Do Opposites Really Attract? What the Fascinating Science Says

Like a lot of things in relationships, the answer is complicated.

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The old romantic adage is a cute one, but according to recent studies, opposites don’t necessarily attract.

Research shows that people tend to seek out relationships with—and eventually marry—partners who have similar defining characteristics, such as age, political orientation, religion, education, and income.

“Generally speaking, when we think about opposites attracting or not, we’re thinking in terms of personality rather than these big key demographic factors,” says Vinita Mehta, a clinical psychologist and writer based in Washington, D.C.

One big factor as to why this may be is simply your stage of life: where you live, what lifestyle you have, and what kind of people you’re exposed to.

“If you’re on a college campus, by and large, you’re going to find people who are in your age group,” Mehta says. “You’re going to find people who at least eventually become part of the same general income strata.”

Researchers from the University of Kansas made a bolder claim. A study released earlier this year analyzed real-world relationships and asked couples (romantic partners, friends, and acquaintances) about attitudes, behaviors, values, prejudices, and personality traits that were important to them. The pairs that had closer and more intimate relationships were not necessarily more similar than newly formed pairs, and people shared similarities on almost every personal issue that was measured.

The lead psychologists on this study believe this doesn’t happen by chance; it’s so common and widespread that seeking out like-minded people may be our psychological default when we make new friends or romantic partners. We certainly get the most out of these relationships. They make us more comfortable and trusting of the other person, and that makes it easier to cooperate and achieve goals.

As far personalities go, connecting on major traits, like levels of neuroticism and conscientiousness, generally lead to happier couples. But that doesn’t mean you and your significant other need to agree on everything. Having different quirks—less defining parts of your personality, like your favorite sport or foods—can introduce you to new activities and ways of thinking, which can make you a more well-rounded person.

MORE: Surprising Secrets of the Most Happily Married Couples

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest