Sorry Freud. Women do look for a man who resembles a family member, but it's not their fathers.
When Sigmund Freud grossed out the planet with his Oedipus Complex theory 118 years ago, he was onto something that continues to support natural laws of attraction in awkward ways. The truth is, we do seek the familiar in a mate, and by familiar the Latin root word FAMILIA (within the household) here serves us more than we'd like it to. Still, it stands to reason that a person's initial interactions with their folks will inform what they'll eventually value (and won't) in a mate – even as it pertains to sexual attraction. It's okay to shudder as you continue reading. Freud's theory has since been debunked by some but others maintain it holds water, however high in ick-factor that water may be.
For starters, heterosexual men often (and quantifiably so) end up with women who resemble their mothers. As far as heterosexual women are concerned, old Sigmund and Carl (Jung actually coined the term Elektra Complex to apply to women lusting after dear old dad) may have just gotten the relative wrong.
New research in the field of awkies psychology suggests that many women date men that actually resemble their brothers, not their fathers. A recent study published in the Evolution and Human Behaviour Journal had complete strangers analyze photos of men for perceived facial similarities. Specifically, Dr Tamsin Saxton, associate professor of psychology at Northumbria University gave participants a photo of a woman's brother and then four other photos of various men (three randos, one, the woman's lover). Participants were then asked to match the brother with the fella he looked most like. Turns out sibling rivalry will now also have to contend with subconscious sibling lust. The resulting data showed "clear evidence for perceptual similarity in facial photographs of a woman's partner and her brother." In fact, almost a third of the time, lover and brother were easily pegged as look-a-likes. Saxton initially got inspired to explore sibling similarities in mate selection based on previous research that showed proof of parental similarities in partners. Again, Freud and Jung weren't completely off base and continue to drive research in this fun field.
The study is careful to point out that although it wasn't the case with all women, the frequency of sibling similarity was more than just random. Saxton says, "[the findings] were not a rule or true of every woman but we do find that, at levels greater than chance, partners did show some subtle resemblance to the women's brothers."
In fairness, Saxton also points out that basic "familiarity seems to be attractive". We often partner with people who like the same shows, movies, music and politicians we do or share a like-minded world view. In fact, older studies have shown we especially like people who just straight up look like us. Yup, we're all just a bunch of naughty narcissists at heart. It could be that sibling similarity (or the more Freudian parental similarity) in partners is really a by-product of wanting to date yourself (our siblings and folks share our facial features after all).
If you resist the science that suggests your want to get it on with your brother, take heart. Saxton's paper clarifies that "although siblings themselves are sexually aversive, sibling resemblance is not. The affective responses of disgust and attraction may be calibrated to distinguish close kin from individuals with some genetic dissimilarity during partner choice." So, while actually making out with your brother is bound to trigger your gag reflex because it's not a genetically viable choice for reproduction, a stranger who looks like he or she could be a relative will likely tickle your Freudian fancy on some level.
That certainly explains having a massive childhood crush on a distant cousin. I've heard.
Marc Beaulieu is a writer, producer and host of the live Q&A show guyQ LIVE @AskMen