Asking the Age-Old Question: Do Opposites Really Attract?

Relationships

Asking the Age-Old Question: Do Opposites Really Attract? | Wit & Delight
Photo by Devon Divine on Unsplash

We are surrounded by messaging in popular culture that tells us that when it comes to relationships, partners are generally opposites. Or at least, that’s who we’re attracted to. Men are from Mars, women are from Venus. You say po-ta-to, I say po-tah-to. She loves country with all her heart and soul, he goes out on a Saturday night for a little rock ‘n roll.

And with the exception of Paula Abdul’s tale of two disparate lovers (I guess?) who can’t agree on anything but do…ah…come together and the rest all works itself out, the message is this: These differences separate you. Whether you choose to surmount them, well, that’s your business. But generally speaking, you will be at odds and any overlap is either the result of coincidence or great force of will. And to be honest, that’s how I thought about romantic relationships (if I thought about them in this context at all) for a long time.

But the more I’ve applied the idea to my own relationship, the more I can see the value of partnering with someone who brings a different perspective, and in some respects, an entirely different approach to the way we go about our lives. As you might expect, it doesn’t mean living on ends of a spectrum. Looked at this way, your partner is just your inverse. The puzzle piece that can help you develop into a more balanced you. And in this paradigm, you’re both bringing something unique to the table that can help complete the circle. You’re succeeding as partners because of your differences.

The more I’ve applied the idea to my own relationship, the more I can see the value of partnering with someone who brings a different perspective, and in some respects, an entirely different approach to the way we go about our lives. . . . You’re succeeding as partners because of your differences.

And the whole idea of being attracted to someone who is your opposite, like star-crossed lovers in a good way, is summarized in the ’90s classic Sleepless in Seattle. “What we think of as fate is just two neuroses knowing they’re a perfect match.” And in my opinion, being someone’s opposite is the best way to fulfill that role. Perhaps our brains can identify what we need before we even do. Here are two scenarios where that plays out most often in my marriage:

I’m highly reactive, where my husband is more even-keeled.

There’s a great Key & Peele bit (spoofed on Tiktok) that features two friends misreading the tone of each other’s text messages. One is completely calm, but their answers are being read as aggressive by the friend on the other side. I am that worked up friend. And my husband is always there (to his chagrin, I’m sure) to bring me back down to earth. If I’m overthinking something—and there’s a 99.999999% chance I am—he reminds me to assume good intent, and if, after glancing at the offending interaction, slip of paper, tweet, text, email, or Instagram “like” he thinks I might have a valid point, he can be counted on to shrug his shoulders and calmly guide me in meditation with the phrase, “Kate, who cares.” Bliss.

I live in the present, where my husband likes to think long-term.

You may have learned about a marshmallow test in your high school psychology class, where young kids were asked to sit in a room by themselves with a marshmallow on a desk and not eat it. Friends, I cannot tell you in all honesty whether I would have passed that test. I am a planner in many respects, but I believe wholeheartedly in investing in the here and now. Going all out with our Halloween decorations because I want to see the look on our kids’ faces when they see our house covered in spiders? Check. Spending a little extra on the good gin to make our evening aperitifs? Done and done. My husband helps me balance the perks with more long-term planning: “Okay, do you want to live in the here and now when we’re finally able to travel again? When we’re retired? Then let’s get some structure around that.”

How we bring up tough issues in our relationship. Going out versus staying in. Whether the kids need a firm hand or a heart-to-heart. How we respond to motivation. I could go on and on. And you know what the oddest thing is? For any of those scenarios, our roles could be reversed entirely. Sometimes I’m the one who needs a pep talk, and sometimes it’s him. But we’re seldom on the same page about going hog wild on anything from the above at the same time. And while I can present an argument that brings my husband around to my point of view, we don’t (or fundamentally cannot?) sit around hyping each other up or encouraging the other to descend to our level of misery.

Now. This was from the perspective of me, a cisgendered woman, and my husband, a cisgendered male. A focus group of two, as we like to say at work. I’m curious to hear how you think about your partners and how you work together to balance the give and take in yourselves and your relationships. Go.

BY Kate Smith - August 23, 2020

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