Many people want to have friends and form relationships with people who have high status. They prefer to be with people who are healthy, attractive, wealthy, fun, and friendly. But their ability to attract such high-status partners is limited by the principles of social exchange. It is no accident that attractive people are more able to get dates with other attractive people, for example. The basic principles of social exchange and equity dictate that there will be general similarity in status among people in close relationships because attractiveness is a resource that allows people to attract other people with resources (Kalick & Hamilton, 1986; Lee, Loewenstein, Ariely, Hong, & Young, 2008). Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, and although it seems surprising to us when one partner appears much more attractive than the other, we may well assume that the less attractive partner is offering some type of (perhaps less visible) social status in return.
There is still one other type of similarity that is important in determining whether a relationship will grow and continue, and it is also based on the principles of social exchange and equity. The finding is rather simple—we tend to prefer people who seem to like us about as much as we like them. Imagine, for instance, that you have met someone and you are hoping to pursue a relationship with that person. You begin to give yourself to the relationship by opening up to the other person, telling him or her about yourself and making it clear that you would like to pursue a closer relationship. You make yourself available to spend time with the person and contact him or her regularly. You hope that he or she feels the same amount of liking, and that you will receive the same type of behaviors in return. If the person does not return the openness and giving, the relationship is not going to go very far.
Relationships in which one person likes the other much more than the other likes him or her can be inherently unstable because they are not balanced or equitable. An unfortunate example of such an imbalanced relationship occurs when one individual continually attempts to contact and pursue a relationship with another person who is not interested in one. It is difficult for the suitor to give up the pursuit because he or she feels passionately in love with the other, and his or her self-esteem will be hurt if the other person is rejecting. But the situation is also not comfortable for the individual who is being pursued because that person feels both guilty about rejecting the suitor and angry that the suitor continues the pursuit (Baumeister & Wotman, 1992). Such situations are not uncommon and require that the individual who is being pursued make it completely clear that he or she is not interested in any further contact.
There is a clear moral to the importance of liking similarity, and it pays to remember it in everyday life. If we act toward others in a positive way, this expresses liking and respect for them, and the others will likely return the compliment. Being liked, praised, and even flattered by others is rewarding, and (unless it is too blatant and thus ingratiating, as we saw when we discussed self-presentation) we can expect that others will enjoy it.
In sum, similarity is probably the most important single determinant of liking. Although we may sometimes prefer people who have different interests and skills from ours (Beach, Whitaker, Jones, & Tesser, 2001; Tiedens & Jimenez, 2003), when it comes to personality traits, it is similarity that matters—complementarity (being different from the other) just does not generally have much influence on liking.