Who was the last person you dated? Ok, now that you have them in your mind, can you remember how similar they were to you? If you’re currently dating someone, ask yourself the same question. There are opposing views in terms of whether it’s better to date someone similar or different to you. A prominent study, cited frequently with regards to this topic, was conducted by Donn Byrne is 1971, almost 40 years ago. His findings showed that similarities in partners are linked to attraction and high-quality relationships.
I believe the reason this argument has been debated over and over again is because it’s so difficult to distinguish which similarities we’re referring to. And, more importantly, it’s hard to know if anyone has a good enough perception of themselves, let alone their partner, to be able to determine how similar they really are.
I believe you can already divide similarities into two categories. You could look at the socio-economic characteristics to decide whether someone is different to you. Or you could focus solely on personality traits. Who’s to say that one of these is not more influential than the other on attraction and relationships? For example, two people could have a similar upbringing, nationality and job type and yet have opposing personalities: one could be a dynamic and proactive extrovert and the other person could be a reserved and detail-oriented introvert. Would these two people still be considered to have similarities, even though their personality traits are diametrically different?
For those of us who grew up moving around or, who later in life, lived in several different countries, couldn’t this also make us very different to someone who has not travelled? For example, in the past I dated an American guy who had spent very little time outside of the US. Even though we had similar personality characteristics, we often felt really different as a result of our cultural makeup. It’s not to say that someone who’s travelled extensively can’t be attracted to someone who hasn’t, but wouldn’t it still inherently imply cultural differences? It would be interesting to see how influential those are on your relationship.
Furthermore, when exactly do these similarities have an impact on relationships? It could, for example, affect our day-to-day activities, but it could also shape our larger decisions in life such as choosing to have children or starting a business from scratch together. Let’s look at a couple scenarios to see how these could affect the quality of your time spent together.
Let’s say you’re both work-hard, play-hard types who love being social; this could potentially have a very positive influence on your relationship. It could mean that you’re both happy to work hard during the work week and spend long hours in the office. And yet, on the weekends, you can share crazy nights out with your friends and take the last bus home at 4 in the morning. You’re both happy to snuggle in bed until noon on the Sunday after a night out together. In this particular scenario, this resemblance could enhance your relationship.
What about similar socio-economic factors then? If you have a similar income and upbringing as the person you’re dating, decisions about how often you eat out, the price of your next holidays, and later down the road, the choice you make on which house to buy could be easier. Could being the operative word, as there are so many other factors that influence how we make decisions with our partner. With a very different socio-economic status, it could make these types of significant life decisions harder.
Of course, I’m certain there are plenty of relationships out there that prove us wrong, showing us that two very different people can keep the spark alive longer than any other relationship. Also, whose to say that a good debate between two very different people can’t create that heat that you need to sustain a passionate and loving relationship?
 Byrne, D. (1971). The attraction paradigm. New York: Academic Press.