Why You Pick Bad Romantic Partners and How to Deal

It might seem illogical that we don’t pick lovers/partners/dates who are good for us. So many of us wonder, “Why do I always choose the wrong person?” after another relationship gone bad. Or even, “Why do I keep dating different versions of the same type of person?”

The School of Life, a school of thought dedicated to helping people live more mindfully, suggests one reason: We don’t have as much control over our romantic choices as we think we do. In fact, our childhoods are usually to blame.

Read on to discover why you’re picking the wrong romantic partner over and over.

You’re Not Looking for Good Feelings, You’re Looking for Familiar Feelings

In a lecture called “Why We Pick Difficult Partners” read by British-Swiss philosopher Alain de Botton, he says, “We look for people who in many ways recreate the feelings of love we knew when we were small.

“The problem is, the love we imbibed in childhood…was likely entwined with certain painful aspects. A feeling of not being not good enough; a love of a parent who was fragile or depressed; a sense that one could never be fully vulnerable around a caregiver.”

Childhood scars follow you into adulthood. Do the partners you seek tend to display love in similar ways that your caregivers did?

“This predisposes us to look in adulthood for partners who wont necessarily simply be kind to us,” Botton explains, “but who will most importantly feel familiar.”

‘Good’ Partners Turn You Off

This may sound harsh–surely you would know if you’re purposely picking the wrong people, right? Well, it’s not so simple. Botton says of turn-offs,

“We may describe someone as ‘not sexy’ or ‘boring,’ when in truth we mean, ‘unlikely to make me suffer in the way I need to suffer in order to feel that love is real.” (Of course, in cases of domestic abuse this problem becomes much more complicated; but that’s another conversation).

We all have that friend who dates people who we would describe as “bad” for them in some way or another. But think about your own dating history; are you doing the same thing?

Dropping people who are “bad” for us and seeking out someone “good” is, as Botton puts it, “practically impossible.”

We’re drawn to the familiar, remember. That’s why so many of us are actually attracted to flawed people: The elusive person, the wishy-washy person, the rude person, the insecure person, the short-tempered person, the withholding person or any person in-between.

How to Make Romance Work

This all sounds terrible, no? Are we just supposed to pick the so-called “good” partners that we really don’t find all that appealing? Sounds booooooooring.

Luckily, no! Your attractions are valid, and you can date the kinds of people who turn you on; you just have to be aware of the way you handle their rough edges.

Here’s how to do it right: Don’t respond to your partner the way your childhood self would respond to your caregivers. Your partner’s behavior should not make you feel like a lesser person in any way. Ultimately, you will become resentful of that person if that’s how you go about it.

Instead, Botton says, “Rather than seek to radically reengineer our instincts, what we can do is learn to react to desirable candidates…in the more mature and constructive manner of a rational adult.”

For example, a child might respond to a person shouting by internally believing, “It’s all my fault.” The more mature, wise and mindful adult will internally note, “This is their issue, and I don’t need to feel bad.”

The ultimate conclusion? Indulge in the people you find charming and compelling, but don’t resort to childlike behavior in response to their difficulties. The right partner for you should offer similar respect, maturity and self-awareness in return.

Catie Housman

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