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Is Zodiac Compatibility Real?

Astrology
Collage photos via Getty Images; Illustrated by Liz Riccardi

It's a lot more complicated than you think

Many a horoscope reader wonders what the most compatible signs are and why. It's hard not to get sucked into a cultural structure that would render us all one-dimensional, easy to read and easy to discount. We've all heard the phrases "opposites attract" and "birds of a feather flock together," and these two opposing ideas seem to come up often enough when the compatibility of sun signs is explored. "Are you a Scorpio? Date your diametric opposite, Taurus. If you make it through alive—it's forever!" Or: "Taurus didn't work, Scorpio? Can't stand all the fighting? Try a Cancer, you're both water signs! Water, wow!" These suggestions, while not altogether badly intentioned, allow the seeker to treat themselves and their beloved as one thing only, their sun sign. But, any astrology enthusiast knows that when a person is born, many planets clamor into place and influence their becoming. From this planetary arrangement, we fashion natal charts, and with natal charts firmly in our grasp, we begin the work of exploration. When two people's natal charts are brought together in the search for compatibility, that is called synastry, a word that simply means "the stars together."

In her 21 Love Poems, Adrienne Rich writes, "If I could let you know— / two women together is a work / nothing in civilization has made simple, / two people together is a work / heroic in its ordinariness," and she isn't wrong. To compare two natal charts, one must examine where the planets and sometimes even asteroids (Chiron and Lilith, for example) were positioned when two different people were born. On each individual chart, these galactic bodies mark transits that aim to influence a person throughout their life. One person's chart can be alive with contradicting forces, moody gods and streaks of luck. Now the Scorpio mentioned above becomes a Scorpio, Sagittarius Ascendant, Sagittarius Venus, Libra Mars and Mercury, Jupiter in Aries with a moon in Taurus. These transits do work on each other, and many a querent spends their life understanding how to harmonize the energies they carry within themselves. Bring another person's chart into the mix, and you've got yourself a beautiful web of influences, synchronicities, and wild divergences in behavior and ideology.

Does that Scorpio still want a Taurus? Perhaps their Taurus moon might feel a sense of resonance with another Taurus, especially if the degrees are close. But, imagine the Taurus who arrives. They are not only a Taurus Sun but also a Leo Ascendant with a Taurus Moon, Taurus Mars, Taurus Mercury, and their Venus is in Cancer. Let's imagine one area of inquiry into their compatibility now. With Venus (the energy one anticipates and desires in intimate connections) in independent, adventure-seeking Sagittarius and Mars (the energy one exerts toward their intended) in smooth-talking indirect Libra, Scorpio might have a lot of trouble with their newfound Taurus. That's because this Taurus has her Venus in Cancer, a transit that expects steadfastness and devotion, and her Mars is in Taurus, a direct and often inflexible energy. It's not impossible for these two to get along—in fact they would make for very good friends—but a romantic relationship would most certainly be "a work heroic in its ordinariness."

After the Sun and moon transits, Mars and Venus positions are considered some of the clearest indicators of compatibility, especially for beginners looking to understand their chart and the charts of their beloveds. But, the more you learn about planets, asteroids, and their influences, the more you look and the more you'll see. Even outer, slower-moving planets can make a big difference—especially when it comes to people born some distance of years apart. It's not always very pleasant, for instance, to have one person's Saturn (the planet of hard-earned lessons) in aspect to another person's moon (the private self, the intimate self). And, you might laugh after a few heartbreaking years of dating Leo dominants (people with lots of Leo in their chart) to find the asteroid Chiron (the wounded healer) positioned squarely in Leo in your chart. However, no singular transit, or planetary position, is the nail in the coffin of a possible love connection. Imagine a world where we come to each other the same: What pleasure, what relief, can there be without tension?

Our natal charts, our transits, the maps to our ever-becoming selves stacked one above the other, reveal who we might have been and what another person can bring out of us. When you sail out on the dark sea of desire and look for love in the stars, querent, don't forget that you, too, steer the wheel. All kinds of love are possible between complicated animals, the kind of love that guides us up the mountain so that we might marvel at the universe, and the kind of love that pushes us off the highest peak.

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