Like the rush of a roller coaster, meeting our personality’s opposite feels exhilarating and thrilling. We throw caution to the wind, rebel against our very selves, and feel expansively liberated. Self-criticism vanishes as you experience yourself connected to someone who possesses the desired traits you believe you lack. Perhaps you are introverted and she is outgoing, or you never went to college and he has a law degree, or perhaps you are very work focused and he is carefree and spontaneous, perhaps you have a very small family and she has an extended, warm family. Whatever it is that is so different feels inspiring precisely because it takes you away from what you are bored with or disdain about yourself. In the long run, however, this initial charge of excitement loses its appeal for most as resentment and distance invariably grows. Here are 4 reasons opposites don’t attract over the long term:
1. Identity Confusion:
After the initial high of new love wanes, you may find yourself, well, back to being yourself. You want to stay in, they want to go out, you want to read, and they want to talk. Many in this situation then start the long, arduous, task of trying to convince each other to be like the other. After a while you can spend so much time trying to please your partner or trying to get them to be like you, that you no longer recognize yourself. Or perhaps your identity wasn’t so sturdy to start with and that’s partly why you fell into this relationship. Either way, it can be helpful to take a step back and work on understanding and accepting yourself as you truly are.
2. Low Self-Esteem:
All of the rationalizing and explaining you do within yourself about why you and your partner are not as close as you’d like or as you thought you would/should be eventually corrodes self-esteem. After a while it can feel like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole, if you will. And it’s easy for people to blame themselves and wonder what they are doing wrong that is creating the distance in the relationship. In reality, it may be nothing in particular wrong with you per se (or your partner!), other than it is a tall order to expect yourself to be at ease with someone so different from you.
3. Lack of Shared Joy:
We are who we are and if the differences are fairly pronounced we invariably return to our enduring selves. This means when your partner wants to go bungee jumping and you’d prefer to relax around the fire, you likely go your separate ways. You do things that make you feel like yourself and yet you feel lonely and long for connection. Over time, couples in this situation stop having fun together and the connection deteriorates. A component of intimacy is doing thing you enjoy together as a couple, this fosters shared wellbeing, intimacy and laughter — all of which keep people connected for the longer term.
4. Resentment Builds:
The longer these themes prevail in your relationship the more bitter one or both members can become. Negative emotion lies just beneath the surface and resentment builds. Eventually this leads to more frequent fighting, arguing and eventually detachment.
In my book, Getting Close to Others, I offer specific strategies around finding the right romantic match.