that “personality-similarity” was related to marital happiness but “attitude-similarity” was not. What does this mean? Attitudes are our values, the way we lead our lives. They are highly visible and out there for all to see. Attitudes are sentences which begin with a “I feel…”, or “In my opinion…”, or “I believe that…”. Are you an idealist or a realist? Are you for or against the death penalty? Attitudes are your political, religious and family values. They are all the things you say on a first date to try to impress the other person.
Harder to assess is personality. It involves peeling the onion and revealing various layers with all their pungency and potential for tears. Does the person actually like travel (even though she says she does), or is she a creature of habit and routine? Is the person risk-averse? Is he an extrovert or an introvert (and this has little to do with how much he or she talks)? Does she like solitude or being in the company of people? What about biorhythms: Is she a morning or night person; is she fast-moving and erratic like an ayurvedic Vata-type or slow-moving like a Kapha?
Personality is an onion; it involves layers and is, therefore, harder to assess. But here is the thing: If you have a similar personality, you will have a happier marriage even if you have opposite attitudes. I certainly didn’t know this when I got married. I wouldn’t have expected this conclusion but I happen to agree with it. Think of it this way: Should a meticulous man marry a careless woman? Conventional wisdom would say, yes, of course. His meticulousness would balance out her sloppiness. Yes, but what if her prolonged sloppiness slowly drives him nuts? Instead, think of the opposite scenario. Both partners are careless. The bills don’t get paid on time; the homework gets forgotten; the house isn’t perfect. But they don’t get on each other’s nerves. He doesn’t blame her for all the errors. They both accept the ‘lower’ standard of living in terms of efficiency because both realize that they are together to blame. Along the same lines, I think it helps if someone who makes quick decisions marries a similar type instead of someone who endlessly vacillates. This is personality.
In conclusion, let me just say that opposites may attract but they may not be good for each other over the long term. Instead, find a partner whose personality matches yours. Peel the onion and discover the layers.
(Instead of offering her niece marital ‘gyan’, Shoba Narayan is going to give her a barrel of onions. Write to her at the email@example.com. Read her previous columns on www.livemint.com/shoba-narayan)