Mama’s boys & Daddy’s girls
Riaz Naqvi
Friday, June 01, 2012

Do we really look for our parents in those we want to be with? A bunch of Dubai residents and a relationship expert share their thoughts.

We’ve all heard that old chestnut: “Every man marries his mother,” but to what extent is this true in the 3rd Millennium — here and now? The saying derives from complex and controversial Freudian theories, but forget the Ego, Superego and ID; on a far simpler behavioural level, do we really seek out traits of our parents in prospective partners?

Dubai-based relationships expert Natalia Shpeter explains this phenomenom: “Unconsciously, we create an image of the person our childhood programmed us to fall in love with: a composite picture of the people who influenced us most strongly at an early age.”

So, is it a sense of comfort or security that we’re looking for? The picture referred to “contains both positive and negative traits of our caretakers; the negative traits carry the most weight in our attraction. Consciously, we seek only the positive traits in a potential partner so that we could get our needs gratified. But without the negative traits, we would not be attracted in the first place,” clarifies Shpeter. “By choosing to be with someone like our parents we are trying to retrieve a sense of connectedness to everything… in a way that feels safe and supportive.”

It’s rather troublesome, this whole sub-consciousness business. How are we to believe that we may unknowingly know something? As if this wasn’t convoluted enough, throwing relationships into the mix is akin to pouring a generous serving of nitro into glycerine. wknd. decided to put this to the test, by speaking to some long-time UAE residents. Most people would be (understandably) embarrassed to share such thoughts with the wider public so, for the purposes of this story, all interviewees are anonymous.

Rosa is a behaviour therapist working in the healthcare industry. She is 21 years old, and enjoying a four-year relationship with 22-year-old boyfriend David. Hobby-wise, there is little in common. An introvert, Rosa has a passion for reading, writing and baking. David, currently searching for work in finance, has another lover: his piano. He can see many parallels between Rosa and his mother: both women love making desserts, keeping an eye on the big picture in life, are career-oriented and maintain a healthy outlook on living. For her part, Rosa admires in David “a quality my dad surely has: being career and goal-oriented, while maintaining the right relationship balance.” 

Natasha, a 25-year-old filmmaker, is currently single but has no problem saying she “looks for the same qualities” that her father has. In her case, men who display ambition, have liberal values and respect the value of money are the ones who seem more attractive. “I know — it’s easier said than done!” she says with a laugh.

Another young couple is Isabelle and Salvatore, both 21 years old. They have been dating since they first met on an engineering programme at a leading UAE university. Isabelle credits her boyfriend as being a “wonderful listener like my father.” For his part, Salvatore notes that she can be “goofy, yet occasionally aggressive… just like my mom.”

Young love: isn’t it so idealistic? When the focus shifts onto people married for a longer period, things might change a tad: perhaps the older generation don’t find similar characteristics between parent and partner. Samantha is a teacher in her early 40s, and has been married for nearly a decade now to ex-karate instructor (who now runs a training centre) Max. They have a five-year-old daughter. Unlike the younger couples mentioned previously, Samantha sees little similarity between Max and her father, a retired doctor. Interestingly, her husband does see many similarities between Samantha and his mother, a homemaker. “Both are very sociable and love meeting new people… and once they start, they just can’t stop talking,” he says with the hint of a smile.

Shpeter agrees that it is sometimes possible for a person to look for partners who have completely opposite traits to a parent. She says: “This is our tool in the search for someone who is like our caretakers, as well as someone who possesses some of the qualities of our Missing, Lost or Denied Selves.” ‘Missing Selves’? This refers to “our traits, desires, qualities or needs that have been repressed, denied and punished by our parents or primary caretakers,” explains Shpeter.

She also believes that age isn’t really a factor in our hunt for ‘parental’ traits. “It doesn’t change with years and your life experiences. It’s an instinctively driven process linked to an unconscious picture of our partner created by our brain during our childhood and adolescence.”

There you have it. Thinking 
back to those brooding years of adolescence, who’d have thought we are all, more or less, on a journey to finding another parent figure to spend the rest of our lives with? Be it negotiating spending allowances, cooking, cleaning, making holiday plans or even babysitting — fact is, we’ve all had a little practice in what comes post-marriage. Understand the in-laws, and you can understand your partner. If you’re yet to settle down, maybe you’ll take note of this and try to consciously spot these similarities. Or maybe you’ll shy away from mother/father figures. Whatever it is you choose to do, just ensure you stay in line. No one wants to end up grounded.


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