Plants and fungi show an astonishing diversity of mechanisms to promote outbreeding, the most widespread of which is sexual incompatibility. Sexual incompatibility involves molecular recognition between mating partners. In fungi and algae, highly polymorphic mating-type loci mediate mating through complementary interactions between molecules encoded or regulated by different mating-type haplotypes, whereas in flowering plants polymorphic self-incompatibility loci regulate mate recognition through oppositional interactions between molecules encoded by the same self-incompatibility haplotypes. This subtle mechanistic difference is a consequence of the different life cycles of fungi, algae, and flowering plants. Recent molecular and biochemical studies have provided fascinating insights into the mechanisms of mate recognition and are beginning to shed light on evolution and population genetics of these extraordinarily polymorphic genetic systems of incompatibility.