Opposites Attract: An Illusionary Lie?

Opposites Attract: An Illusionary Lie?

“Opposites attract because they are the inversions of each other (81).”

I’ve had conversations over a few years with a male colleague, who is also a Doctoral Candidate of Psychoanalysis, about his dating issues over the years. He’s a good looking guy, smart guy, young, thoughtful, but keeps finding the same wrong girl. In a half joking way I told him that he needs to stop looking for his mother. A typical joke in our community.

“You’re not wrong man. I keep thinking I’m consciously finding someone who is the total opposite of my mother and I keep finding her. I sometimes hate when Psychoanalysis is right.”

He gave me flashbacks of friends and client’s that I have and a song that caught my attention during my teenage years. P.O.D. Youth of the Nation has a few lines that say,

“Little Suzy, she was only twelve
She was given the world
With every chance to excel

Hang with the boys and hear the stories they tell
She might act kind of proud
But no respect for herself

She finds love in all the wrong places
The same situations
Just different faces

Changed up her pace since her daddy left her
Too bad he never told her
She deserved much better”

I’ve always been bothered by Suzy’s story. Finding a lover that you believe is the cure for your problems, different from the rest, just to find out they’re the same as the ones you’ve had before. What’s a possible idea behind this?

In Can Love Last it’s mentioned that we may be attracted to someone who is the opposite of ourselves because we can safely fondle parts of ourselves that we wish not to claim. The quiet person finds themselves attracted and dating multiple adventurous people and the “innocent” lover keeps finding the rebellious lover. But, the problem is that those we find as lovers, are not the opposite. They contain the same qualities that we are avoiding and actively running from (82). How and why do we end up with these lovers that look like they have all the qualities we want, but end up having the opposite qualities, and sometimes, the qualities of familiar people we are trying to avoid?

It makes sense that we do this if we think carefully about it, and it’s not totally our fault. When you’re out on dates, everyone is putting out the “best” of themselves. You are and they are. Guys are nice and giving, girls are lively and bright. This seems to break down in a relationship and the “spark” being lost is blamed. Not so. Much of the time it is that the qualities we see in someone we are dating, their niceness, their aliveness, generosity, curiosity. All of those qualities they are oozing with are actions they are using to defend against the opposite quality they are struggling with. The nice lover has a streak of being an asshole, the lively lover ends up being dull and restrictive, the generous person ends up being cheap, the curious lover ends up being apathetic towards you. None of this happens quickly and you can spend months to years in a relationship before this is seen and the other side finally shows itself and its struggles (83). I recently spoke to another colleague about this and we figured out that you can feel this out in a relationship. You can sense when someone is nice because they’re a nice person and when someone is struggling to be nice.

So, I’m not sure if we should be worrying ourselves about if opposites attracting or not for the complexity of our humanity is much more complicated than magnetism of simple magnets. If only it could be that easy! We are just bad at finding our opposites. We find the same person in a different body. What do we do about this?

For this issue specifically, I feel the best thing to do is to observe the other person carefully. That’s difficult because we are swept away in love and passion and why should we even look for anything that might be wrong? That could bring us into paranoia and overreacting to events and ruining something that’s good. If that’s how your personality could fall, also get support for that. As much as we observe the other, we have to observe ourselves in the relationship to understand how we effect the other, yourself and the relationship.

Here are some more of my thoughts on How To Find a Good Lover.


Can Love Last? By Stephen Mitchell

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