When Opposites Don’t Attract

Old cliches notwithstanding, people often seek out partners similar to themselves in many ways. Researchers call this phenomenon “assortative mating.”

Perhaps mercifully, people are more likely to end up with partners who share similar political and religious views. But like also tends to attract like in several other ways, including some personality traits.

Some of the areas where researchers have found evidence for assortative mating are:

1. Generosity

If you’re a Mr. Scrooge, your punishment could be that you end up with a Mrs. Scroogette. According to a 2014 study, people tend to marry other people who donate to charity and contribute to the public good at a similar rate.

2. Morningness-Eveningness

Research done in 2011 found that night owls tend to end up with other night owls, morning larks with other morning larks.

It stands to reason that one partner being at peak chipperness while the other is hitting snooze for the twelfth time and cursing the A.M. might not be a recipe for a happy relationship. On average, women wish their partners’ circadian rhythms were more aligned with their own.

The authors of the 2011 study also suggest that early-to-bed-early-to-rise times are simply less likely to meet those who burn the midnight oil since there’s less overlap between their preferred times for work and leisure.

3. Mental Illness

Earlier this year, researchers from King’s College London found that people with psychiatric disorders are more likely to select partners with psychiatric disorders. This result may shed light on the genetics of mental illness, including why there is so much genetic overlap between different psychiatric conditions.

4. Machiavellianism

People high in the personality trait of Machiavellianism are more cynical, manipulative and selfish. As it happens, they’re also more likely to have partners who are cynical, manipulative and selfish.

When researchers tried to home in a little more on why this is, they found that it may have to do with the romantic ideals people hold. Specifically, people higher in Machiavellianism place less importance on intimacy and loyalty in relationships and care less about finding partners who are trustworthy, agreeable, extraverted and open.

5. Sensation Seeking

Sensation seeking is a personality trait involving the desire to seek out exciting and interesting experiences. One study found a very high degree of assortative mating for sensation seeking – that is, people high in sensation seeking seem to marry other people high in sensation seeking much more than you’d expect based on chance.

Assortative mating isn’t the only way sensation seeking impacts relationships, though: women high in sensation seeking tend to be less satisfied with their marriages in general.

Of course, just because like tends to attract like for these 5 traits doesn’t mean couples dissimilar in these traits are actually less satisfied with their relationships. In some cases, it may just be that people who don’t share these traits are less likely to meet in the first place. Recall the example of extreme morning people and extreme night people – they’re pretty much going to have to meet on their lunch break, or it isn’t going to happen!

Overall, though, there are a lot of cases where like tends to attract like, which – I’ll bring up the instance of night owls and morning larks one more time – is probably best for everyone involved.

What traits d’you think should be similar or dissimilar in relationships? Leave your thoughts in the comments!

Image: FreeImages.com/Nikhil Desai