Okay, so you like rom-coms and he likes stoner comedies. Things will definitely work out between you because opposites attract, right?
Well, you’re fighting the odds according to researchers at Wellesley College and the University of Kansas. Their research upends the idea that “opposites attract,” instead suggesting we’re more drawn to people who are like-minded.
The study was led by psychology professors Angela Bahns and Chris Crandall, who discovered that people in relationships don’t actually change each other over time. Instead, their evidence focuses on the early moments of a relationship, revealing that relationships are successful due to an initial level of similarity.
“Picture two strangers striking up a conversation on a plane, or a couple on a blind date,” says Bahns. “From the very first moments of awkward banter, how similar the two people are is immediately and powerfully playing a role in future interactions. Will they connect? Or walk away? Those early recognitions of similarity are really consequential in that decision.”
For a relationship to develop between the two strangers, there needs to be a shared level of similarity from their first encounter.
“You try to create a social world where you’re comfortable, where you succeed, where you have people you can trust and with whom you can cooperate to meet your goals,” says Crandall. “To create this, similarity is very useful, and people are attracted to it most of the time.”
To conduct the study, the researchers approached pairs of people interacting in public; they could have been romantically involved, friends, or acquaintances. The pairs were then asked a series of questions about attitudes, values, prejudices, personality traits, and behaviours that were important to them. The responses were then compared to see how similar or different they were.
The researchers tested whether the pairs who had known each other longer and whose relationships were closer and more intimate were more similar than the answers of the newly formed pairs. The research showed they were not.
Next, the researchers surveyed pairs who had just met at school, at a big state university, and several smaller colleges. They then approached the same pairs again later, allowing the them to determine that people who met at the big university were able to find more compatible pairs because there were more people who were similar to themselves, opposed to at the small colleges where there weren’t as many choices in friends.
“At small colleges friends were less similar, but just as close and satisfied, and spent the same amount of time together. We know that people pick similar people at first, but if you go out of your way you can find excellent friends, and meaningful relationships, with people who are different,” said Bahns.
The research also found that anything that could disrupt the harmony of a relationship, like disagreement in attitudes or values, are more likely to persist. Bahns says this should come as a “cautionary message” for those who think they can change their friends or romantic partners: “Change is difficult and unlikely; it’s easier to select people who are compatible with your needs and goals from the beginning.”
So the next time you find yourself constantly reassuring yourself on why you should be with someone you’re polar opposites with, maybe you should re-consider.
Because the old saying, “birds of a feather flock together,” certainly remains true.