Tag Archives: Opposites Attract

Ask Anne M.: Can style (or substance) opposites attract?

Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, until recently the First Lady of France, shows her rarely-seen frumpy side

PICKY PICKY writes:

I recently went on a date with a very attractive and nice woman. However, her style was a bit off and her shoes were very out-of-date as well as downright ugly (like… really bad).

I’m a very design-oriented, “artsy” and liberal guy, and her lack of aesthetic sense really turned me off. Even I was surprised at my reaction.

Am I being petty or too picky? Can an artsy person get along with an earthy person? Could a liberal be attracted to, and get along with, a conservative?

ANNE M. RESPONDS:

You raise a couple of significant issues, Picky Picky. First impressions, and the value we place on them consciously and unconsciously, have been the focus of decades of study by sociologists, psychologists, and marketing departments. I think it’s fair to say that anyone would be taken aback by someone whose appearance varied noticeably from our expectations of it. Such expectations are based on the subtle messaging about ourselves that clothing sends out to the world. If I’m told I hold the same values and goals in life as another person – at least “on paper” – and we’re of approximately the same generation, with similar interests, I’d kind of expect them to dress somewhat like me. Or at least provide a nice complement to my style.

You also describe her as attractive, however, which I assume means that underneath her dated duds she had an appealing figure at the very least. What you’re really gauging is the value of the person vs. the shell, and there is a difference. One study determined that when appraising new people, clothing has the most impact on social impressions, while person (including both face and body) dictates views of one’s athletic ability (and by extension, health). Interestingly, neither “costume” nor “person” exerts any notable influence over perceptions of intellect.

What you need to figure out is whether you seek certain attributes in potential partners because they will contribute to your long-term happiness, or because they have become preferences that are fixed for other reasons. But if you’re not sure, you might want to broaden your parameters a little, just as an experiment. Fashion choices, hairstyles, even taste in music are all easily updated. It’s whether you choose to view that as an opportunity (“Hey! Let’s go shopping together sometime!”) or a sign that something more significant is at play.

There are many reasons a person may appear to have given up on fashion, including practical, ethical, and financial ones. It’s entirely possible that your date is completely comfortable in her own skin, and uses her personality to put her best foot forward in the world rather than cool shoes. Or maybe she’s so much cooler and fashion-forward than you are that you failed to recognize her resurrection of the 90′s floral print Elaine dresses and penny loafers for the maverick move it was.

As mismatched couples go, style may well be more of an issue to grapple with than substance. Research into whether opposites truly do attract suggests that yes, it is very likely our mates will be drawn from a pool of people with whom we share certain attitudes – on everything from movies to politics to religion to a shared love of downhill skiing. But it is ultimately how well personalities complement each other that determines happiness. This means that yes, Picky Picky, a liberal and a conservative could technically fall in love and live happily ever after.

Mary Matalin, Republican, and James Carville, Democrat, married since 1993