Your eyes meet across a crowded room. You feel it, the other person feels it. But what is “it,” exactly? In other words, what gets sparks flying between two people but not others? That’s a question that continues to boggle the minds of scientists, poets, and real people the world over. But if you want to increase your chances of choosing the right partner ‘til death do you part, modern research does have some answers. Read on to find out which personality types you’re most likely to click with — and stick with — for the long haul.
Familiarity breeds…a bond?
While fairytales are full of twosomes from very different walks of life, Cinderella-style stories rarely exist in real life for good reason. People are generally attracted to those who are similar in terms of education, intelligence, religion, and financial status. “Often, ‘like’ attracts ‘like,’ what anthropologists call ‘positive assortive mating’ and ‘fitness matching,’” says Helen Fisher, Ph.D., anthropologist and author of Why We Love. The reason it’s important is pretty obvious: When people don’t see eye-to-eye on many levels, they just simply don’t ‘get’ each other, and that can be tough for any couple to overcome. “I think the most important thing you can ask yourself about a prospective mate is: If this person were not a romantic interest, would they be one of your very best friends?” says Sam Hamburg, Ph.D., a marital therapist and author of Will Our Love Last?
What’s ‘familiar’ about a mate may not always be immediately evident, however. “People may feel chemistry with someone who treats them in a way that’s familiar because it’s a dynamic they know,” says Lisa Firestone, a clinical psychologist and author of Sex and Love in Intimate Relationships. A woman who grew up with an alcoholic father, for example, may end up with a wild-man artist, who’s similarly unpredictable but (hopefully) in more positive ways. So, don’t be surprised if your relationship echoes some dynamic from your past.
Why complementary types connect
She’s super-organized; he’s a constant mess. He’s a quiet couch potato; she’s the life of the party. We’ve all seen couples whose personalities seem light years apart. Is it true that opposites attract? Not exactly. “There’s a lot of chemistry between opposites and the relationship has a lot of passion,” says Firestone. “But eventually they may end up hating each other for the very things that drew them together in the first place.”
A better match, say experts, are people whose personalities are complementary but not complete contradictions. “Sometimes a really high-strung person will calm down around someone who’s laid-back, or maybe the person who has a lot of energy is a motivating influence on the person who’s mellow, and it’s really good for them both,” says Firestone. Likewise, personalities that are too similar can miss out on new experiences. “If two people are very risk-averse, they might never pursue opportunities that they should,” points out Hamburg. “And on the flip side, two people who are high risk-takers might get themselves into trouble. But if you have one who’s more risky and one who’s cautious, then through a dialogue the couple might be able to make better decisions than they would if they were the same.”
Complementary couples do run the risk, though, of falling even deeper into their differences. “When a person dates someone who plays a balancing role, he or she tends to polarize: The quiet person gets quieter, and the talkative person becomes the spokesperson for the relationship,” points out Firestone. “He may start to think that he’s a whole person only when he’s with her, and vice versa. And when people do that, the quality of relating tends to deteriorate.” So, couples should be careful to treat their partner’s strengths not as a crutch, but as an opportunity to watch and learn new habits and skills to move outside their comfort zones on occasion.
The chemistry behind chemistry
Scientific breakthroughs in the areas of genetics, biology, and neurology are also helping experts piece together the mystery of romantic attraction. Fisher, for example, has used her knowledge of body chemistry to come up with a new theory on who’s likely to click with whom—and why.
“Certain genes, hormones and neurotransmitters have been associated with specific personality traits,” she explains. “For instance, testosterone is associated with independence. All of us have these chemicals, but some of us have more activity in one of these chemical systems than another.”
The upshot? After reviewing the data, Fisher found that based on the activity levels of four key chemicals (serotonin, estrogen, dopamine, and testosterone), people largely fall into one of four “temperaments”: Builder, Negotiator, Explorer, and Director.
Here’s a rundown:
Chemical in charge: Serotonin (associated with sociability and feelings of calm)
Personality: Calm, managerial, conscientious, home-oriented but social
Best match: The Explorer
Worst match: The Director
Chemical in charge: Estrogen (associated with intuition and creativity)
Personality: Imaginative, sympathetic, socially skilled, idealistic
Best match: Good with all types!
Worst match: None
Chemical in charge: dopamine (associated with curiosity and spontaneity)
Personality: Risk-taking, spontaneous, curious, adaptable
Best match: The Builder
Worst match: The Director
Chemical in charge: testosterone (associated with independence and rational thinking)
Personality: focused, inventive, daring, logical, direct
Best match: The Negotiator
Worst match: The Builder
While these four temperaments can be used as a guideline to find a compatible match, Fisher cautions that the mystery of romance doesn’t boil down entirely to a few neurotransmitters. “There is magic to love, no question about that,” she says. “But culture and biology play important roles. In short, when you are ready to fall in love and you meet someone who has a complementary chemical profile, you can feel attraction to him or her—which instantly or eventually can turn into deep feelings of romantic love.”
Find someone your compatible with on Chemistry.com
Kimberly Dawn Neumann is a New York City-based writer whose work has appeared in Marie Claire, Prevention, and other magazines.
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