Five Thirty Eight is a new website that uses data quantification to make qualitative evaluations of our human lives. A recent article concerning people really only wanting to date themselves captured my attention.
Opposites attract. That’s how the cliché goes, and people really believe they are attracted to those different from them: 86 percent say they want a partner who “complements them” rather than one who “resembles them.”
There’s only one problem with this idea: It’s false. I studied 1 million matches made by the online dating website eHarmony’s algorithm, which aims to pair people who will be attracted to one another and compatible over the long term; if the people agree, they can message each other to set up a meeting in real life. eHarmony’s data on its users contains 102 traits for each person — everything from how passionate and ambitious they claim to be to how much they say they drink, smoke and earn.
What’s so wholly interesting about the research isn’t in its conclusion: We Like What We Know; but rather in the nutty idea that we ever believed the old folklore that opposites actually attract.
We know, through quick and dirty, direct experience, that they do not. Sure, there’s a momentary fashion of clashes that leads opposites to heat and fire and intrigue, but in the end, opposites always end in ashes. That’s what happens when a human vacuum of revulsion is created: Each side eats the other and disappears into embers of nothingness.
I’m not sure why we think any sort of opposite would be long-term compatible — except for creating a nasty and sticky argument. Do we really want to spend our days demystifying reality with cake covered in conundrums?
I think we’re taught opposites attract in order to try to create some bridge across our polar differences. When extremes meet in the middle — to compromise, to get along, to pretend — good things can momentarily happen, but life cannot be sustained in a void of hatred and despise.
For a long while, there was thinking in the USA that people should segregate and stay in their own culture and marry the like-minded and the equally-religioso — and then we started killing each other over these differences of mind and matter and the solution to blend against wishes instead of making hay with “separate, but equal” — and we began to fool each other that the best of others was in the magneto opposite of what we were taught from the crib was right and true.
As our country ages and changes — but never matures — there’s a new discovery among us that we prefer those just like us, so much in fact, that, as 538 suggests, we would rather marry ourselves that dip outside our mind and body to find even the opposite sex of who we are in order to procreate.
We’d rather die than change our forgotten wants.
It is so much easier to get along with people who share the same values and tastes and goals and visions. Everyone agrees. Everyone moves forward together. The problem with that lockstep is that, even though we all want to be ourselves and marry us and be our own best friends, there are still others in the world who are different from us, even slightly enough, that we loathe them for what they believe against us and for how they behave in opposition to our self-prescribed needs and desires.
Now we’re back at the origin of deep disputes that may never be negotiated with the foreign and the different from us that are modularly odd from our DNA chain. How do we deal with these others, these opposite-thinkers, these daredevils in disguise who pretend to know us and who want to help us, but at what price — the loss of our personal love affair with ourselves?
The human question is one of recognition and compromise. We may not universally believe as a hive-minded experience, but we do know there’s a reason five-part harmony sounds sweeter and richer and more expansive to our ear than everyone singing the melody line: In the essence of us is a vital variation in tone and temperature and the sharing of what we think we know, but we have not yet learned the hard way.
The lesson in this whole, hoary, episode is to go ahead and marry yourself, but please have at least a few affairs with those you’d never trust yourself to be alone with in the future — because in that wrangling fear and immorality against your own mortal better wishes, is what allows us to not just evolve, but to endure.