Depending on the situation I’ll either say, “Opposites attract!”, or “Like attracts like!” as if that explains everything. And actually, these two statements cover just about any kind of relationship. From good friends who see eye-to-eye, to December/May romances. But when it occurred to me that these two adages are mutually exclusive, I set out to reconcile the discrepancy.
My first thought was about Bob and how we are both old hippies who share the same cultural background and values. In the early stages of my relationship with Bob my mother gave me this advice: “The most important thing is that you share the same values.” My enduring friendships are also based on common values. My friend Pam and I call each other two peas in a pod, Haruka and I both believe in supporting our husbands with clean laundry and cooked meals, and Shelley and I keep the same kind of welcoming, high-and-tidy home. This all makes sense and explains “Like attracts like”.
On the other hand, I also like to hang out with people who are not like me. They give my life a little extra zip with their spontaneous, fun-loving chaos. And to be fair, Bob and I are not so, so alike. He tends towards hedonism while I cultivate an air of self-denial. I speak mostly in the declarative, and Bob is an accomplished questioner. And you only have to look at our desks to see one other telling difference. But these are traits, not values. And therein lies the difference. When two people have different traits, they balance each other out and this is just as important as seeing the world through similar lenses.
I believe that opposites attract on a primal and more physical level. Back in our tribal era, humans were compelled to expand their gene pool by selecting mates from other tribes. Otherwise we would be an inbred mess, easy victims for a bacteria or virus targeting our particular gene sequencing. So, when puberty began tugging at our hormones we often wandered outside our familiar circles. We set our sights on people who didn’t look or act like us and threw in with them. In this way we created diversity and ensured the success of our species.
Well, that about wraps it up. We have to think enough alike to get along, and act and look different enough to mix things up. And so, both adages, “Like Attracts Like,” and “Opposites Attract” are true and not at all mutually exclusive.