The Daddy Complex: Are You Dating Your Father?
Ever thought your boyfriend reminded you of someone?
The phrase ‘men many their mothers’ has more (pseudo) scientific grounding than you may think. I’m sure you’ve all heard of the Oedipus complex; the somewhat creepy theory advocated by the much touted Austrian neurologist Sigmund Freud that every man secretly wants to kill his dad and have sex with his mother (yikes).
However, a lesser known psychological phenomenon was developed by Freud’s compatriot Carl Jung, known as the ‘Electra complex’. That is, a woman has a sexual attachment to her father. This is caused by an absent father or a toxic relationship with a father or father figure, and leads her to seek attention from other usually much older men. Aggressive flirtation, promiscuity, a tendency toward exhibitionism, and certain emotional issues are all tenets of what is now not-so-fondly termed the ‘daddy complex’.
Okay, let’s get one thing straight. I do know women who sexually seek out men 20 plus years older than them because they are most definitely compensating for lack of a father figure. However, labeling flirtation, lack of inhibitions, emotionality, and a willingness to be rampantly sexual as the product of some negative mental psychosis is downright misogynistic. It feeds into the idea of female sexuality as somehow unnatural. Most infuriating of all; it touches none to gently upon the sadly prolific double standard of slut shaming. #annoying
You can probably guess I feel rather, er, strongly about this. You see, I was once described by a male friend as one of the top five flirtiest girls he knows (which I took as an enormous compliment). I am notorious for my outgoing ways, and often recklessly annihilate social norms. More to the point, I’m certainly not shy about my sexuality. But, I most definitely do not have a daddy complex, at least not in dear old Carl’s sense of the term.
I have an absolutely fan-flipping-tastic relationship with my father. I always have. I was never the rebellious teenage miscreant rallying against male authority. On the contrary; my dad and I can talk for hours about issues as banal as the weather, to all the heavy feels such as the mystery of human existence. I don’t remember the last time we had a fight, if we ever have.
But, bizarrely enough, all the men I date, crush on, or liaise with bear a striking similarity to my father, whether in their interests, personality, or even looks.
The big wake-up call was at the beginning of 2014. I was in New York, and semi-dating a very sweet guy. He was classically handsome, a year older than me, brown hair, not too tall, a singer-actor, with a giant smile and a sunny demeanor. He had adorable old-fashioned values to the extent of not allowing me to walk on the outside of the pavement, in case a car drove too close (slight overkill, but still very cute). He was quite sublime.
Anyway, I started to become aware, over a few happy dates, that he reminded me very, very strongly of someone. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, and it irritated me like a fly I couldn’t swat. I wracked my brains, going over all his characteristics in my head. It wasn’t the coffee shop guy, or my singing teacher, or my gay bestie…so who the hell was it?!
All of a sudden it hit me. I sat bolt upright in my seat at Starbucks where I was trying to enjoy a rather sub-standard Americano and clutched my heart. Oh God. It had happened. I was officially dating my father.
I began to think over over my ‘type’. The guy I was with was an accurate depiction of the men I’m usually attracted to, which, I reluctantly reminded myself, is almost a carbon copy of my dad. The only deviation from my type in pavement-protection-guy was my notoriously unashamed attraction to men who are about two or so years younger than me. The exact same age gap between my mother and father.
There was no other explanation; I had a reverse daddy complex.
I was a little shocked. Up until that moment I thought Freud, his buddies, and all their whacked out theories were perverted and rather outdated. But evidently, the father-daughter dynamic influences a woman’s relationship with men in more ways than Jung’s Electra complex would have us believe.
It’s an odd concept, but not a unique one. If a woman’s relationship with men can be so negatively defined by an absent or awful father, why shouldn’t a positive father-daughter relationship have a positive impact?
Looking at my friends and their relationships, I certainly can see a similar trend. A couple of my school friends who are adored by their dads have married men who are uncannily similar. On the other side of the coin, I have a contingent of buddies who grew up with an atrocious family dynamic, and regularly lust after men who are old enough to be (you guessed it) their fathers. While it would be a sweeping generalization to apply this to all women who have a penchant for older men (hey; where there’s love, there’s love), it certainly does answer a lot of questions.
I’m not saying either variant of the daddy complex is the subconscious, be all and all when it comes to choosing a partner. However, if a positive relationship with your old man is going to subliminally inform this decision-making in any way, I say we embrace it.
My fabulous father has shown both by word and example the type of men I should surround myself with, both in a romantic and platonic sense. As women, we must never underestimate the significance of our fathers, or father figures, and we certainly mustn’t marginalize or trivialize their presence.
Comment: Have you ever dated a father figure, or do you have a friend who is?