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Dating Maze #313: Similarity Quotient

July 13, 2010 | by Rosie Einhorn, L.C.S.W. and Sherry Zimmerman, J.D., M.Sc.

Does a married couple need to share the same tastes and interests?

Dear Rosie & Sherry,

I am relatively new to dating, and have been out with some really great, quality guys. I went out with most of them several times, and we enjoyed each other's company, shared common interests and goals, and were attracted to each other.

A few of the more promising courtships ended with the guy saying, "We can't get married because we're too similar.” I am not the only one among my friends who has heard an excuse like this. Is it a valid reason to break up because two personalities are too similar?

I always thought it was good to come from similar backgrounds and share common interests. Am I wrong?


Dear Renata,

You're right – “We can't get married because we're too similar" is an excuse that's become popular because it seems to be a "safe" way to end things when someone either doesn't know or is afraid to articulate the real reason for not wanting to continue.

There are many legitimate reasons why a man – who seems to be getting along with the woman he's dating – feels it's time to stop. Perhaps he isn't attracted to her, even though he's taken the time to see if attraction develops. He may feel as though she is someone he could be friends with, but the "chemistry" that will lead to a deep emotional attachment isn't present. Or, he may realize that he doesn't feel ready to get married.

Whatever the reason, it's best to say, "I just don't feel we're right for each other," or "It was very nice to go out with you, but I feel that long-term this isn't going in the right direction."

But "We're too similar" is not a good reason. A man and woman need a certain amount of similarities to form the foundation of a healthy, enduring relationship. There should be similarities in their value systems, world views, goals and expectations. When these are not compatible, over the long-term couples usually find themselves on a collision course.

Certain commonalities make it much more likely for two people to have this compatibility – like coming from similar socio-economic backgrounds and/or cultures. Couples from dissimilar backgrounds may find themselves working harder to find common ground. Further, sharing the same religion and degree of religious commitment can be a critical factor in the longevity of a relationship and the stability of a marriage.

Minimally, core values need to be a good fit.

Some people mistakenly believe that they need to have the same interests, tastes, leisure activities, or even personality traits. While it's true that having several of these in common does make it easier to understand and relate to each other, a relationship can succeed even when these are very different. Of course, the core values need to be a good fit, and each of them needs to appreciate and respect the ways in which they are different.

There are many formulas for making these differences "work.” A husband and wife may pursue completely different hobbies, but enjoy the time they share with family or friends. Another couple may take turns choosing the vacation or leisure activity they will do together, while other spouses sometimes go on different vacations or enjoy a weekly night out with their respective friends. Many couples find themselves acquiring a taste for each other’s favorite music, ethnic food, or sports activity. Successful married couples learn how to find a workable balance between their individual interests and tastes, and the aspects of their lives that they share.

In the same vein, another way a relationship succeeds is when the man and woman learn how to balance the similarities and differences in their personalities and character traits. The expression "opposites attract" holds true to some extent – although two people who are very dissimilar will have a hard time adjusting to each other and may find themselves locked in constant conflict.

But some amount of difference is a good thing, such as when couples find that they learn from each other's character traits or habits. For example, one may be a bit more easy-going and the other more strict; in this case, one can teach the other to take things more easily, while the other can role model a healthy sense of discipline. The best situation is where they report that "we compliment each other," or say, "He/she makes me want to be a better person."

So while a couple benefits from having certain similarities, at the same time a certain amount of difference can enhance a relationship.

In general, it sounds like your dating habits are healthy ones. Most of the men you've dated seem to have the qualities you're looking for, and you get along with them. This indicates that you are choosing your dates wisely, with men who are close to what you're looking for. And because your dating experiences have largely been positive, which is important for keeping your energy and sparkle going into future dating situations.

We wish you success in navigating the dating maze.

Rosie & Sherry

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