Words of wisdom from Oliver Burkeman at the Guardian. Should I say “my parents were right all along”? No, not really, because of the limitations of what this is actually saying. This is worth keeping in mind, though.
Relationship gurus expend enormous amounts of energy debating whether “opposites attract” or, conversely, whether “birds of a feather flock together” – largely, it seems, without stopping to reflect on whether relying on cheesy proverbs might be, more generally, a bad way to think about the complexities of human attraction. Should you look for a partner whose characteristics match yours, or complement yours? The conclusion of the Pair Project, a long-term study of married couples by the University of Texas, is… well, neither, really. “Compatibility”, whether you think of it as similarity or complementarity, just doesn’t seem to have much to do with a relationship’s failure or success, according to the project’s founder, Ted Huston: the happiness of a marriage just isn’t much correlated with how many likes, dislikes or related characteristics a couple does or doesn’t share. Compatibility does play one specific role in love, he argues: when couples start worrying about whether they’re compatible, it’s often the sign of a relationship in trouble. “We’re just not compatible” really means, “We’re not getting along.” “Compatibility” just means things are working out. It simply renames the mystery of love, rather than explaining it.
According to the US psychologist Robert Epstein, that’s because a successful relationship is almost entirely built from within. (He cites evidence from freely entered arranged marriages, arguing that they work out more frequently than the unarranged kind.) All that’s really required is two people committed to giving things a shot. Spending years looking for someone with compatible qualities may be – to evoke another cheesy proverb – a classic case of putting the cart before the horse.