Compatibility in Relationships Is Overrated

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Promotional portrait of actors Ed O'Neill and Katey Sagal for the television series 'Married with Children,' 1993.
Photo: FOX

Having things in common” is a standard box to check when it comes to romantic relationships — we either comment on how many shared interests a couple has or marvel at how many they don’t (and for the latter, we shrug and say, “Well, opposites attract!”). But in his latest column for The Guardian, Oliver Burkeman argues that, according to the bulk of existing scientific evidence on romantic relationships, neither of those things are exactly true. Compatibility, at least in the “having stuff in common” sense, is a standard dating criterion you’re probably better off ignoring. 

Burkeman writes:

For all the boasts some dating sites may make about their unique personality-matching questionnaires and algorithms, there’s little evidence that sharing a lot of interests or traits with someone makes a successful relationship more likely. And that’s not because “opposites attract”, either; it’s simply that it’s not very important whether or not your interests and traits match a prospective partner’s. 

It seems that the only time compatibility really becomes an issue is when couples start to worry about whether they don’t have enough of it, Burkeman writes, citing research on married couples from the University of Texas at Austin. What matters much more than some list of shared interests, or whether or not the two of you are opposite in exactly the right ways, is likely how well you communicate with each other, and how willing you are to give the relationship a shot. It’s some solid relationship advice from Burkeman, a guy who just wrote a whole column on how you should mostly ignore relationship advice.