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"It's trite but true that a lot of young women look for a man who reminds them of their dad. Your dad fights monsters. I fight monsters. Your dad rescued your mom from a dragon. I rescued you from Arctis Tor. Seeing the pattern here?"—Harry Dresden to Molly Carpenter, Proven Guilty
Freudian Psychology has a theory that children who have a close relationship with their parents tend to look for those properties in a mate.
It happens that the first example of the male gender that a baby girl encounters is her father, and that forms her impression of maleness in general, up to and including the mate she connects with and, if she's anywhere near the Christian religion, her impression of God as "our Father in Heaven." If she has a negative father, she'll often grab up negative boyfriends as well, so it takes a certain amount of awareness to be able to break out of that tendency.
If her father were absent and an older brother (or another male father figure) is present and actively involved in her life, she bonds with him the same way, and look for men much like him.
Straight women look to their fathers as a template about what to expect and desire in a man. Sometimes if they have a really bad relationship with their father, they can go the exact other way and choose a husband opposite to their father. Either way, their father remains a very important influence in the choice of a spouse.
The same goes for straight men using their mother as a guide when choosing a wife. Lesbians and gay men are likewise influenced by their same-sex parents, and people who grew up without knowing their parents at all will likely find themselves subconsciously looking for other templates.
Anime & Manga
- In Ouran High School Host Club it's lampshaded how Tamaki Suou and Haruhi's dad are very alike, despite one being a Wholesome Crossdresser.
- Oh yeah, 'cause Tamaki would never wear a dress....
- Neon Genesis Evangelion: Misato drunkenly lets out that she broke up with Kaji when she noticed how he reminded her of her father, while he’s carrying her home; they reconcile and hook up again, and she becomes his confidant.
- The relationship between Shinji and Rei also has some of this subtext, from both directions. Well, she actually is a clone of his mother, so Oedipus ahoy.
- On a related note, Gendo is raising a clone of his dead wife.
- Fullmetal Alchemist: Katherine Armstrong tells Havoc that she wants a man more like her brother Alex. Played for laughs because her brother is huge, muscle bound, and can generate pink sparkles when he gets hammy. Havoc's reaction is priceless.
- Yuuna from Mahou Sensei Negima is another example that got its own manga chapter.
- Setsuna in Mobile Suit Gundam 00 loves Princes Marina Ismail in part because of her close resemblance to his mother. Made somewhat disturbing by the fact that as a Brainwashed and Crazy Child Soldier, Setsuna killed his mother and father.
- Gohan from Dragonball Z marries Videl, the strongest young woman on the planet. His mother was the strongest woman in the world when she was 18. They were both tsunderes and the daughters of rich martial artists, too.
- Freezing: A case of 'Like Sibling, Like Spouse', Kazuya is attracted to Satellizer, who looks a lot like his deceased older sister, Kazuha. Deconstructed, as Satellizer overhearing this causes her to believe that he sees her as nothing but a Replacement Goldfish, and it takes a lot for Kazuya to convince her that he doesn't.
- Katekyo Hitman Reborn: Kyoko is strikingly similar to Tsuna's mother.
- Shikamaru Nara in Naruto. His mother Yoshino is obstinate and rough but also has a sweet side, similarly to the other two prominent ladies in his life: Temari, his final opponent in the Chunin Exam and most frequent ally outside the Konoha 12 since, and Ino Yamanaka, his Ino-Shika-Cho teammate. He and Temari deny any relationship despite being seen together so much, and Ino's romantic inclination once leaned toward Sasuke in Part 1, but her feelings are unclear now. Most shippers say one of these two "troublesome" women will and/or should become his one. Ironically, another girl named Shiho has shown a major romantic interest in Shikamaru and is the total opposite of his mother, Temari, or Ino.
- On the other hand, Hinata has a huge crush on Naruto, who is pretty much her father's opposite in every way.
- Chibiusa of Sailor Moon is attracted to a literal younger version of her father. Thus the perils of time traveling family members.
- Likewise it's pointed out that while Usagi's father initially doesn't like Mamoru very much the two of them are strikingly similar.
- Minor example in Mirai Nikki - Yukiteru's first crush looks very similar to his mother.
- Nagi of Hayate the Combat Butler has a crush on Hayate, who apparently looks very much like her mother and father. How much he looks like her mother is actually commented on by another character.
- In Back to The Future, Lea Thompson plays Marty McFly's mother in the first two films and his paternal great-grandmother in Part III- obviously not blood relatives of one another. Word of God states that this is because McFly males are genetically predisposed to be attracted to women who look like Lea Thompson. Hence his mother looking like his paternal ancestor. And even Jennifer fits this type, they further note. (Of course, the actual behind the scenes reason is because they wanted Thompson in the movie somehow and this was the only character available for her).
- In an earlier draft of the script for the first film, included on the DVD, 1955 Lorraine notes this, telling Marty that he reminds her of her father. Then she asks Marty if she reminds him of his mother, unaware that she is (or will be) his mother.
- In the Telltale Game continuation, Trixie Trotter and Jennifer Parker are "played" by the same character model. Trixie turns out to really be Sylvia Miskin, Marty's paternal grandmother -- which pretty much drives home the theory.
- Live Free or Die Hard had this at the end.
- Pushed to the extreme in the French movie Itineraire d'un enfant gate: Not only does the daughter want someone like her dad and ends up having a son from a man her father's age, then marrying a guy trained by her dad to act like him, but it's implied that it's also the case of the son.
- Star Wars - This trope may (read may) be one of the MANY reasons Anakin Skywalker was such a disappointing character. Everybody was expecting Padme to fall in love with a Loveable Rogue / Jerk with a Heart of Gold the way her daughter Leia fell for Han Solo. What we got was...well...
- On the other hand, the person that perpetrated the whole rebellion was Bail Organa, the man who actually raised Leia, so maybe that's how she gained her taste for "bad" boys.
- In An Officer and a Gentleman, Paula confesses to Zack that she loves him because he reminds her of her father, a Navy aviator.
- Several characters from Harry Potter:
- Harry's main love interest and later, wife Ginny is very similar, in appearance and personality, to his mother, whom he barely remembers.
- Ron's relationship with Hermione is very similar to the relationship between Mr. and Mrs. Weasley. Lampshaded multiple times, when the narration (which is from Harry's perspective) describes Hermione as acting very much like Mrs. Weasley.
- Fleur Delecour, who marries Ron's brother Bill, is also sometimes described as acting like Mrs. Weasley in the last two books.
- In the novel Vamped, the girl's love interest and her adoptive father are getting a drink together. There's an awkward moment when they both look at their reflections and realize how similar they look...
- Explicitly outlined in Raptor Red; her father defined what Raptor Red looked for in a mate. Since she's, well, a Utahraptor, the text even brings up imprinting.
- In the Tortall Universe, the Yamani princess who has been engaged to Prince Roald was told that men whose mothers are strong and warlike want wives who aren't. Roald's friends think this is stupid. They're right.
- In The Dresden Files, Molly Carpenter has a crush on Harry, which he attributes to this.
- It's also interesting that Molly was dating a guy who superficially looks like Harry
- In Ghost Story its still going on and is full scale love and devotion.
- Two of the protagonists of Stephen King's IT, upon growing up, marry people like their parents. Eddie Kaspbrak, the kid with asthma and a Beloved Smother, upon growing up, would marry Myra, a woman who is very much like her. Beverly Marsh, the only girl of the Loser's Club and whose father was abusive as hell, would marry Tom Rogan, a man just as abusive as her father.
- In James H. Schmitz's The Witches of Karres, young heroine Goth announces that she is going to marry the (adult) hero when she grows up. It is noted by several characters that said hero very much resembles her father. ( They're distant cousins.)
- Ayla from Clan of the Cave Bear prefers the look of Neandertals to the look of humans, having been raised by the former.
- It's spelled out explicitly in Heroes season 2, with Claire and her creepy stalker guy.
- D.J. on Roseanne briefly had a bossy girlfriend eerily reminiscent of his mother. It forced Roseanne to wonder if the way she treated Dan was having a negative effect on him (though of course, not much comes from it).
- In another episode Roseanne invokes this trope, yelling at Dan because she doesn't like her daughter Becky's boyfriend. When Dan asks why that's his fault, she responds that "girls always marry their fathers." This is portrayed as irrational, though from the way their dating life is described it seems Dan and Roseanne's early romance was at least somewhat similar.
- And much later, Mark (Becky's eventual husband) and Dan bond over the fact that they ARE so similar, with several charcters commenting on how similar they are. (David, Darleen's eventual husband, does NOT follow this rule, being meek, book-smart and artistic)
- Thirty Rock had an episode where Liz's much-younger boyfriend's mother turned out to be the spitting image of Liz, even wearing the same outfit. Creeped out, Liz ended their relationship.
- Friends parodied this, where Rachel's father is visiting at the same time as her mother, and as the two hate each other, Rachel has to sleep them in separate rooms. When Ross tries to get Rachel's father's glasses, drink and cigarettes, Rachel's mother notices, and advises Rachel see a psychiatrist as "you've chosen a boyfriend who is exactly like your father."
Chandler: Rachel, what is the deal with you and doctors, anyway? Is, like, your father a doctor?
Rachel: Yeah, why?
- An episode of Scrubs in which Carla realizes she's exactly like "Mama Turk" and has a mini Heroic BSOD as a result.
- Lady is able to overlook the Janitor's many, many eccentricities because she's attracted to his cleanliness. ("You also look like my father, but that's a whole other set of issues.")
- Reversed in My Family, where Susan sets her son Michael up with a girlfriend that is exactly like her and no-one notices until the father Ben points this out, at which point Michael is completely disgusted with himself.
- House: Pointed out by House as the reason why Chase is attracted to a doctor he was responsible for hiring as part of House's diagnostics team, demonstrating this with a side-by-side comparison with a photo projection which shows an uncanny physical resemblance between the two women.
- Kate's two potential love interests on Lost each remind her of one of her fathers. Jack represents the stand-up guy she thought was her father. Sawyer represents the rogue "stepfather" who turned out to be her biological father (whom she also killed).
- Castle's mom and first wife are both redheads, and his first wife is a lot like his mom.
- In The Drew Carey Show, Drew entered into a May-December Romance with a woman who reminded everyone else of Drew's mother while Drew himself was oblivious. Drew was thoroughly squicked soon after it was pointed out to him.
- Press Gang: Spike's mom is a copy of Linda, spike's girlfriend, down to her being played by the same actress in a flashback.
- Frasier dates a woman who is the spitting image of his mother - Niles and Martin see it, but Frasier can't or won't. An old home movie eventually tips him off.
- It gets better. Frasier is a Freudian psychiatrist.
- In How I Met Your Mother Barney intentionally invokes this in order to seduce women. He even tries picking a girl up by just walking up to her and saying, "Daddy's home."
- In one episode of Gilmore Girls Lorelai notes that Rory's current boyfriend has a vague similarity to Rory's father, Chris, and wonders if this means something (Chris is basically an absentee dad). Sookie suggests this might just mean she inherited Lorelai's tastes.
- Discussed in Sex and the City. Carrie wonders if her father walking out on them when she was 5 is the reason she has such problems with men, until Miranda assures her that she has the same problems and her dad was home every day at 7.
- Charlie on Two and A Half Men in one episode dates a real estate agent who dresses, acts, and belittles everyone exactly like his character's mother. She even has two sons who act exactly like the titular two brothers as kids.
- On Parks and Recreation, Ron has two bitchy ex-wives, both of whom are named Tammy:
Ron: Yes, my mother's name is Tammy. What's your point?
- Referenced in The Big Bang Theory. After psychoanalysing Penny, Leonard's mother tells him that if he wants to have sex with Penny he should use the same kind of cologne her father wears.
- Similarly, Howard thinks it's hot when his fiancee yells at him and sounds exactly like his mother. (But then, Howard's relationship with his mother is rather abnormal.)
- In The Class, Holly Ellenbogen's husband and father are both extremely Camp Straight.
- The Lonely Island: Played for laughs in Motherlovers: Since they both forgot to get a gift for their mothers on Mother's Day, they come up with the briliant plan to both have sex with their best friends mother. Since they are like brothers to each other. And they couldn't obviously do it themselves.
- The Chromeo song "Momma's Boy" is about a man who likes a woman because she looks like his mother. The woman also likes him because he looks like her father.
- In the comic strip For Better or For Worse, April once claimed that Elizabeth's boyfriend (and eventual husband), Anthony, was exactly like their dad.
- John himself compares Anthony to John.
- In the Star Fox comic by Benimaru Itoh, Fara Phoenix puts on Fox's mother Vixy's dress and suddenly bears an uncanny resemblance to Vixy.
- Combined with Rape Is Love in that infamous Dominic Deegan strip.
- Meta example: Kelly Turnbull, of Manly Guys Doing Manly Things fame.
- Discussed in Home Movies. Brendan starts putting on weight, so Coach McGuirk tells him to go for the girls whose fathers were fat during their "impressionable years." McGuirk later on goes on a disasterous date with the school nurse, and one of the first questions he asked was if her father was fat. In another episode, he drunkenly tells his date "Y'know, I think it was Charles Darwin who said that men want to marry their mothers. So maybe that's why I like you, cause you remind me of my mother. Which is funny, because I hate my mother..."
- In one episode of American Dad, Hayley dates her father's CIA body double.
- A lot of baby birds will upon hatching imprint on one of the first things they see. As adults, sometimes they go for their own kind, sometimes... they don't.
- The (nonfiction) book "When Elephants Weep" details the case of Tex, a whooping crane who was hand-raised and, when mature, rejected male cranes for "Caucasian men of average height with dark hair." Whooping cranes are so endangered that it was thought vital to get her into "breeding condition," at which point she could be successfully artificially inseminated. So the director of the International Crane Foundation, who met the necessary criteria, spent many weeks courting her. It worked, making this a case of Interspecies Romance with emphasis on "romance" in the non-euphemistic sense of the word.
"My duties involved endless hours of 'just being there', several minutes of dancing early in the morning and again in the evening, long walks in quest of earthworms, nest building, and defending our territory against humans."
- On a related note, putting whooping crane eggs into the nest of related sandhill cranes and letting the sandhills raise them results in whooping cranes who are attracted to sandhills. The resulting hybrids are not viable, though.
- This is very much Truth in Television, as psychologists have discovered. The idea is that when you are a child you grow up in a safe, loving environment that sets a template for the future. You look for people similar to your parents because they remind you of the safety you had as a child. Perfectly logical, and only minimally squicky, although Your Mileage May Vary...
- Well, think about it in an evolutionary sense - your very existence is proof that your parents are a successful template to follow!
- Mixed with Fridge Horror when you realize that this often applies to people who were raised by Abusive Parents. Contrary to common depictions of Abusive Parents who are not nice, if they aren't portrayed as Complete Monsters, many abusive parents have a nice side. Their children will love them for their nice qualities, but most likely won't be able to filter the abusive aspects out of their template of a perfect mate. So these people are made vulnerable to Domestic Abuse later on in life.