Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Do Opposites Attract?

Which would you prefer: a meaningful personal relationship or a meaningless impersonal relationship?

If you wish the first, you would do well to choose someone with whom you have a lot in common. If the latter, you will more likely choose someone with whom you feel an instant attraction but little in common.

Familiarity produces an initial feeling of comfort. You are comfortable in a person’s presence when you are both playing the same game by the same rules. When you know what to do and what the other person’s gestures mean, you will feel like you are in the presence of a friend.

While this does not produce immediate sexual stimulation, it is essential to a sustained relationship. You will usually have a much harder time sharing your life with someone who feels like a stranger. And people feel like strangers when they are, culturally speaking, strangers. All of the world's feeling-sharing is not going to overcome the divide that exists between people who come from completely different cultural worlds.

When you meet someone with whom you have very little in common, you will feel somewhat in danger. The feeling of being threatened seems to produce an adrenaline rush that is stimulating and exciting. Apparently, it also produces feelings that seem to denote sexual arousal.

After all, when you have no other way of communicating effectively, you are more likely to fall back on the default position and connect using the universal language of sex: you will hook up.

In the long term, you will have a great difficulty sustaining your attraction to danger. It is simply too tiring. If you fail to establish a social connection your sexual attraction will eventually disappear.

Or, so it seems.

Speaking of personality traits, Christorpher Beam reports: “Someone who at first seemed spontaneous begins to seem irresponsible and flaky. That quiet and mysterious person appears brooding and isolated. What was once gregariousness becomes never shutting up.” Link here.

Beam explains that common interests are the basis for a durable relationship: “It's an established tenet of social psychology that similarities rather than differences—whether in attitude, personality, age, income, race, or religion—produce a lasting relationship…. People from different religious backgrounds might want to raise children in different traditions, or those from disparate economic backgrounds might clash on the importance of education. Agreement, meanwhile—whether on movies, restaurants, religion, or favorite romantic comedies—produces positive emotions and more fruitful relationships.”

He continues: “When couples begin with a great deal in common, they tend to work to have more in common: “Not only is like attracted to like, like becomes more like like over time. In other words, similar people become more similar once they enter a relationship…. When two people start dating, they start to see similarities in each other—even if those similarities don't exist. For example, if you think of yourself as intelligent, you're likely to start seeing your partner as intelligent, too. People want to make relationships work, after all, so they look for common ground.”

Of course, belong to different cultures is not the same as belonging to different genders.

Belonging to a different culture makes you a stranger. Belonging to a different gender does not, except in the sense that you belong to a different family.

Different families from the same neighborhood are not as different as different families from different parts of the world.

In all cases, our task is to bridge cultural divides. It is not enough to learn, in a multicultural way, to respect those who have different customs, manners, and values. If we are going to get along, we need to establish a common cultural ground.

Cultural differences can only be bridged by having each party adopt a single set of customs, manners, and values. Normally, those are going to be the mores that define the dominant culture.

In our modern world, where many of us live in great cosmopolitan metropolises, we are constantly being called upon to accommodate people from different cultures. It takes time to adapt, and we are generally sympathetic to those who are working to do so.

And yet, relationship studies suggest that there is a limit to how much people are able to adapt. Diversity is inevitable in the modern workplace and in a world defined by free trade and global communications.

But, when it comes to romance and marriage, to long term relationships, one does best to find a partner with whom one has more, not less, in common.

Familiarity does not breed contempt. It helps to sustain family ties. It’s not an accident that the words are etymologically connected.


David Foster said...

Determining what traits are really "in common," though, can be trickier than it seems. Two people can have similar family backgrounds, religions, political views, etc, but yet be very, very different in terms of their deep values and psychological makeups.

In Ayn Rand's "We the Living," the fierce anti-Communist Kira becomes close friends with the devoted Communist Andrei. Here's Kira, speaking to Andrei:

"..you see, if we had souls, which we haven't, and if our souls met - yours and mine - they'd fight to death. But after they had torn each other to pieces, to the very bottom, they'd see that they had the same root..."

Stuart Schneiderman said...

I wonder if this prefigures the Carville-Matalin marriage.

I agree with Beam, however, that differences of opinion are only important if people identify completely with them.

Some people refuse to associate with others who have different opinions, and they would obviously have a difficult time sustaining a relationship with someone who disagreed with them.

For my part I prefer to emphasize customs, manners, and values-- the propriety/decorum axis-- as a better way to identify oneself socially than by ideological commitment.

Anonymous said...

TO: Dr. Schneiderman
RE: Gee....

Do Opposites Attract

...has anyone done an MBTI analysis?

I know that I'm an ENTJ.

I also know that the distaff is an INTJ.

Are those qualifying 'opposites'?


[Democracy is two Bolsheviks and a kulak voting for how to re-distribute property. Liberty is a well armed and well trained kulack in opposition to the vote.]

P.S. Yeah....

....I know the tag-line is a tad 'obscure'....BUT....based on what I've been observing of late....

Anonymous said...

I'm a 20 year old undergrad psychology student and I just wanted to say how much I look forward to reading your blog every day and how much I appreciate the effort you put forth. I draw so much wisdom and enlightenment from almost every single post. I've become so disillusioned with my major because I find myself disagreeing with so much that is being taught. I had so many negative feelings and garnered so much resentment towards every class I was taking. I stumbled across your blog and it so accurately described every thing I was feeling towards the entire field of psychology and also the world. Your blog has covered almost all of the thoughts I have been taught were shameful or that made me a bad person for feeling and explained so beautifully why feeling this way didn't make me a bigot or narrowminded. (Being anti-Gay marriage, anti-hooking up) You take topics that are so controversial and explain them so eloquently. You make your argument so gingerly and rationally that no one could accuse you of being a bigot. When I read your posts on character, virtue, and manners I am reminded that despite what our society tries to tell people, there IS a right and wrong and it is worth defending. You have given me more advice and wisdom than any of my professors have. You remind me why being a good person is worth the struggle, especially when it seems like good character counts for less and less. A love letter was not my intention, but I really can't say enough good things about your blog and I thought you should know how much some people get out of it. You are the voice of reason in such a confusing time. So for that, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. Can you just be the president? I think we would be in a much better place.
-indebted in los angeles

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Thank you so much, Anonymous, for that very gracious and generous comment. I am humbled but very happy to know that you enjoy the blog and are profiting from it.

This is going to sound like a bit of a cliche... but that makes the work that I put into it worthwhile.

I am not always as informed as I should be about the issues that are of special interest to college students, so if there are any topics or questions that you would like me to address, please feel free to leave a comment or drop me an email.

Again, many, many thanks...