Is Zodiac Compatibility Real?

It's a lot more complicated than you think

Collage photos via Getty Images; Illustrated by Liz Riccardi

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.

Illustrated by Liz Riccardi

Key

Aries
Compatibility: Aries is a fire sign, so they like other fire signs like them (Leo and Sagittarius especially, as well as other Aries). They also get along well with air signs like Gemini, Libra, and Aquarius. 
Incompatibility: Earth and Water signs tend to extinguish fire, so Aries isn't super compatible with Taurus, Capricorn, or Virgo (Earth signs), or Cancer and Pisces.
Wild card: Scorpio. Because Aries shares a ruling planet with Scorpio—Mars, the war god of action—sometimes these two will make great friends and lovers. But Scorpio is still a water sign, which makes this match unpredictable.  

Taurus
Compatibility: Taurus is an earth sign, so they are best with other earth signs (Virgo, Capricorn, other Taureans). Water carves and soothes earth, so Pisces, Cancer, and Scorpio are great matches.
Incompatibility: Fire scorches earth, so fire signs like Aries, Leo, and Sagittarius are far too dramatic for easygoing Taurus. Air dusts up earth and creates confusion, so Aquarius and Gemini are said to be incompatible. 
Wild card: Libra. Though an air sign, Libra shares a ruling planet with Taurus (Venus), so they sometimes work! 

Gemini
Compatibility: Fire intrigues air, so Aires, Leo, and Sagittarius are their best matches—along with other air signs, like Libra, Aquarius, and other Geminis. 
Incompatibility: Air evaporates water, so signs like Pisces, Cancer, and Scorpio don't work well with Gemini. Earth and air create dust storms, so typically, Taurus and Capricorn don't work.
Wild card: Virgo. They couldn't be more opposite, but they do share Mercury as a ruling planet. 

Cancer
Compatibility: Cancer is most compatible with other water signs: Scorpio, Pisces, and other Cancers. Earth signs, like Taurus, Virgo, and Capricorn, are also very compatible. 
Incompatibility: Fire signs, like Aries, Leo, and Sagittarius, do not work well; neither do air signs Aquarius, Gemini, and Libra.

Leo
Compatibility: Leo goes well with Aquarius, Gemini, and Libra, as well as other fire signs, like Aries, Sagittarius, and other Leos.
Incompatibility: Leo doesn't work well with water signs, like Pisces, Cancer, or Scorpio. Same goes for earth signs Taurus, Virgo, and Capricorn.

Virgo
Compatibility: Virgo likes other earth signs, like Taurus, Capricorn, and Virgos, as well as water signs like Scorpio, Cancer, and Pisces. 
Incompatibility: Virgo won't jive with fire signs, like Leo, Aries, and Sagittarius, as well as air signs like Gemini, Aquarius, and Libra. 
Wild card: Gemini, as these two share Mercury as a ruling planet. 

Libra
Compatibility: Air signs get along well with fire signs, like Aries, Sagittarius, and Leo. They also get along well with other air signs (Gemini, Aquarius, other Libras). 
Incompatibility: Libras do not get along well with most earth signs like Virgo and Capricorn. Same goes for water signs Scorpio, Cancer, and Pisces. 
Wild card: Taurus is a wild card because they share a ruling planet—the gentle Venus.

Scorpio
Compatibility: These are the dry water signs, so they like earth—especially Taurus, Virgo, and Capricorn. They get on famously with other water signs, like Pisces, Cancer, and other Scorpios (though when two Scorpios get together, it's like a sex scene from True Blood.)
Incompatibility: Air signs, like Gemini, Aquarius, and Libra are no-nos. Fire signs actually can work with Scorpio because of their fiery nature, but typically Leo and Sagittarius are known to set Scorpio’s seething temper ablaze. 
Wild card: Aries. Scorpio shares Mars as one of its dual ruling planets with Aries, so sometimes these two make amazing friends and loyal and hyper-protective partners. 

Sagittarius
Compatibility: Sagittarius goes well with Aquarius, Gemini, and Libra (air signs), as well as other fire signs, like Aries, Leo, and other Sagittarians.
Incompatibility: Sagittarius doesn't work well with water signs, like Pisces, Cancer, or Scorpio. Same goes for earth signs Taurus, Virgo, and Capricorn.

Capricorn
Compatibility: Capricorn likes other earth signs, like Taurus, Capricorn, and Virgo, as well as water signs like Scorpio, Cancer, and Pisces. 
Incompatibility: Capricorns butt heads with fire signs, like Leo, Aries, and Sagittarius, as well as air signs, like Gemini, Aquarius, and Libra. 

Aquarius
Compatibility: Aquarius loves other air signs, like Gemini, Libra, other Aquarians—they also get along fantastically with fire signs Leo, Sagittarius, and Aries. 
Incompatibility: Aquarius doesn't do well with water signs, like Scorpio, Pisces, and Cancer. Nor do they get on with earth signs, like Virgo, Capricorn, or Taurus. 

Pisces 
Compatibility: Pisces is compatible with other water signs, like Scorpio, Cancer, and other Pisces—as well as earth signs, like Taurus, Capricorn, and Virgo. 
Incompatibility: Pisces is not good with fire signs, like Leo, Aries, and Sagittarius. Nor are they good with air signs, like Gemini, Libra, and Aquarius.