When I think of the qualities I look for in a man, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that they’re the qualities that my father embodies.
I’m looking for a man who is loyal, smart, kind, respectful, hard-working, family-oriented, and shares my sarcastic (and sometimes immature and politically incorrect) sense of humor. Anyone who knows me knows that these traits not only perfectly describe my dad, but they also know that I’ve always had a close relationship with him.
That’s why it comes as no surprise to me that scientific research says that women are likely to be attracted to men similar to their fathers. This is good news for women who have close relationships with their fathers, but not for women who have negative relationships with their fathers.
The Science Behind It
Most people are familiar with famous psychologist Sigmund Freud’s Oedipus complex, the psychological theory where “children experience an unconscious feeling of desire for their opposite-sex parent and jealousy and envy toward their same-sex parent.”
Contrary to popular belief, this psychological phenomenon isn’t exclusive to boys. Neo-Freudian psychologist Carl Jung coined the female equivalent to the Oedipus complex — the Electra complex — which is described as “a daughter's longing for her father and competition with her mother. The daughter possesses an unconscious desire to replace her mother as her father's sexual partner, thus leading to a rivalry between daughter and mother.”
Lucky for us, psychology has made many strides since Freud and Jung. This gives us more complex (and less gross and creepy) reasons as to why we’re often attracted to men who are similar to our fathers.
We're attracted to potential partners who stimulate us in the same way our parents treated us.
Relationship therapist Dr. Judith Wright attributes this to “pre-sexual programming.” She says, “As infants, we develop an unconscious schema of what love is, based on the way we are treated by our primary caregivers. Then, as adults, we’re attracted to people who stimulate us in the same way.”
Wright also believes that this is a very unconscious phenomenon, meaning we often don’t realize that we’re attracted to men similar to our fathers. She continues, “You might think that you’re dating the extreme opposite to your father, and yet the unconscious mind finds a way of slipping back to what’s comfortable.”
Jennifer Harman, Colorado State University professor of psychology and co-author of The Science of Relationships, attributes this phenomenon to familiarity. She says, “It may or may not be a healthy dynamic, but it feels comfortable. If people don’t have a lot of self-worth because of early parenting, they enter relationships where that person confirms how they already feel about themselves.”
This is great news for women who have positive relationships with their fathers, but bad news for those with negative relationships with their fathers.
Good News for Women with Strong Fathers
Women who were raised by kind, loving, and supportive fathers are more likely to be attracted to men who are similar to their fathers. A 2007 study says, “Women who enjoy good childhood relationships with their fathers are more likely to select partners who resemble their dads, research suggests. In contrast, the team of psychologists revealed that women who have negative or less positive relationships were not attracted to men who looked like their male parents.”
Women who have good relationships with their fathers are more likely to select partners who resemble their dads.
It’s strange to admit, but I’ve always been more attracted to men who are tall and dark haired, and I’ve always been a sucker for men with blue eyes. It’s no coincidence that my dad has all three of these physical traits.
Another trait that I notice when I’m meeting a guy is whether or not he’s funny. Growing up, my dad was always the fun uncle at family gatherings, and my friends have always told me that I have a funny dad; therefore, it shouldn’t be a surprise that I look for a good sense of humor in a man. It also helps that relationships full of laughter tend to be healthier, making this an overall win for women with comedic dads.
Bad News for Women with Toxic Fathers
Although women with poor relationships with their fathers are less likely than women with positive relationships to be attracted to men similar to their fathers, this doesn’t leave them off the hook from this phenomenon. As Wright mentioned before, a lot of this phenomenon is subconscious.
She says, “This is your psyche returning to the scene of the crime. You’re picking somebody who has the same issues [as your father] so that you can fix it and do a better job this time around.” In short, a lot of women who have issues with their fathers unconsciously want to stop a man from turning into their father. This is similar to how women who are often in toxic relationships have a “fixer” mentality when it comes to toxic men.
Many women who have issues with their fathers unconsciously want to stop a man from turning into their father.
It also doesn’t help that women are more likely than men to be attracted to a partner who has Dark Triad personality traits. The three traits of the Dark Triad are narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism. A person with a Machiavellian personality (similar to the main character in Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Prince, which was inspired by the life of Renaissance nobleman Cesare Borgia) is defined as “a person so focused on their own interests they will manipulate, deceive, and exploit others to achieve their goals.”
The attraction to the Dark Triad is one of the reasons why women tend to be more attracted to toxic relationships than men, making it more difficult for women with toxic fathers to find a healthy romantic relationship with a man.
Though it may sound strange that women tend to be attracted to men who are similar to their fathers, it’s important to remember that a father is often a girl’s first love. Many young women learned what a good man looked like from watching their father growing up. Unfortunately, this isn’t a positive experience for every woman, but the science behind it remains the same.