Sun, Nov 26, 2006 - Page 9 News List

Why would it seem that opposites do attract?

By Barbara Ellen  /  THE OBSERVER , LONDON

We've all met them, the "Photo Negative" couples, who seem the very opposite of each other, to the point where you can't imagine how they ever got together. The deafening drama queen with the waxwork boyfriend whose main purpose in life is to refill her glass and ensure she doesn't lose her handbag. The gregarious man with the wife who nibbles, mouse-like, at the periphery of conversation. The athletic jock appearing in the pub with a bookworm.

Of course, sometimes it's obvious. For instance, the astonishing "connection" found between "Beautiful Young Women" and "Rich Old Guys." But what do all the other "Photo Negatives" see in each other? Doesn't it go against the rules of attraction to have no common ground at all? Or is that the point?

Yoked as we all are to the tyranny of "shared interests", gasping in the airless hell of lonely hearts-speak, are we all in danger of ending up with the non-biologically related equivalent of our sister or brother? Indeed, could sometimes not being reminded of yourself (boring, noisy and messy) be the biggest turn-on of all?

A TV series started this week in the UK called Dating The Enemy (DTE). What's this, I thought suspiciously, a summary of every relationship I've ever had? As it happens, DTE puts together couples who have nothing in common and hate the idea of each other in the hope that opposites attract. So it was a summary of every relationship I've ever had.

Except perhaps that, like most people, the more "challenging" aspects of my personal emotional Chernobyls were to be found less in what we didn't have in common, than in what we did. Namely a near-feudal scrabbling for territory and power that in men manifests itself in Siberic levels of emotional withdrawal, and in women as crying a lot to Joni Mitchell and smashing wine glasses. But enough of the good old days.

Famous "Photo Negative" couples are thin on the ground -- for it to work, one of them would have to be shy, retiring and sane. But look at Brangelina (after Billy Bob, Angelina's probably relieved Brad doesn't feel the vampiric urge to wear a vial of her blood around his neck). Kurt and Courtney -- was it my imagination, or did Cobain often seem enthralled by the sheer "trouble" of her?

When Madonna and Guy met, they were cut from the same ruthless, driven cloth. Now, after Swept Away and Kabbalah, he is a real-ale-supping shadow of his former self, scoring high on "Photo Negativity," and probably all kinds of other negativity, too.

Then there is Renee Zellweger, the "Queen of the Photo Negative" coupling: Jim Carrey, Jack White of the White Stripes, that weird marriage to the scary looking chap in the stetson, and now rumored to be back with old flame George Clooney (the heart-throb famous for only wanting to commit to his pet pig).

Renee has either dedicated her entire love life to the concept of opposites attracting, or she has loads in common with all these men, and hence is a much stranger -- and braver -- woman than she lets on.

Maybe that's the point. Some people don't have the guts to investigate the vagaries of opposites attracting. That's why we deal in what appears to be an endless parade of "familiars".

I, like many women, have specialized in partners who are really just manifestations of myself (the same faults and the same good points).

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