You know the old adage: Like father like…son-in-law? They say all women are really looking to marry their fathers, but exactly how much of a role do fathers play in the men their daughters choose to date?
It’s hard to deny an evolutionary imperative. Women are instinctively drawn to a man who can protect her and her future offspring. That’s not to paint a picture of our prospective partners as apish barbarians guarding their young. In our current sociological model, strength — and the power to protect — comes in many forms, including physical strength, financial resources and social strengths like charisma, popularity and a sense of humor.
Most daughters seem to gravitate toward men with the same types of strength as their fathers, which isn’t really all that surprising. If you grew up with a wise-cracking dad, you’d probably be bored with a man who doesn’t get The Daily Show. Conversely, if your father was the strong, silent type, you might have trouble taking a comedian seriously as a potential mate.
Strength might mean intelligence to you. It might mean authority, perseverance, or even the ability to admit being wrong. Whatever you are drawn to in terms of strength or power, there’s a good chance you can trace it back to your first father figure.
We learn the different ways we express and understand love from our parents. And since our fathers provide most of us with our first example of love from a man, we spend a great deal of our lives adapting to our father’s style of communication and establishing it (consciously or otherwise) as the kind of love we need.
Words, touch, gifts, gestures — they’re all ways we communicate love. And most of us respond more to one way than to others. That means someone who grew up with a lot of hugs might not understand a lack of casual physical affection from a boyfriend, even if he’s constantly telling her how he feels. Another woman might be offended at presents meant to demonstrate love when what she wants is the kind of quality time her dad used to set aside for her.
You might assume the opposite would be true as well — that a woman who didn’t get enough affirmation from her father as a child might unconsciously seek out an avid communicator — but the theory doesn’t seem to work in reverse. While they may be hungry for approval from bosses, friends and colleagues, women who felt under-appreciated by their fathers are likely to choose emotionally unavailable men when it comes to romance.
We understand some of the psychology of why women are emotionally drawn to men who remind them of their fathers. But there is compelling evidence that her preference is not only psychological, but instinctive and physiological as well.
As reported by New Scientist, a study at the University of Pécs in Hungary targeting adoptive daughters and their fathers found that women are predisposed to marry men who actually look like their fathers. Lead study author Tamas Bereczkei attributes this preference to a phenomenon called sexual imprinting, in which mental images gathered early in life influence later sexual preferences.
Bereczkei reported evidence that a woman’s emotional relationship with her father is also a factor in the sexual imprinting process. Study participants who characterized their fathers as “warm” were more likely to choose a husband in his physical likeness.
In an unrelated study, medical geneticists found women preferred men whose scents reminded them of their father’s. Scientists attribute women’s attractions to men who look and smell like their fathers to the reproductive and immunological benefits to genetic similarity. That is to say, they believe couples with similar DNA are more likely to have successful pregnancies and produce healthier children. It seems our impulse to date men like Dad isn’t just cliché; it’s deeply rooted in our instinct for survival.
So there are clear evolutionary benefits for dating your father, so to speak. But the impulse is not without its drawbacks. Dad might be a wonderful role model when we’re growing up, but what if there are qualities in a Superman dad that are less than ideal in Mr. Right? Can you control what you’re drawn to?
There is some debate on the subject, but as for consciously dictating how our hormones respond…probably not. We do, however, have a learning curve. Each relationship we have has a bearing on our future choices, and as we grow more experienced, we learn to identify positive and negative patterns in our attractions.
As cognitive and dynamic beings, we are more than a collection of hormones and inclinations. We have the power to appreciate our fathers for the important roles they have played in our lives, while adapting what we want in a partner to fit our plans for a future of personal growth. Yes, your father probably plays at least some role in the men you choose to date. Just not as much of a role as you do.
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