“To love means to open ourselves to the negative as well as the positive – to grief, sorrow, and disappointment as well as to joy, fulfillment, and an intensity of consciousness we did not know was possible before.” – Rollo May
How many times have you questioned your bad taste in men and wondered why exactly it is so hard to get the love you want? How many awkward Tinder dates and horrible guys will it take for you to finally meet the one? There are many different theories and assumptions made about the person you choose to be with. Science tells us that it is no accident you are with the person you’re with and although it is scary, confusing and emotionally draining, there are many factors to consider as to why it is so hard to get the love you want.
Do opposites attract?
There is no doubt that people are inclined to pursue relationships with those who are similar to them in age, intelligence and belief systems. As Plato once wrote, “similarity begets friendship.” We’re comfortable with people who hold similar interests and values because that is what we are familiar with. However, we know that the pursuit of love is much more complicated than that. My best friend from childhood and I have always had, and still do have, many different traits. She’s tall and I’m short. She’s outgoing and I’m more to myself. She smokes a lot of weed and I don’t. Despite notable differences, we work very well together. I attribute this to the idea that we are attracted to people that are different because we perceive them as more exciting. Everything that I lack in myself I am more inclined to search out in other people. My best friend and I have many similar interests and values but there are significant differences in our behaviour. There is also the theory that our attraction to our opposites is a subconscious way of forcing us to address the weaker aspects of our own nature. In order to become a complete individual, we look for another to make us feel whole. There is no conclusive answer to whether or not a similar or opposite person is better suited for us. I think the best way to look at it is from the research done by Robert Francis Winch. In the 1950s, Winch led a study on partner selection to see if opposites really did attract. Winch talked to married couples and studied their personalities and needs. Based on his findings, Winch concluded that to make a marriage work, aspects of one’s personality, especially socially-related traits like aggressiveness and assertiveness, should complement each other. Complimentary personality traits and characteristics are what contribute to a successful marriage, and although we may initially be more inclined to search for similarities out of comfort or opposites out of excitement, we should be looking for the traits that best fit together. Introverts and extroverts are known to work really well together and from personal experience, I have always admired how my extroverted friends have an outgoing nature and possess the ability to bring an introvert such as myself out of their shell. On the other hand, introverts have an innate ability to be great listeners and can help extroverts slow down and think. So rather than searching for someone who is your twin or polar opposite, perhaps it is time to recognize that our soulmate is a cocktail of traits, mannerisms and features that should complement our own respective characteristics.
I can’t remember exactly where I heard this from (I’m pretty sure it was Oprah but I wouldn’t want to be caught dead misquoting Oprah) but someone once said that a lot of what we look for in a relationship is connected to what we never had in our childhood. In Getting the Love you Want, Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt characterize the “Imago” as our “internal, largely unconscious image of the perfect partner. This composite picture is a synthesis of all the positive and negative traits of our primary caretakers related to the satisfaction of frustration of our childhood needs.” When choosing a partner, we unconsciously look for negative traits resembling those of our primary caregivers in order to seek the closure we never had from those caretakers in the first place. This doesn’t mean that all of our parents are neglectful but many good-hearted mothers and fathers are still unable to meet every need and fail to recognize ways in which they hurt their children rather than help them. It’s no secret that your childhood impacts your behaviour, but sometimes we are so used to how we were raised that we fail to see how it affects our partners. If your parents were inattentive, you might resort to needing more attention in relationships. If your parents didn’t express their emotions often, you may remain reserved and cold in your romantic relationships. While we deal with our own childhood trauma, it’s important to recognize that everyone will bring their upbringing to the relationship whether you notice it or not. This doesn’t mean that toxic behavior should be excused or justified; this means that we have to be aware of the influence that other people’s baggage has in their communication attachment style.
Do you ever get the feeling that the person you’re with is loving you with one foot out the door? Reciprocity is the foundation of a love connection itself because, quite frankly, you can’t be with someone who isn’t loving you the same way. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to find someone that’s going to be head over heels with you right away, but make sure there are sparks, mutual interest and a general understanding that they give a shit. Nothing hurts more than indifference. Whether you’re in a relationship or situation-ship, ask yourself if the love you’re giving is equal to the love you’re getting back and acknowledge your role in both of these outcomes. You probably won’t be keeping score of everything they do for you and you probably shouldn’t but ask yourself if you feel balanced in your relationship. Does your partner take more than he/she gives? Are there life circumstances where their capacity to give is harder? Is this someone that you can rely on in the way that they can rely on you? These questions may lead to the hard, painful truth that the person you love is not all in, or even half in, but that they’re in only when they choose to be. Reciprocity is the key factor in a long-lasting relationship and the very reason we love to begin with, which is to feel that love back.
Timing Is Everything
I strongly believe that certain people in our life will come and go because you needed them for a time. Many aspects of yourself will develop and change, and it is completely normal to have a different mindset two years or twenty years from now. At certain points in our lives we are emotionally immature, emotionally unavailable and just simply not ready for a relationship. You might be thinking, “well, yes, that was me when I was seventeen but not at this point because I know exactly what I want.” And maybe you do, but those wants and needs will likely change over time as well. In Dolly Alderton’s bestselling book, Everything I Know About Love, she writes a list titled “Everything I Knew About Love at Twenty-one” that includes, “be anything but conventional. That’s how you keep them interested.” A couple of chapters later, Dolly writes, “men love a woman who holds it all back.” Towards the end of her book, Alderton writes that at twenty-eight she has learned that “you should never have to work to hold a man’s attention. If a man needs to be ‘kept interested’ in you, he’s got problems that are not your business to manage.” These chapters perfectly show how our views, priorities and overall feelings on love will change over time. We may think we need to work overtime just to impress a guy and keep a spark, but the reality is when someone shows you who they are, you need to listen. Timing will get in the way of relationships because life experience and maturity just isn’t something that can be fast-forwarded. Some people aren’t ready for you and that’s okay.
Getting the love you want is no easy task. Our emotional baggage, personal traits and maturity can influence why a relationship will or won’t work. I think the most valuable lesson in getting the love you want is to slow down and take a break from looking for it.
Alderton, Dolly. Everything I Know about Love: a Memoir. HarperCollins Publishers, 2020.
Hendrix, Harville, and Helen Hunt. Getting the Love You Want: a Guide for Couples. Simon & Schuster UK Ltd., 2020.
Smykowski, Joanna. “Do Opposites Attract? Here’s What Science Says.” Betterhelp, BetterHelp, 11 Feb. 2018, www.betterhelp.com/advice/relations/do-opposites-attract-heres-what-scie….