The Real Meaning of “Opposites Attract”

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“Opposites attract.”

We’ve heard this all our lives. Or at least I have, thanks to Paula Abdul and that creepy cartoon cat.

It’s an old saying, and it makes sense—for magnets. But for the way we normally use it, it’s too simple.

We say it to justify toxic relationships with people, careers, habits, and goals.

To our friends and family, it’s a simple excuse. That explains everything—enough said. And to ourselves, it’s a rationalization. I can’t help it. Opposites attract.

Then, there are times we don’t say it or think it, but it still applies. We end up in situations that don’t feel quite right. We can’t put our finger on it, but something is off. It leaves us feeling the opposite of the way we want to feel.

We hang out with a bad crowd. We get jobs that don’t use our strengths or fulfill us. We pursue things that don’t align with our values.

Some of it is peer pressure. Some of it is our need for acceptance—to act the way society expects us to act.

But it’s all the opposite of what we really want. And it won’t last—unless we commit to living an unfulfilled life.

It’s better to have common ground. Mutual interests and mutual benefits make for stronger relationships in every area of life: love, friendship, work, and pursuits.

If he loves coffee, morning devotionals, helping people, building things, being active, and watching baseball—and she loves the same things—they’ll get along just fine for the rest of their lives.

If she loves graphic design, and her job is creating product packaging, she’ll be excited to go to work every morning. And if her job gives her autonomy, she may never leave.

If his friends have the same positive morals and values, his chances of ending up in prison or face-down in a gutter are close to zero.

If the things we pursue increase long-term happiness instead of just providing quick hits of dopamine, then we can get off the hedonic treadmill.

If something feels off, it probably is. Maybe this job or that person is the opposite of what we really want. Maybe the things we chase don’t make us happy in the long run.

“Opposites attract” really means we’re attracted to people, careers, habits, and goals that complement us—that inspire us and make us better. That’s a better use of the phrase. It means we can help ourselves and do something about our situations.

The ball is always in our court.

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