Is it true that opposites attract? Or would you be happier in a relationship with someone who is very similar to you?
Is attraction something you have to create with another person? Or does it just happen automatically?
Have you ever made up a list of qualities your ideal mate should have, but when you finally met such a person, you realized there was no spark?
In many ways Erin and I are total opposites, but we find ourselves naturally attracted to each other. On a logical level, our relationship might seem like a mismatch, but in truth we are very close and very happy together.
Erin is very nurturing and motherly. In college she majored in psychology, partly so she could understand people better. She loves to encourage people and help them feel better about themselves. If our kids ever feel bad, she’s always there to cheer them up and help them solve their problems.
On the other hand, Erin has a much harder time with qualities like confidence and courage. Sometimes I’ve had to shove her out the door to try something new that would stretch her beyond her comfort zone. When people are mean to her, she is very hurt by it. She has a hard time dealing with unfairness and injustice because she can’t understand why anyone would choose to be cruel to anyone else.
Nurturing is not a quality I’d use to describe myself. Trying to be overly nurturing typically makes me nauseous. When other people get emotional around me, I’m more likely to roll my eyes until they get control of themselves. I’m all for abolishing the celebration of birthdays and holidays that include gift-giving because the whole practice seems so fluffy and lame to me.
My natural style involves pushing myself and others to grow. Confidence and courage are qualities that come easily to me, and I thrive on fresh challenges. I actually feel uncomfortable when I spend too much time in my comfort zone — it makes me itchy to try something new.
Erin is very right-brained and intuitive. She’s an extremely talented psychic medium and has been developing those skills since childhood. A lot of people are shocked by the stuff she’s able to pick up about them. She’s imaginative and creative and wrote her first novel in only 16 days. She can play piano by ear, a skill our daughter seems to have inherited.
Left-brained thinking is much harder for Erin. Helping our daughter with her third-grade math homework is sometimes a stretch for Erin. Erin does a lot of things I feel are borderline ADD like leaving lights on all over the house when there’s no one in those rooms or sometimes leaving cabinet doors and drawers open after she’s retrieved something from them. Often when I go to the kitchen after she’s been there, it looks like a small tornado swept through it. Sheldon Cooper would go kittywompus.
Right-brained thinking didn’t come naturally to me. It was something I really had to work hard to develop in my adult years. I thought that intuition was just woo-woo fluff. I found it much easier to understand computers than human beings. I considered most artist/musician types to be lazy, still-living-with-mommy-at-age-30 losers. I could only respect people who could think things through logically.
I am much more left-brained. In college I double-majored in computer science and math. I began learning computer programming at age 10 and was naturally good at it. I like to be very organized, and I have a low tolerance for disorder. If you’ve read my book, I’m sure you’ll agree that it’s highly structured and organized in a fluff-free manner. Left-brained people usually love it, while right-brained people are more likely to find it a little rigid for their tastes.
On some fundamental dimensions of personality, Erin and I are total opposites. She’s on one end of the spectrum, and I’m on the other end.
And yet despite these major differences, we both felt very attracted to each other. Our 15+ years together have been an incredible journey, and we’re really looking forward to what the next 15 will bring.
I think the reason our relationship has worked so well is that Erin and I are really, really good for each other. She stimulates me to grow and change in ways no one else does, and I do the same for her.
When you enter a relationship with someone who’s very different than you, you’re likely to experience a lot of growth and change, assuming there’s a healthy underlying attraction. But when you’re in a relationship with someone who’s just like you, that relationship won’t stimulate nearly as much inner growth.
Erin opened me up to a world I didn’t even know existed. The first time we met, we spent two hours discussing lucid dreaming, mostly with me asking questions and her telling me about her experiences. Later she taught me about astral projection, something I was able to explore firsthand that same year.
Erin also helped me to get in touch with my heart, to learn to connect with human beings (not just machines), and to think about how I could help others instead of just myself.
Early in our relationship, I admitted to Erin that I really didn’t know how to love. Love was an alien concept to me. Her response was, “I will teach you.” There’s no way I’d have written hundreds of free articles to help people grow if not for Erin’s influence.
Similarly, when I first met Erin, she was working as a $9/hour secretary. The whole notion of deliberately setting and achieving goals was practically unknown to her. She was fun to be around, but it seemed doubtful that she’d really get anywhere in life on her own. Her biggest dreams were perpetually stuck in the fantasy stage. She lacked confidence and drive and became overly nervous if she was ever called on to perform in some fashion.
Just as Erin helped me open my heart and my intuition, I helped her get better at courage, confidence, and left-brained thinking. Looking back it’s pretty amazing how much she’s grown. Even her family has commented on how different she is now.
I encouraged Erin to write and to develop her various talents and skills. I pushed her to create an online business (which she later sold), to start a blog, to become a pro psychic medium, to join Toastmasters, to take Tae Kwon Do lessons, to go vegetarian and then vegan, to move to Las Vegas with me, to travel more, and to make lots of other positive changes.
Erin and I continue to be excited about our relationship because we can see how good we are for each other. We know that we couldn’t have achieved all these personal growth gains on our own. Every year we continue to enjoy positive changes that naturally arise from how we influence each other on a day-to-day basis.
In recent years a great deal of material has been created to explain how to attract a relationship partner. Some of it is technique-based, while much of it encourages you to develop the inner qualities a potential partner would find attractive.
I do think this material can be helpful for many people, especially since a great deal of it overlaps with general principles of personal development.
However, a huge amount of relationship material is rooted in a mindset that I don’t agree with — that you must first change something about yourself in order to become worthy of attracting a really great relationship partner. This mindset pre-supposes that for whatever reason, you aren’t yet capable of attracting that partner in this particular moment. This is a tricky mindset. I won’t say it’s exactly wrong, but I think it’s missing the big picture.
Let me offer you an alternative way of thinking about attraction.
A while back I wrote an article called Self-Acceptance vs. Personal Growth, which is about how to make positive changes while at the same time accepting yourself just as you are. Don’t begin with the erroneous assumption that you’re somehow defective.
This is a good way to think about attraction as well. Attraction occurs very naturally. Instead of learning techniques and “inner game” to become attractive, I think it’s more accurate to say that we need to learn how to stop blocking attraction when it naturally arises. You are already attractive. You just need to realize that and stop blocking yourself from expressing your natural attractiveness.
How many animal species hold seminars to teach their members how to attract a mate? They don’t need anything like that because they don’t have our level of social conditioning that tells them they’re ugly and unattractive and need to be repaired before they’re worthy. They just drop for it in the bushes and then go back to foraging.
Instead of trying to diagnose what you need to change or fix about yourself in order to attract a desirable partner, look at it from the opposite perspective. What sort of people do you find naturally attractive?
I’m going to suggest that the people you find naturally attractive are the same people that can help stimulate massive positive changes within you. Even if it doesn’t logically seem like a great match, such partners can potentially be very good for you — not always, but quite often.
When Erin and I first met, we naturally attracted each other. We didn’t need to use tricks and techniques, and we didn’t need to develop our inner qualities either. We certainly weren’t masters of social dynamics, but it didn’t matter. We allowed the attraction to unfold naturally. And 15 years later, we’re still great matches for each other.
Now don’t get me wrong. I think there’s a lot of value to be gained from improving your social skills as well as doing things that make you feel more attractive, especially on the inside. But I would also suggest that entering in a new relationship with someone is one of the best ways to grow and improve.
Instead of thinking about what you should change about yourself in order to gain a relationship, think in the opposite direction. How might a new relationship help you create all those changes? A relationship isn’t an end goal. It’s yet another pathway to long-term growth.
We’re all imbalanced beings to one degree or another. That’s perfectly okay. Don’t think of your personality quirks as defects you must repair. Ironically those quirks may be exactly what someone else finds most attractive about you.
The nice thing about improving through a relationship (as opposed to improving for a relationship) is that you get to enjoy life with your very best personal coach at your side. Instead of growing to get the relationship, you experience growth because of the relationship.
What Attracts You?
What qualities do you find naturally attractive in others? See if you can push past the social conditioning about what is supposed to attract you, and get in touch with what really does attract you.
For example, I’m not usually attracted to women who are too similar to me personality-wise. I have many confident, left-brained women as friends, but I don’t feel drawn to take those relationships to a deeper level. Those qualities just don’t attract me in that way.
On the other hand, I’m naturally attracted to women like Erin who are opposite from me in many ways.
If you’re familiar with the Myers-Briggs personality types, I’m an ENTJ. Isabel Briggs Myers describes ENTJs as follows: “Frank, decisive, assume leadership readily. Quickly see illogical and inefficient procedures and policies… Enjoy long-term planning and goal setting. Usually well informed, well read, enjoy expanding their knowledge and passing it on to others. Forceful in presenting their ideas.” That sounds like me.
My opposite on this spectrum would be an ISFP, which is described this way: “Quiet, friendly, sensitive, and kind. Enjoy the present moment, what’s going on around them. Like to have their own space and to work within their own time frame. Loyal and committed to their values and to people who are important to them. Dislike disagreements and conflicts, do not force their opinions or values on others.”
When I read the description of ISFP, I also note that it’s a good description of the types of women I feel most naturally attracted to. Erin isn’t an ISFP, but she does have many ISFP qualities, especially sensitivity and loyalty. (When I asked Erin what type she was, she couldn’t recall, but I remember it wasn’t my exact opposite.)
Now if I were to make a list of what I think I desire in a relationship partner, I probably wouldn’t list the qualities of an ISFP or anything close to it. Instead I’d probably write down many of the qualities I already possess, in an attempt to find someone I’d consider highly compatible. However, when I notice how I actually feel about women who possess the qualities I think I want, I typically feel little or no spark of attraction. On the other hand, when I meet women who are ISFPs or close to it, my left-brain might assume they wouldn’t be a good match for me, but meanwhile my own body is signaling very strongly that I’m feeling an instinctual attraction.
This played out when Erin and I first met. Initially I wasn’t even thinking about her as a romantic partner. In my mind she wasn’t really my type. I was also dating someone else at the time.
But as Erin and I began spending time together, I couldn’t help but feel more and more attracted to her, not logically but biologically. I wasn’t even trying to get into a relationship with her. It just unfolded in a very easy, natural way as a result of that undeniable attraction. To this day I still feel a very strong attraction to her, even though my logical mind can continue to churn out reasons why she really isn’t my type.
I’ve seen this in other successful relationships too. Sometimes I look at a couple and wonder how they could possibly stand each other. Their personalities are so different. But those differences somehow complement each other, and their relationship makes them both happy and helps them grow tremendously.
I’m suggesting that instead of trying to hunt down and connect with someone who has qualities you think you want in a partner, come at this from the opposite direction. Begin to notice those people you feel naturally attracted to, even if you can’t explain why. Then start listing their qualities. And finally, review your list and ask yourself how someone with those qualities might actually be an incredible partner for you if you got together. Perhaps the reason you feel such an attraction in the first place is that those people possess qualities that will help you grow.
I can offer good reasons why women who are quiet, sensitive, loyal, and conflict-avoiding would be poor matches for me as relationship partners. I could spell out the reasons why I’d very much prefer to connect with strong-willed, independent, thick-skinned women. But that doesn’t change what I’m naturally attracted to. As David DeAngelo says, “Attraction is not a choice.”
Perhaps this is an area where we simply need to upgrade our logic. Maybe our biological circuitry is working just fine, but we aren’t seeing the big picture. We get too stuck in the social programming of what we’re taught to be attracted to instead of paying attention to the real human beings that we’re naturally attracted to. So instead of choosing partners that we actually want, we get caught up in judgments that cause us to rule them out.
“My parents won’t like him.”
“He’s too short and too bald.”
“She doesn’t have the same hobbies I do.”
“My friends would make fun of me if I went out with him.”
But what if there’s a reason we seem to be attracted to those people who, on the surface, appear to be wrong for us? Perhaps by mating with our opposites, we create a stronger family unit (even if it doesn’t take the form of a nuclear family). Instead of doubling up on talents and skills you already possess, wouldn’t it be better to enter a relationship with someone who brings something new to the table? Then you collectively cover a lot more bases that way.
This is how my relationship with Erin has played out. Because we’re so different, we each bring a wide variety of skills to the table, and our family is better off as a result. Our children also gain two different role models to learn from.
Recognizing natural attraction
Now here’s where things get interesting.
It’s been my experience that when I connect with women I’m naturally attracted to, I can often see clear evidence that the attraction is mutual, even if neither of us are willing to acknowledge that attraction openly. It’s as if there’s a magnetic field pulling us closer to each other. But when our logical minds notice what’s happening, there’s a tendency to resist and try to block it because we’ll reason, “No, this person isn’t my type, so I can’t be feeling attraction right now.”
I remember talking about one particular guy with Erin. I said to her, “You two are so much alike. He has all the qualities you say you admire in men. You must find him very attractive. If you wanted to hook up at some point, I certainly wouldn’t be surprised. I think you two would be great together.” But Erin said, “I know, but I just don’t feel it. I’m not attracted to him in that way at all.” At first I thought that was strange because this guy has many qualities that Erin has said she wished I possessed… and yet she feels no special attraction to him. She’s telling the truth. When I see them together, I can tell there’s no spark.
On the other hand, when Erin tells me which people she’s naturally attracted to, I sometimes laugh. “That guy? Really? How is that even possible?” But it’s equally clear that she’s telling the truth.
This works both ways. When I tell Erin about certain women I’m attracted to, she’ll sometimes be surprised. “Really? You like her?” she’ll say. Sometimes she’ll point out why such a person would be a bad match for me, and on a logical level, we’re always in agreement about that. Nevertheless, the attraction remains.
When we sense an attraction to someone, it’s so easy to deny how we feel. Our logical minds break through and explain why we’re facing a bad match. She’s overweight — no way. He’s too aggressive — not for me. If I go out with him/her, my friends will think I’m nuts.
The problem is that when we turn our backs on those feelings, we’re also turning our backs on truth. The feelings are there, so we might as well accept them, make peace with them, and seek to understand them.
Perhaps we should stop denying these natural attractions and see where they lead instead. Maybe it’s better to let go of our judgments and trust our feelings for a change.
Do you think other animals rule out potential mates by talking themselves out of the attraction they feel? Does a male gorilla stop himself, “I dunno. She seems kinda hairy. And she doesn’t have the right waist-hip ratio.”
Does the female gorilla say, “All that chest pounding and ripping up the grass… Who does he think he is anyway? My parents will never accept him, especially since he isn’t Jewish.”
I’ve spent 15 years with a woman I feel naturally attracted to. I often call her by the nickname “Mate” because that’s how I naturally feel about her. I don’t have to reason why we’re together. It just feels naturally right to me. And so far it’s turned out amazingly well in terms of happiness, mutual growth, and a loving connection.
I can’t even imagine what it would be like to be in a relationship with someone for logical reasons — where I convinced myself that it was a good match, but deep down I just didn’t feel that spark of attraction.
I know it’s possible to create attraction. You can learn how to do things that will make another person feel attracted to you. There are lots of people teaching how to do that these days. But is this a wise idea?
In your gut don’t you sense there’s something not quite right about using tactics and techniques to cause someone to be attracted to you, someone who wouldn’t otherwise find you attractive?
I think the answer depends on the circumstances. Are you trying to hide the real you and to project a false image that people are attracted to? Or are you working to eliminate the blocks that prevent your real attractiveness from coming through?
I see wisdom in learning how to express ourselves more naturally and authentically. This can lead to relationships that are naturally good for us, that make us happy, and that help us grow. The attraction is genuine.
But projecting a false image is the wrong way to go. This leads to relationships rooted in falsehood, denial, and deception. The people we attract won’t be good matches for us, and we won’t enjoy the optimal growth that comes from finding a true mate.
Attraction and Truth, Love, and Power
Even though your attraction circuitry may seem to operate on a subconscious, biological level, it isn’t there to frustrate you or to derail you. It actually serves a greater purpose by helping you become more aligned with truth, love, and power.
First, attraction helps to align you with truth. Attraction teaches you to let go of falsehood and denial and to practice acceptance. Can you talk about your attractions openly, even if it means others might reject your preferences? Are you ashamed of those you find attractive? Or can you accept this part of yourself completely and without judgment?
Second, attraction helps you align with love. By exploring your attractions and attractiveness, you’ll learn to connect with what naturally makes you happy. This happiness will inspire all other areas of your life. You also have the opportunity to enjoy one or more loving relationships. And you will have the joyful experience of connecting with a partner who finds you naturally attractive just the way you are.
Third, attraction helps you align with power. A relationship rooted in attraction can serve as a pillar of tremendous strength and growth. You’ll learn to stand up for your preferences and to stop apologizing for wanting what you want.
When you rail against what naturally attracts you and try to enter a relationship for reasons other than attraction, you throw yourself out of alignment with truth (by practicing non-acceptance), with love (by disconnecting from your feelings), and with power (by settling for a weaker bond).
Attraction isn’t the only important factor when it comes to relationships. By all means, consider the logical aspects too. Just take note that a relationship rooted in mutual attraction lays a very strong foundation.
Do your best to be true to your feelings instead of trying to reason your way into something that doesn’t feel right to you. Listen to your body more than your social conditioning. If you find yourself in a relationship with someone that your body doesn’t respond to as your natural mate, admit that you made a mistake, and take steps to move on. If you deny your true desires, you’ll be robbing yourself as well as your partner of tremendous opportunities for love, growth, happiness, and yumminess.
There is no one person in the world you must find to become your perfect mate. The world is filled with suitable partners for you. But it will be hard to find and attract them if you lead with your logical mind. Let your body and your feelings guide you instead. You can always engage your logical mind after the fact to figure out how you got so damned lucky.