When it comes to the women in your life, one woman in particular probably stands out as being “your type.” No, I’m not talking about Kate Upton (she’s pretty much every guy’s fantasy type, right?). I’m referring to the one who gave birth to you. But before you say “yuck,” just hear me out: In a recent Finnish study published in Evolutionary Psychology that compared the facial features of each person’s spouse with the features of that individual’s opposite-sex parent, researchers discovered that men are more likely to marry women who look like their mothers than women are to marry men who resemble their fathers. Since a man’s earliest relationship with a woman is usually the one he forms with his own mother, it’s actually not that surprising. So naturally, that also makes mom a likely template for any man’s future romantic partners.
But does this attraction go deeper than physical resemblance? When does dating someone who reminds you of your mother stop being a good thing and become something more, um, Oedipal in nature? Let’s find out.
Clues that you’re dating someone just like your mother
Obviously, if someone looks like your mother, you’re going to notice (or if you don’t, other people will and ask you about it). But ultimately, there’s more to the equation than just someone’s physical appearance. “It will be necessary to look beyond the physical and what appears on the surface (although that can be part of it) because that’s just window dressing…it is what’s found ‘underneath’ that really draws us to particular people — good and bad,” says Deanna Brann, Ph.D., author of Reluctantly Related. “If a man does not look at this issue, he will keep picking the same type of woman over and over again… so it’s important for the man to look at what it was about this other person that made him choose her as potential mate.” This is especially true if your relationship with your mother wasn’t always a positive one and your romantic relationships keep ending in unpleasant ways.
View Singles on Match.com
Keep in mind that this may be hard for you to identify when you’re evaluating your own relationships. “Typically, we notice differences, not similarities; i.e., a man is unlikely to notice the characteristics his girlfriend possesses which also belong to his mother. Since those particular qualities feel familiar to him, he probably assumes that all women are similar like that,” says Karin Anderson, Ph.D., author of It Just Hasn’t Happened Yet. “So a man is actually much more likely to notice any aspects of his girlfriend’s personality that are in direct contrast to those of his mother.”
If you’re looking for similarities, however, pay careful attention to your date’s tone of voice, body language, word choice, behavior, how she treats you, the way she treats others, her mannerisms, the way you behave around her (e.g. falling into behaviors that you exhibited around your mother when you were younger), and so on. All of these clues can help you discern whether you feel “comfortable” with your date not just because of feeling an intense attraction to her, but also because you grew up around another woman shared these same traits, thus fostering a feeling of familiarity with your partner. Sometimes you can mistake comfort for actual compatibility with another person.
When dating someone like your mom can be a good thing…
Well, if you really adore your mother, then dating someone who is like her will probably mean that you adore your gal, too. “Obviously if your mother possesses good qualities and if you choose someone who also has those good qualities, you will respond well to that,” says Dr. Brann. “You will admire her for the same reason you admire your mother, and you will show your girlfriend the same level of respect, too.” In a way, it’s the purest form of flattery if you love someone because she reminds you of the things you also love about your mother.
“Similarities strengthen relationships — the more a couple has in common, the less they have to fight about. And this is particularly true when it comes to shared values, since they are at the root of most of our thought patterns and decisions,” advises Dr. Anderson. “Men learn about values from their parents, so if a woman is like their mom, she’ll probably possess many of those same values — which can only enhance the potential for a successful, happy future.” And when it comes to familial relationships, positive similarities are like money in the bank. “If someone’s mom and girlfriend are two peas in a pod, they’re probably going to get along well, which will only make things easier for all parties involved,” asserts Dr. Anderson.
The downsides of dating a mom-alike
The experts seem to think that the only time you should worry about this issue is if you and your mother really didn’t get along when you were growing up (or still have a “complicated” relationship today). “The main downsides are that you will react to your partner as you did around your mother — i.e., those things that drove you crazy with your mother will again trigger the same reaction,” says Dr. Brann. “For example: If your girlfriend starts to nag you, you will rebel as you did against your mother… and you may even set your girlfriend up to act as though she’s taken on the role your mother — which you might do by acting childish or child-like towards her.”
On the other hand, if these two women share similarly negative traits, all-out war could ensue. “If your mom is a bit controlling and your girlfriend is, too, they will recognize that behavior in each other but not in themselves. Then, they will criticize the other person for being too controlling,” warns Dr. Brann. Wow, that sounds stressful! Being in the middle of a relationship with two women who are so alike they don’t even realize it could be a tricky situation to navigate, so proceed with caution.
Don’t expect your girlfriend to start “mothering” you
Some degree of caretaking is part of every healthy relationship. That’s not a problem — but it can become one if you’re not careful. For example, if you are accustomed to your mother expressing her love by baking homemade cookies and your girlfriend does the same, you’ll likely enjoy and appreciate your girlfriend’s efforts. However, one potential issue could arise from this behavior — competitiveness between mom and girlfriend for your affections: “No, that’s the way I show my boy love. You can’t bake him cookies, that’s my thing!” Nobody wants to get caught in that kind of crossfire.
“To overcome this hurdle, you’d need to reassure your mother that even though you love your girlfriend’s baking, there’s still something special about cookies made by mom,” says Dr. Anderson. “In addition, you should remind your mom that you always hoped to marry someone just like her — so isn’t it great that your girlfriend bakes for you, too?” Keep in mind that you play a part in the dynamic of their relationship as it develops. If you allow yourself to be drawn to someone who “mothers” you, it means you’re choosing this person for a very specific (and unhealthy) reason. “If a man’s girlfriend has those types of characteristics where she wants to ‘take care’ of him and ‘mother’ him, he will likely start allowing that to happen because it’s easier than fighting it… and also because he likes being mothered, to some degree,” says Dr. Brann. “Then he doesn’t have to be held responsible for things — although he will also rebel at times and act out.”
On the other hand, if we’re talking about a total mama’s boy, who still allows mom to take care of him in the same manner she did when he was a kid, then this guy will need to be careful not to sabotage the relationship with his girlfriend by unwittingly thinking that no one can possibly take care of him as well as mom. “Or if he does stick with his new lady, he’ll be thrilled if she begins to take care of him like mom does,” says Dr. Anderson. “It’s what he’s accustomed to and what he’ll expect.”
Three questions to ask before getting into a new relationship
In any romantic relationship, both parties should be aware of why they’re in it and what they expect from their partner. But in order to steer clear of one that’s laden with “mommy issues,” Dr. Anderson says that it’s probably wise to ask yourself the following three questions:
1. Do we respect each other for who we are as individuals, or am I hoping she’ll change (to be more or less like my own mother)?
2. Am I possibly trying to get something from my girlfriend (emotional support, belief in my abilities, etc.) that I didn’t get from my own mother?
3. If my father was domineering or disrespectful towards my mother, am I going to treat my girlfriend in a similar way?
“I think it’s good for a guy in this situation to really look at himself honestly,” says Dr. Brann. “He may say that he wants certain things in a woman, but he needs to look at the kind of women he finds himself attracted to and then see if those two things match up before getting into a relationship with someone.” That’s why examining your romantic past is so helpful — particularly in recognizing and accepting what part you played in the relationship when it didn’t work out.
The bottom line is that it’s not necessarily good or bad to be with someone who’s similar to your own mother. In fact, if you two have a solid relationship and you admire your parents’ marriage, finding a woman who shares some of mom’s qualities is likely a great idea. However, it’s important to remember that a girlfriend is not your mother, because romance should be about two people forming a happy, healthy partnership — not a parent-ship — together!
Kimberly Dawn Neumann (www.KDNeumann.com) is a popular New York City-based freelance writer whose work has appeared in such publications as Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire, Redbook, Maxim and frequently online. A certified dating/relationship coach, she’s published two books:The Real Reasons Men CommitandSex Comes Firstand is the founder of www.DatingDivaDaily.com.