home | what's new | other sitescontact | about



Word Gems 

exploring self-realization, sacred personhood, and full humanity


Soulmate, Myself:
The Perfect Mate



Do Opposites Attract?

Is the 'Perfect Mate' Unlike You?



return to the "contents" page


Editor’s note: Much of the following article “Do Opposites Attract?” was written about 20 years ago when Word Gems was new. I’d like to share it with you and then offer commentary.



if opposites attract, why do the big dating search-engines promote compatibility and finding someone just like you

You've heard it said many times:

She's big-city, he could never leave the south 40 - "but opposites attract"?

She loves to travel; he hates being away even overnight - "but opposites attract"?

She's X, and he's Y; she's yin and he's yang; salon and saloon; lightning and lightning-bug - "but opposites attract"?

While it's true that one lover should not be the clone of the other; that certain differences "are the spice of life"; that "one of us would be unnecessary if we agreed on everything" - all this acknowledged, we should also understand that there's something very unsatisfying about the common street-wisdom “opposites attract” if taken too far.


really? - opposites attract?

How many flaming liberals walk down the aisle with staunch-starched conservatives? How many PhDs succumb to the charms of those who failed to graduate from anything? How many wary-eyed agnostics marry got-the-spirit Bible-thumpers?

A few, maybe, but, please excuse me if I don't hold my breath while you're out searching for the exceptions.

Despite the self-evident foolishness of these antithetical examples, the cornpone philosophy of "opposites attract" often passes as the ripest wisdom.

Why do we hear of this principle? We hear of it because, to contradict myself, it seems to make sense; but only at times, and only within a certain limited context, the parameters of which we shall now explore.


lessons from the world of nature

In the natural world we often see successful examples of "opposites" attracting each another:

The outer layer of most bacteria carries a negative charge, and consequently, microbiologists will use positively-charged dyes to stain these wee-beasties for better microscopic viewing;

Sodium and chloride, in chemically-united bliss ("ionic bonding"), form the compound, salt. These two elements join so easily because sodium has one extra electron in its outer shell that its dying to get rid of, and chloride, as luck would have it, needs just one more little darn electron in its outer shell to make a complete set - a match made in particle-physics heaven. The surplus of one and the poverty of another make for a great salty love affair;

The north pole of a magnet desires only the warm embrace of a south pole attractor and will accept no substitutes;

There is the tendency of gases or liquids to "diffuse," to spread out, to move from an area of higher concentration to a lower one. A common example of this would be oxygen molecules, drawn into the lungs as we breathe, then drifting across very thin membranes into the oxygen-depleted blood where it attaches to the iron-atom part of the hemoglobin molecule. Oxygen moves into places where there is none, two opposing conditions seeking for stasis.



Elective Affinities, Kindred By Choice

Editor's note: I mentioned my romantic-love research to an old college classmate and good friend, Sonia, now a PhD at Oxford. She suggested that I review Goethe's novel, Elective Affinities (alternately translated from the German, Kindred By Choice), which touches on issues germane to my study.

of blood? or soul and spirit?

Goethe explores the question concerning how marriages come to be. Can one choose a mate, in any real sense? Can we be "kindred by choice"? Is the marriage bond something of this world or created on a higher plane? Do marriage-mates come together like chemicals bonding? But, if they do, why are marriages often so easily disrupted by the injection of a third party?

Let's listen in on this debate in Goethe's Elective Affinities:

“Sometimes they will meet like friends and old acquaintances; they will come rapidly together, and unite without either having to alter itself at all—as wine mixes with water. Others, again, will remain as strangers side by side, and no amount of mechanical mixing or forcing will succeed in combining them. Oil and water may be shaken up together, and the next moment they are separate again, each by itself.”

“It appears to me,” said Charlotte, “that if you choose to call these strange creatures of yours related, the relationship is not so much a relationship of blood, as of soul or of spirit. It is the way in which we see all really deep friendships arise among [humankind]; opposite peculiarities of disposition being what best makes internal union possible."

Editor's note: This lady believes in "opposites attract."

“We had better keep,” said the captain, “to the same instances of which we have already been speaking. Thus, what we call limestone is a more or less pure calcareous earth in combination with a delicate acid, which is familiar to us in the form of a gas. Now, if we place a piece of this stone in diluted sulphuric acid, this will take possession of the lime, and appear with it in the form of gypsum, the gaseous acid at the same time going off in vapor. Here is a case of separation; a combination arises, and we believe ourselves now justified in applying to it the words, Elective Affinity; it really looks as if one relation had been deliberately chosen in preference to another.”

“Unhappily, we know cases enough where a connection apparently indissoluble between two persons, has, by the accidental introduction of a third, been utterly destroyed, and one or the other of the once happily united pair been driven out into the wilderness.”

Editor's note: These characters in Goethe's story speculate on the nature of apparently cohesive forces which unite lovers. Do opposites attract? Do lovers bind themselves to each other just as various chemical elements come together? But why, and how, is it that two might suffer loss when a third party is introduced? Should this romantic wedge be possible if the first union were authentic? Is the love-nexus a mere "relationship of blood" or is it a more permanent union of "soul and spirit"?

Goethe asks, and warns - why do we act surprised when marriages don't work out?

"It is our own fault if we allow ourselves to be surprised [when marriages fail].  We please ourselves with imagining matters of this earth, and particularly matrimonial connections, as very enduring; and as concerns this last point, the plays [or, in our day, the romantic movies] ... help to mislead us; being, as they are, so untrue to the course of the world. In a comedy we see a marriage as the last aim of a desire which is hindered and crossed through a number of acts, and at the instant when it is reached the curtain falls, and the momentary satisfaction continues to ring on in our ears. But in the world it is very different. The play goes on still behind the scenes, and when the curtain rises again we may see and hear, perhaps, little enough of the marriage."

Editor's note: The reality is not like the movies. If we are "surprised" when egoic relationships fail, "it is our own fault," we "please ourselves," as ample evidence of the true nature of things is available. Twin-Soul romance is not an example of "kindred by choice.” The sacred two do not choose this union, as such, but, it might be said, it chooses them. Only this higher form of romantic love, ultimately, will prove to be enduring.



What does this little science lesson have to do with romantic love? Nothing, actually - at least, not romantic love in its full-bodied, healthy form.

But there is a mutant, a fake-diamond sort, that will fool many into believing that “opposites attract.”

Notice in the above science examples a certain common denominator:

The attraction, the apparent affinity, of “opposites attract” is based on a constitutional poverty, a weakness, on the absence of something. The attracting power is really a form of parasitical feeding, of seeking strength from some external source.

“Opposites attract,” when applied to human relationships, can seem to work, initially, but only in a dysfunctional, neurotic way. It’s a way of cheating the process, of trying to vicariously gain from another what can only come from the self.


turning gold into lead

There are many so-called love-relationships based on neurotic need, even of the pathological sort. It's a kind of "dance with the devil," a coming together based on psychological neediness, which might express itself in this way:

The guy says: "I don't feel so good about myself. My self-esteem and self-respect are not that high; but, I would feel better, I think, if I could just play the boss, if you would just let me run things, and rule over you, and be the dictator in the house, then I would have a macho sense of self-worth. I might not have much influence in the world, but if I could feel what it’s like to be a big shot at home, then I will agree to ‘love’ you.”

The girl says: "My sense of personal value is low. I need others to tell me I’m worth something. I will be agreeable to everything you say because I just want to be accepted, almost on any basis. I need to be needed, and will do anything, so long as I’m able to find my significance by being ‘chosen’ by you. I might even agree to suffer your abuse - physical and psychological - and make excuses for you to my parents and friends, with your stern rule, as it supplies to me a measure of security and safety. I just don’t want to be rejected.”

And in this diseased psychological dynamic, couples such as these sway and glide, dancing to an inner discordant tune, as they announce to the world that they’ve “fallen in love"; and all this by the miraculous alchemy of “opposites attract.” It may be alchemy, but it’s turning gold into lead.


everybody's looking for something, some of them want to abuse you, some of them want to be abused...

Sweet Dreams Are Made Of This

everybody's looking for something
some of them want to use you
some of them want to get used by you

some of them want to abuse you
some of them want to be abused...



Betty Friedan, in her trend-setting work, The Feminine Mystique (1963), expressed it well: "It is easier [so it seems, initially] to live through someone else than to become complete yourself."

But we cannot become a whole person by attracting an opposite, by attempting to live life through another's strengths. There can be no substitute for finding primary life within oneself.

The subject of "opposites attract" is but a small subset of a much larger issue, that of, the dysfunctional ego attempting to identify with, to seek validation through, external others, persons or possessions in every context of life.

Kairissi. I really like Goethe’s title, “Kindred By Choice.”

Elenchus. There's a near-kin question from the old Camelot movie, "Can passion be selected?"

K. It's a great universal question.

E. The corollary is, "Can passion be unselected?"

K. I think that's an even heavier question. It's maddening, Ellus - the world's view that any two, with a dash of sex appeal, might create a successful marriage. It’s rather ludicrous.

E. It does sell a lot of white gowns and flowers, though.

K. It does that - but, Ellus, think of the complexity of the human mind! When we consider Father Benson’s “no upper limit” of potential and all the particular strengths and interests of each individual, how could any person ever find, in this world and the next, among tens of billions, that one true mate whose mind and spirit perfectly meld-and-match with one’s own? What I'm trying to say is, what good is "choice" when the random hunt for a "perfect mate" could never be fruitful, a statistical impossibility. I'd never find him.

E. But, John wasn’t really worried about mind-compatibility so much; he wasn’t planning on so many deep conversations with Mary.

K. I suppose not. Unfortunately, the author’s John-and-Mary soliloquies pretty well sum-up the motivations for many of becoming “kindred by choice.”

E. What about us, Kriss? – are we “kindred by choice”?

K. mmm… Of the same “kind”? That’s difficult, isn’t it? You’re the quintessential stolid person; you analyze things to death, and you can stay with a project, unsupervised, for decades, if need be.

E. mmm...

K. But here’s me – I’m a little on the flamboyant side… I like to “seek for the muse.” I’m interested in a vast array of aesthetics I find all around me, like a butterfly lighting on many flowers in a garden. I too can stay with my work for a long time, but I like lots of variety, as there’s so much beauty in the world. I enjoy being whimsical and following my bliss. I tend to live in my emotions whereas you like to live in your head.

E. No wonder “American Pie” boy didn’t ask you to the prom.

K. I don’t think that was the reason.

E. Well, you're right, all this is rather strange. At the surface of life, we’re not so alike.

K. I think we failed the “e-harmony compatibility” questionnaire.

E. And yet, someone who knows both of us very well once said to me, and with great emphasis on each word, “You are just like” Krissi.

K. (sighing)

E. What does this mean?


Why do family members, old friends, and romantic mates drift apart or even abruptly split?

When my daughter was in high school, she had a girlfriend; the two seemed inseparable. Later, the friend chose an alternate lifestyle, assumed that she’d be judged, then abruptly, and permanently, broke off friendship ties.

An example of my own: In the “Evolution” article I recounted that in senior-high English class I’d delivered a speech on the subject of “Creationism versus Darwinism.” Almost all of it, as I now perceive, was error. However, a good friend since childhood disagreed, summarily rejected me, and put me away with no reconciliation.

the hidden cause of all conflict

Each of us, likely, could offer scores of such examples. Krishnamurti’s teachings on the ego – concerning dualism, fragmentation, separation, division – are not of mere academic interest only to professional philosophers. This information holds the sacred key to understanding why planet Earth is the stage for war and conflict, not just on the international level, nor solely with religious or political groups, but also among family members, friends, and lovers.

Why do people drift apart or become immediate enemies? The short answer is that they become an offense to each other. People identify with, make themselves equal to, belief systems which, they assume, will "make me happy." They say "this is who I am," and "this is what I need to be safe and happy," and if you represent something different, their self-image will be threatened, their prospects of safety and happiness will seem to fold - and then you'll be rejected, no matter the strength of former bonds of amity. You'll be rejected because, don't you see, it's a matter of life-and-death to the ego.

the carefully crafted self-image

In his 17.December.1969 lecture, Jiddu Krishnamurti offers one of the most clear and insightful explanations concerning the inner workings of this dark dynamic. When we feel offended by someone, he said, “there is an image about yourself,” one that we ourselves build. This ego-image reflects one's cultural “conditioning.” Why do we build this image? We do so “as a means of security ... of protection ... of being somebody.”

fear is behind the curtain

And what do we find if we draw back the curtain of this ego-image? “Now, if you go behind that," Krishnamurti says, "you will see there is fear.” What is the composition of this fear? It is the existential fear of "I don't have enough" because "I am not enough."

Let’s analyze this ego-image more closely. Why do we build it? What are we protecting? If we allow ourselves to become very still, if we taste and sample the nature of this hidden fear, we will find that we’re protecting a self-image, a mental projection of what the ego would like to be and have:

“I am the person who needs to be seen as virtuous, respected, worthy of honor. And it goes without saying that I know what’s best for you.”

“I am the person who needs to be seen as right and correct. As such, I need you to believe as I do, to agree with all of my religious superstitions, and my self-serving political views. I need you to accept all of my inflexible opinions because your assent makes me feel, not just safe and secure but, that I’m worth something.”

“I am the person who needs to be seen as successful, 'in the know,' and winning. I want you to be impressed with what I am and what I have so that I’ll be counted as a somebody. I need these merit badges so that I can face my peer group, family, and community and be considered important."

“I am the person who craves to be viewed as a wise person, an in-demand friend, a counselor with ‘the answers.’ I count on you to offer me this prestige so that I can feel good about myself.”

"I am the person who grew up on the 'wrong side of the tracks.' My family culture held great disdain for education and knowledge. This disrespect for anything truly progressive has always held me back, creating for me a self-image of 'I’m not smart enough to succeed. I can't get a high-paying job, that's for other people.' And so if you come to me and suggest that, in fact, I do possess talents and strengths, then I will feel very uncomfortable, begin to panic, as you attempt to lead me out of my dysfunctional comfort-zone. At the first sign, with your help, that I I could actually advance myself, I’ll fall apart, swoon in terror, and then begin to blame you, and hate you, before I retreat and crawl back under the safety of my rock."

"I am the person who is comfortable with present ideas. They've gotten me this far (sort of). And they may be half-baked, a straw-house of illogicality, but, even so, these irrationalities offer a certain veneer of meaning to my life. In support of this charade, I surround myself with so-called friends with whom I share a tacit agreement, an unspoken pact: 'You must agree never to point out the non sequiturs of my beggarly superstitions, and I will agree to act as if I accept yours.' That’s the conspiratorial deal. However, if you come along with hard empirical evidence, well-reasoned positions, and suggest that I might want to take a more honest approach to what I believe to be true, well then, I will have to hate you for upsetting the applecart of my entrenched and time-honored unreasonableness."

"I am the person who carries on the traditions of my family. Unfortunately, these are more like peculiar shibboleths, marks of tribal distinction, but not of honor and dignity. I feel duty bound to ask, “What would mother do?” or “This isn’t the way dad did it.” I don’t have enough self-respect to live my own life, follow my own insights, quest for my own meaning and destiny. And if you come along and encourage me to think for myself, to break the apron strings (years after mom passed on), I will feel frightened, disoriented. And then I will blame and hate you for pushing me toward autonomy, full personhood, and self-realization."

“I am the person who needs you to make me happy. You can be my friend/lover/relative if you do exactly what I say and think just as I think. Anything less than this will be threatening to 'who I am.' I need you to love me -- just as I am, with all of my soft-underbelly beliefs -- to compliment me, to defer to me, so that I can judge myself as ok. Don't let me down, I warn you.”

“I am the person associated with you, and if you disappoint me, if you fall short of my expectations - especially after all I've done for you - if you fail to make me happy, if you begin to take on contrary opinions, then you will become an opposing force to what I want and to the image I’ve created for myself. If any of this happens, then, of course, I’ll have to get rid of you, even though we’ve meant much to each other over long years. I'll have no choice but to shun you.”

And so if anyone – sibling, friend, lover, child, parent -- stands as opposition to any of these ego-images, then the offending person will immediately be counted as an enemy, no matter a long history of cordial relation.

a closer look at the hidden fear

We find there’s more than one curtain to open. The ego’s need to be seen as right, virtuous, properly religious or political, is not the only hidden agenda. As one pierces the levels of self-obfuscation we discover the core terror which vivifies all of the ego’s activities. It’s the fear of death. This is the central terror, as we learn from the great psychologists.

This means that when one is attacked, there may be purported surface issues, but the real reason people rage and become apoplectic is the ego fighting for its life. It's identified with, made itself equal to, being right, virtuous, and all the rest, and if it fails to promote itself with these "images," then it will face a kind of psychological death. “Who will I be?” it asks, if these false-security images are minimized or taken away?

the high cost of following the truth wherever it leads

All this is most dire. The reality is, if you assiduously pursue the truth, no matter the cost or where it might lead, then you will lose (for a time) almost every last person who was once close to you. Why must it be so? - because you will become a living, walking threat to another’s carefully crafted self-image.

narrow gate, without fellowship

Editor's note: In his writings, Andrew Jackson Davis warns of the "narrow gate" that leads to life; few be that enter it. Those who live courageously by following the truth wherever it leads, as Davis points out, “will walk a pathway without fellowship of thy earthly brethren.” The cults have long employed the weapon of excommunication, shunning, and ostracization - a forced separation from friends, workmates, and family - toward anyone who disagrees with the hive mentality. This putting away occurs not just in religion but in dysfunctional families, corporations, academia, politics, and other power-seeking groups. They’re afraid of contrary opinion which might disembowel and expose shallow teachings. And so they’ll get rid of you for spreading "misinformation"; and you, as a truth seeker, will be censored and required to make your way through this world “without fellowship of thy earthly brethren.” But, be assured, a day of reckoning is but one missed heartbeat away.

We, ourselves - not some mythical Satan - are the focal point of all evil in the universe. It’s the pathological ego within; it’s the false self, the ego-images, ever attempting to find safety and security for itself, to bolster an inner neediness, the existential emptiness deep within.

We cannot become truly educated, nor reach a good level of wisdom and maturity, in the highest and best sense - or meaningfully prepare ourselves for Summerland or to be with one’s Twin Soul - without understanding the wiles and machinations of our own personal “heart of darkness.”

please, it’s very impolite of you to notice that I lack a self

Soren Kierkegaard: “But in spite of the fact that man has become fantastic in this fashion [i.e., lives unrealistically by denying his own mortality and impending death, the terror of which is covered up by palliatives such as ritualistic, form-based but empty, religion], he may nevertheless … be perfectly well able to live on, to be a man, as it seems, to occupy himself with temporal things, get married, beget children, win honor and esteem – and perhaps no one notices that, in a deeper sense, he lacks [an authentic] self.”