How do we choose the people we fall in love with? The romantic answer is that we are somehow naturally guided to look for people who will be a good match for us. We look for someone who is loving, kind and who will answer to our emotional needs, because we believe that this is what will make us happy.
According to many theorists, we may believe that we are seeking happiness when are looking for a partner, but in reality, what we are really looking for is familiarity. We are looking to re-create the love we had during our childhood. Within our adult relationships, we try to re-create the feelings we know well…the love that we had tasted when we were children.
It has been noted that the relationship between children and their caregivers and the relationship between two adult romantic partners share similar features and that the attachment style that is formed when we are children then affects how we connect with our partners. Both children and adults experience a feeling of safety when the other is nearby and responsive, engagement in close, intimate, bodily contact, and, a feeling of insecurity when the other is distant.
The love most of us have experienced in our first years of life was not limited to just tenderness and care but had other elements which created some very particular dynamics; such as feelings of wanting to help an adult who was ill or out of control, of not being provided with a parent’s warmth, or being scared of their anger or unpredictability. Some of us might have also not felt secure enough to communicate our wishes.
How rational is it then that when looking for a partner, as adults, we tend to reject people not because they are wrong for us but maybe because they are a little too right! in the sense that some people we meet might somehow seem to be overly balanced, mature, understanding and reliable – and for us such rightness may feel foreign and unearned. We chase after others who provide us with more excitement or chaos, not in the belief that life with them will be more pleasant, but out of an unconscious sense that it will be reassuringly familiar in its patterns.
Claire Borg is a gestalt psychotherapist at Willingness. She works with adolescents and adults. She has a special interest in mental health. She can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org.