Your wife or girlfriend probably shares some close similarities with the first woman you ever fell in love with: your mother.
Researchers in Finland recruited 70 men and women and compared the face of each person’s spouse to the participant’s opposite-sex parent. The absolutely horrifying results: While the women’s husbands looked nothing like their fathers, the men were likely to end up with women who “significantly” resembled their moms, says Urszula Marcinkowska, Ph.D., an evolutionary psychologist at the University of Turku. (You may now vomit.)
That’s the bad news. The silver lining? There’s nothing unnatural about being attracted to women who resemble your mother, Marcinkowska says. Here’s why: Evolution and natural selection have pre-programmed you to seek out partners who come from your same species group. And since your earliest and closest contact is with your mother, she becomes the template you seek out, Marcinkowska explains. Fathers-no matter how dedicated and present-simply don’t leave the same type of imprint on their daughter’s mate preferences, Marcinkowska adds.
But be warned: The mother-son connection doesn’t stop at looks. While Sigmund Freud’s idea of an “Oedipus complex” has been largely discarded by psychologists, your relationship with your mother will play a big part in how well you connect with women later in life, says Michael Kimmel, Ph.D., a SUNY sociologist and author of Guyland. (And if you’re interested in a woman who happens to have kids, check out these 5 Rules for Dating a Single Mom.)
The best foundation for healthy romantic attachments is a close and affectionate mother-son bond, Kimmel says. But if you had a rough relationship with a mother who was distant or neglectful, you may unconsciously seek out similar women as romantic partners, says William Pollack, Ph.D., an expert on men and young men at Cambridge Health Alliance and Harvard Medical School. Why? Because you’re trying to “fix” that broken mother-son relationship. “But that hardly ever works out,” Pollack explains.
His advice: Look for patterns in your failed romantic relationships, and compare them to your relationship with your mother. See any similarities? If so, it’s time to start searching for a different type of woman-one who doesn’t resemble your dear old mom, says Pollack, who is also a member of the Men’s Health Advisory Board. (Land the woman of your dreams when you follow 36 Ways to Get That Girl.)