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Opposites Attract: Centuries of contrasting arguments on one of the biggest concepts of our universe

The world around us is built upon the principle of opposites attract. For example, we surely learn about ionic bonding and magnetic poles in science class, and how their obverse nature ultimately is what brings them together; as scientific findings evolved, we began discovering how these principles are more prevalent in the universe than what we initially thought. Thus, it was inevitable that as humans became more acquainted with this idea, we would try to pursue this ideology in other areas of life, which in our modern context became one of the biggest assertions that so many relationships “experts” continuously advertise.

If we were to go back to when this principle started to be explored in a social context, we would have to investigate the theories created by one of the greatest philosophers in history: Plato. The ancient Greek philosopher is mostly characterised — although he explored countless other subjects — by his constant approach to love and friendship, with his most famous theories embodying the “Platonic Love”, a term that was never actually used by Plato himself but given to his unique view on the subject. Nevertheless, apart from “Platonic Love”, Plato also explored other theories surrounding similar matters. Among these, in his dialogue “Lysis”, he examines the idea of friendship between those who are alike or unalike each other. One of the characters, Socrates — who was also a philosopher but is portrayed in many of Plato’s dialogues as the main character —, explores the idea that those who are similar to each other may not be friends, as their relationship would ultimately be "filled with envy, contentiousness, and hatred". Similarly, we will look for comfort in those who possess what we do not, eventually searching for what we lack in our partners. Yet, Socrates later contradicts himself and states that a relationship cannot be formed by those who are unalike, as their bonds would defy logic.

“Lysis” is one of many philosophical dialogues that represent the ideologies of attraction and friendship between contrasting personas. In fact, if you truly look for it, I am almost certain that you will find this recurring theme in all philosophical texts about human relationships, even if it might require you to read between the lines. I believe that Plato describes the conflicting natures between the similarities and dissimilarities of friends in a manner that requires us to develop our own conclusions about this thought. As much as I agree that humans will inevitably look for people who complement each other and have traits that we do not possess, I also agree that those who are too different from us might never be compatible, ultimately leading to an unsatisfactory relationship for both parties. For Socrates, we are unable to get acquainted with those who are too similar to us, and although I understand why he proclaimed this, I believe that it all depends if you see your lack of uniqueness as a threat.

The follow-up argument is based on principles of science, not exactly how this field describes human relationships, but how we can use its principles to mirror the concepts of attraction between opposites. In science, positives will attract negatives the same as protons attract electrons, and these are just some of the laws that our universe follows. Human beings have to abide by the laws of our natural world, so if we are a reflection of science, why can't we use its principles to help define our actions? Although I am not completely against the idea that opposites attract, I do not believe that we should use laws of nature to describe attraction or how we act toward someone. Who we like can be based on principles of psychology and philosophy, but rarely with a parallel yet unrelated concept of further areas of science.

As the world evolved, the modern relationship culture, as we know it, has taken hold of our society and they have increasingly similar opinions to those of Plato. However, the idea of opposites attract has now become a “trend”, a common expression that is thrown around and believed by most; it has been used to promote dating sites and has completely permeated the film industry. Ultimately, I believe that the idealisation of this concept can even cause a negative influence on some, as it inclines you to look for those with contrasting personalities instead of being open to similar people who share the same interests.

Psychologist Donn Bryne is one of the many who tried to prove the falsehood of this concept, conducting research and developing the “Phantom Stranger Technique”. To put it in simple terms, the experiment consisted of two questionnaires, one where you would provide your own viewpoints to certain questions and one in which you would rate other participants based on their responses. Bryne concluded that the level of attraction seems to be greater within those who tend to have more similar views on the world, debunking the myth that “opposites attract”.

All of these contrasting viewpoints and arguments are what give light to the confusing nature of this concept. Bryne’s argument seems relevant not only because it’s backed up by concrete evidence — not accounting for the validity of the experiment —, but also because it logically makes sense. If we would reflect back to our own lives I believe that it is safe to say that we wouldn't want a partner who constantly opposes our opinions, and if you would in fact like that, in the nicest way possible I suggest seeking out some help. Yet, I would also agree with Plato's philosophical approach, where humans will tend to look for those who have what they don't. In a sense, it means that we search for those that will complete us, filling in the blanks that we cannot achieve on our own. Then again, I also believe that it genuinely depends on the circumstances that we are dealing with, as other aspects might play into the whole idea of whom your best relationships are formed: the setting, similar acquaintances, and life experiences are just some of these influential aspects.

Much like Socrates in “Lysis”, we are conflicted, surrounded by opposing but equally relevant arguments, rejecting or accepting them based on the nature of the relationships at hand.

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