Opposites No Longer Attract How Narcissism Corrupts Mate Selection

Uploaded 10/23/2023, approx. 21 minute read

If you are poor and stupid, you should look for an intimate partner who is rich and hyper intelligent.

In short, you should look for me.

If, on the other hand, you are a borderline, you are a labile, you are damaged, you are seriously broken, you are dysregulated, you should look for a spouse or a boyfriend or girlfriend if you are a male, you should look for someone in your life who would be a secure base, provide safety and a sense of stability.

In short, anyone but me.

Okay, Shoshanim, I'm back.

My name is Sam Vaknin, I'm the author of Malignant Self-Love, Narcissism Revisited, the blue former visiting professor of psychology and currently on the faculty of CIHR, Commonwealth International Advanced Professional Studies, Toronto, Canada, Cambridge, United Kingdom, and the inevitable outreach campus in Lagos, Nigeria.

Bringing or birds or feather flock together, which is more true in mate selection and the formation of romantic, intimate, long-term committed relationships in couples.

Do we choose spouses, boyfriends, girlfriends that resemble us or do we choose an intimate partner who would complement us, not in the sense of complement, but complement, make us whole?

Everything we are not, we would find in the intimate partner, everything we miss, everything we need, every deficiency, every lack, the partner would compensate for it.

If you are unstable, the partner would be stable.

If you are not that learned or knowledgeable, the partner would be an encyclopedia.

The partner would complete you, would render you whole.

So which is it?

What is really going on?

There's been a study of millions of couples, the biggest of its kind, and it came, it resulted in an astounding outcome.

Opposites do not attract, opposites repel, birds or feather flock together.

We seem to be looking for intimate partners who resemble us, mirror us, are exactly like us.

In short, we tend to look for intimate partners who are extensions of ourselves.

But why do we?

It's extremely irrational.

If you choose someone who is exactly like you, you're amplifying everything that's good in you, but you're also amplifying your shortcomings, your frailties, your vulnerabilities, your deficiencies, your lacks, your defects.

Why would you do that?

Why wouldn't you choose someone who would compensate for everything that you miss, everything that you lack, everything that you wish you were?

Why wouldn't you choose someone who, together with you, would constitute the totality of human traits, qualities, skills and experiences?

Why would you choose someone who would just perpetuate who you are for better, but also for worse?

That's irrational.

The answer, of course, is narcissism.

Intimidation corrupts the main selection process.

And throughout human history, without any question, people chose intimate partners who did not resemble them, intimate partners who were the opposite of them.

Poor people chose rich people. Rich people chose poor people. Stoopid people chose intelligent people. Intelligent people chose less intelligent people. Youngpeople chose older people. Older people chose the young, etc., etc.

Opposites complimented each other, put two opposites together and you get a complete hole.

A hole in the good sense with the WW.

And this was a rational way for selecting mates.

But this was at an age when narcissism was not the organizing principle of reality, when narcissism was not the determinant of identity, when narcissism did not inform our decisions and choices, predilections, proclivities, preferences, wishes and dreams.

Later the modern age, more or less 100 years ago, and we started to be more and more narcissistic, is documented in studies by Twenge, Campbell, numerous others, with a weight and so on.

So we are much more narcissistic than our forefathers and ancestors.

Perhaps because we don't have to struggle for survival, we can be spoiled brats without bearing the consequences of entitlement and selfishness.

While our ancestors couldn't, they were embedded in collective cultures which required teamwork, compromise and consensus.

Today we atomized each one to his own.

We are self-sufficient and self-contained.

We don't need really anyone else.

Any alliance, any couple, any dyad, any collaboration requires a sacrifice.

And many people are not willing to make this sacrifice anymore.

About half, 40% plus of the adult population are no longer in any relationship or any committed relationship.

We move around, we drift like so many water molecules in the ocean. We come across each other, we have casual sex, and we vanish, we exit each other's lives after one night if we are lucky.

This is the picture of the modern world.

And in this modern world, as people become more and more narcissistic, they're likely to look for mirroring. They're likely to regard everyone else as an internal object, an extension of themselves.

Now if you were to team up with a spouse or an intimate partner and that person would be the opposite of you, it would be a constant challenge. If you were to cohabit or share your life with someone who is not you, who is opposite to you, who is opposed to you, who contradicts you and disagrees with you and undermines your nascent grandiosity or your self-perception, it's perfect and ideal and God-like and so on and so forth, that is very uncomfortable. That is egodystonic.

So narcissism corrupts the main selection process. Narcissism makes it impossible, absolutely impossible, to team up with someone who would undermine, challenge, countervail your sense of omnipotence and omniscience and perfection and being ideal.

On the very contrary, you would look for a partner who would tell you that you are perfect, that you are amazing.

In short, you would look for a partner who would love-bomb you.

No wonder narcissistic relationships are on the ascendance and narcissism have become a gigantic global problem in romantic and intimate relationships but also in the workplace, among friends, in church, extended family, you name it.

People demand today, demand, narcissistic supply, attention, the attention economy, attention media, adoration, admiration, adulation and absence these, they don't mind being notorious, being feared, being loathed as long as it brings modicum of daily dose of attention.

So main selection nowadays is about scouting for and selecting for a partner, an intimate or romantic partner, who would become your audience, your greatest fan, someone who would not tell you the truth, who would not undermine and challenge your fantastic preconceptions of yourself, someone who would collude in your shared fantasy, get integrated into it, kind of people-pleaser, codependent, but someone who would mirror you, someone who would not oppose you, so opposites don't attract anymore.

Birds of feather flock together. Narcissists all around the world looking for narcissistic supply that we tend to select for identical mates everywhere, mates which are mere reflections, extensions of the narcissistic partner.

Okay, what study am I talking about?

There was an analysis of, meta-analysis of 200, a survey of 200 studies involving millions of couples and the meta-analysis reached a conclusion that there is no grounds for assuming that opposites attract nowadays.

Mind you, these studies are contemporaneous. They refer to the current picture, to the modern or postmodern society.

They did not investigate relationships in the 19th century, for example.

So today, nowadays opposites do not attract.

On the very contrary, these studies found that most people are looking for someone who shares their values, their beliefs, kind of confirmation bias, a thought silo. They want someone who would echo what they are thinking, someone who would not confront, not challenge, not undermine, not disagree, not criticize, not bring to the table new countervailing contradictory information.

No, someone who would serve as a filter remembering to tell you, you're always right, you're amazingly intelligent.

Yes, sir.

A yes person.

A people-pleaser, coddependent in many ways.

These studies analyzed hundreds of traits, anything from political leanings, to smoking, to drinking, to sex.

These studies found that the vast majority of modern partners are much more alike than they are different.

Only in 3% of the traits, you read well, 3% of the traits, people tended to pair with someone with an opposite or different inclination.

This study was published in the journal Nature Human Behavior, a very prestigious one.

So in 97%, when it comes to 97% of the hundreds of traits listed, people were actively, adamantly, selectively choosing partners who would be compatible 100% with their traits, who would have the same indistinguishable traits.

People would be mere internal objects, mere extensions, mirrors, not real people.

See because when the person you live with is exactly like you, you're making love to yourself.

This is auto-erotism.

Your relationship is actually with yourself via another person by proxy.

That other person becomes indistinguishable from you, an internal object, to be manipulated at will.

This is not a couple. This is not a dyad. This is not romantic. This is not intimate. There's no intimacy there, except the intimacy with yourself.

You use the partner to look at the mirror and see yourself in all your glory and perfection and infallibility.

So the very nature of human relationships has devolved, deteriorated and degenerated into a kind of narcissistic self-investment, also known in clinical literature as narcissistic affective or narcissistic libido.

So people are in love with themselves through the agency of their intimate partners because their intimate partners are nothing but reflections of themselves.

This is what's happening nowadays. These are huge numbers, 97% of hundreds of traits.

It is not that people are not attracted to others who are very different to themselves.

There is such attraction.

But when they come to decide, when they come to make long-term commitments and investments, when they reach the point of forming a couple, cohabiting, co-parenting, sharing a life, they give up on people who are dissimilar, people who are opposed, people who are not like them.

So while they may be attracted, may even have sex, casual sex and so on, with people who are the opposite, they would never form long-term or very rarely would form long-term relationships with opposites, only with copies, replicas and clones of themselves.

Tanya Horvitz was a lead researcher, said, "We looked at cohabiting and co-parenting couples, long-term relationships." And that's where they found that opposites do not attract long-term relationships.

People, partners in long-term couplings, long-term dyads were similar in so many ways, religious beliefs, political beliefs, educational background, socioeconomic background, certain types of intelligence, analytical, otherwise, lifestyle habits, you name it, the people in the couple were indistinguishable.

It's a terrifying picture. It's cloning. And evolution depends crucially on diversity, on the meeting of opposites.

Sex is about mixing genes, mixing genes which are incompatible in order to create a third option.

This is how the roulette of life and the roulette of evolution keeps coming up with new solutions all the time.

On the cellular level, there are mutations and on the macroorganism level, there is coupling, romance, love, which is essentially a biochemical cocktail.

Evolution wants us to be incompatible.

Evolution wants opposites to attract because this is the only way to encourage diversification of the gene pool in a much better strategy of survival, much better chances odds of survival.

One hundred and ninety-nine published studies involving millions of male female couples dating back as far as 1903.

Also, there was an analysis of data from the UK Biobank, which is an ongoing research project that collects health and genetic information from about half a million British adults.

Yes, I know, British adults is an oxymoron, but all the same.

I can't help it.

That's me.

Okay, so they made a list of 150 traits and for 82 to 89 of those traits, partners were clearly likely to be much more similar than different and another nine percent similar, not much more similar, but just similar.

Among the traits, there were couples which were most strongly aligned, strong alignment couples, strong affiliation couples.

And these couples were bonded mostly through political and religious vectors, their beliefs, their faith in terms of religion, their commitment or activism in terms of politics, their opinions, views and judgments bonded them together.

So did education level, was a great predictor of cohesion in couples and couple formation.

And finally, IQ measurements and smoking and drinking habits.

There were personality traits that also mattered.

And even there, when personality was analyzed using big five factor and big factor analysis and so never mind all that personality was also a great predictor of coming together compatibility in personality, in personality traits.

So the study found that partners did tend to be more like the different on big five personality traits, extroversion, openness, agreeableness, conscientiousness and eroticism.

I strangely the correlations when it came to personality were not as strong as the correlations when it came to behavior, political views, religious beliefs.

In short, the emphasis was not about who you are, not about your substance, not about your essence.

It seems that we judge each other based on preferences and on self-reporting.

We no longer care about who you truly and authentically are, but about who you claim to be and who you appear to be.

The correlation between members of couples were based on appearances, on externalities, on behavior, not on who these people were.

It's as if members of modern couples don't reach in beyond the facade, beyond appearances.

They don't care.

Appearances interact with appearances and the real personality, the authentic self, the voice, whatever you want to call it, remains hidden.

Modern couples do not truly communicate who they are to each other.

They bond, they attach, they form dyads based on behaviors, claims about beliefs and values and appearances.


Extroverts for example, were only slightly more likely to pair up with a fellow extrovert rather than an introvert.

So extroversion is a personality trait.

However, extroverted behavior did determine coupling.

So if you were an extrovert and didn't show it, you were an extrovert but it didn't become active, your extroversion remained hidden or cult.

This would not have influenced coupled formation and mate selection.

But if you externalize your extroversion, if you became an extrovert behaviorally, you attended many parties, you socialized a lot, you were vocal in your center of attention and life of a party.

This did affect mate selection and dyad formation.

Finding was similar when it came to neuroticism.

According to the UK Biobank study, there were only few traits which did attract opposites.

One was what is known as chronotype, people who are morning persons or night owls, night persons. So night owls for example, paired more often with early risers than with other night owls.

So if you are, if you blossom, if you're at your peak during the night, you wouldn't choose someone who is functional in the morning but half dead at night.

Again, I interpret it, I interpret this in terms of narcissism. If your partner is not at his peak, if your partner is less than perfect, less than functional, at night and you on the other hand flourish and thrive at night, then you would be able to be much more dominant in the couple.

So there's a question here of dominance, narcissistic supply, attracting attention, control, all are manipulative, Machiavellian, narcissistic or at least dark personality issues and traits.

So even this rare coupling of opposites has to do in my view with manipulativeness, control and garnering more narcissistic supply, more attention than your partner because come nighttime she's half dead.

She just wants to sleep. She doesn't stand out. She doesn't shine like you.

So if all this is true, why do we still keep saying that opposites attract?

Because they used to. They used to.

Up until the 1950s, multiple studies found that opposites do attract. 1950s are exactly the age of rebellion after the Second World War where defiance, malignant individualism, contumaciousness, rejection of authority started to flourish, the hippie movement and so on.

And with all these narcissism came to its own in the 1950s.

But even in the 1950s, as narcissism was blossoming for the first time, there were studies, for example, by Robert Winch that suggested that opposites attract.

So we can safely assume and believe that throughout human history, the rule was choose your opposite.

Choose in your partner, in your spouse and in your mate, those things that you need and don't possess those traits that could be of help to you.

And yet you don't have. Make your partner a completion of you.

Choose a partner that can supply you and provide you with skills, talents, personality traits, moods and and so on and so forth and effects that you yourself are lacking in.

And this persisted well into the 1950s.

And then something happened in the 1950s.

And there's been a major reversal of this folk wisdom.

Angela Bahns is an associate professor of psychology at Wellesley College in Massachusetts. And she studied the topic.

In 2016, she published a study and she found that in both romantic pairings, romantic pairs and friendships, people are actually drawn dramatically, overwhelmingly to like minded individuals, which would explain, for example, political polarization.

We want to listen only to like minded people.

Confirmation bias. We don't we resent and reject and get very angry when we are challenged, when we are criticized, when people disagree with us.

And there was no evidence starting in around 2010. There was no evidence that partners or friends changed over time to become more in sync.

The similarities were there from the get go from the very beginning.

And part of the story, says Bahns, is structural.

If you're a college graduate, for instance, you're more likely to be around a lot of other college graduates. And if you have a high school diploma, you're not.

So you're pairing opportunities, you're made selection opportunities are much higher in your natural habitat or environment or ecosystem.

But this fails to explain this phase to explain the previous 10,000 years of human history.

There have always been asymmetries. There have always been discrepancies. There have always been different environments. There have always been exposed to like minded people and to opposites.

And yet, opposites attract used to be the rule until recently.

Similarities are very attractive to narcissists, because similarities are validating. Someone shares your beliefs and values.

The message is you're a genius. You're always right. You can't get anything wrong. You're infallible.

Yes, I agree with you. The more people agree with you, the more you become convinced of your own omniscience, godlike omniscience.

It's a narcissistic supply procedure or defense or mechanism or whatever, vector, whatever you want to call it. It's all about narcissistic supply.

Today, we create pairs, we create diets and couples based on the availability, anticipated availability of narcissistic supply.

We regard each other as sources of narcissistic supply. We commoditize each other.

Bands founded in bigger, more diverse environments, a large university, for example, versus a small college, people tend to be even more similar to their romantic partners and friends, which gives the lie to the claim that it is an environmental selection.

No, the environment has no effect on this. The environment is not the reason why people choose similar minded people.

Narcissism is.

When you have a large pool of mates and friends, you can be more selective and yet people keep selecting the same like minded people.

Dissimilar people can still team up, they can still have friendships, they can even have romantic relationships and so on, but they never lost in a narcissistic environment because the friction is too big.

If you're with someone who is not like you, you keep being reminded of your own shortcomings, of your own failings, of your own defeats, of your own mistakes, of your own vulnerabilities and frailties and narcissistic people don't want that.

This is narcissistic injury.

When you're someone with someone who is dissimilar to you, that person becomes a source of frustration and constant injuries.

Who wants this?

No one does if you're a narcissist and the more narcissistic people become, the less they're inclined to team up with potential sources of frustration and narcissistic injury.

One caveat, we have no information about same sex couples. This is only about heterosexual couples and we don't know if we were to include same sex couples, how would the outcome look.

But I'm pretty convinced that the situation is even worse among same sex couples because homosexuality does imply, however politically incorrect, is to say this homosexuality does imply homoeroticism does imply autoerotism.

And narcissism, dare I say, I suspect the situation is much worse among same sex couples, but we don't have information.

Narcissism is totally degraded and corrupted our mate selection process is therefore an evolutionary threat to the existence and survival of our quickly degenerating, decaying and dying species.

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