11/23/2014 11:37 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

How Do I Stop Choosing Women Who Are Wrong for Me?

Reader All the Wrong Women writes:

How do I get out of the habit of dating the same types of women, despite my conscious attempts to choose women who are different?  Specifically, I have a tendency to date women who are disorganized -- they habitually run late, and can't manage their money: two traits that bother me, because they smack of irresponsibility and/or a lack of self-control. Also, most women whom I date are politically and religiously conservative. I am neither of those.

I realize that at some (unconscious) level, I am choosing them. But, how do I stop doing that? Thanks!

Dear ATWW,

Well, I'm assuming by "different," you mean, "better for you," because otherwise, you would have happily settled down with one of your usual types by now.  Here is the key to understanding why you do this: We are drawn subconsciously to what is familiar, or to what makes us feel familiar.

Imago theory states that we pick mates who are a mix of the positive and negative traits of our caregivers; at first, in the honeymoon stage, the positive traits are more salient/visible to us, and then, when the disillusionment stage sets in, we see the negative ones.  (It would be useful to read Getting the Love You Want: A Guide for Couples, 20th Anniversary Edition for more on imago theory.) So I'm assuming that one of your caregivers was irresponsible or uncontrolled in some way, and/or closedminded (since I would imagine this is what a liberal like yourself thinks of a conservative).  The idea is that you have a subconscious fantasy to get someone like your caregiver, and change them into someone who fulfilled you like a caregiver couldn't do when you were a child.

So let's say that your mom was always running around disorganized and getting you places late, or seemed very closedminded.  As a child you couldn't make her be on time or make her see other points of view, which was disappointing. So as an adult, you first of all become punctual and liberal-minded yourself, as a reaction to your upbringing, and second, are subconsciously drawn to women who are irresponsible conservatives, so that you can fulfill your unconscious childhood wish of changing them into someone more organized/self-controlled/openminded.  A woman who starts out this way wouldn't have that hook for you; there is no fantasy to be fulfilled by changing them into what you want, in a way you didn't have the agency to change your caregiver when you were a child.

As you might expect, this doesn't usually go well, because you make all your passive aggressive jibes about them being late, and, since that was always their personality (although they may have masked it early in the relationship because they were so excited to see you that they were on time), they feel rejected and attacked.  Nobody wants to feel that you want to change them because their core traits are so unlikable.  And then they retreat or get mad and you get mad, and the relationship ends.

An important step for you is to acknowledge that you're drawn to women with these traits because you have a fantasy of changing them into something different. And this isn't going to go well.  You need to try to be self-aware and look specifically for women who are liberals and who are good with time and money.  You need to even specify these preferences in your profile if you do online dating (which every single person should; it's a treasure trove of people who all want the same thing: to be in a loving relationship).

However, if you try to specify your preferences and you end up finding these women to be boring, then you have to accept that for imago theory reasons and whatever else, you're only going to have a spark with women who are disorganized conservatives.  So, you must do some deep work to accept these traits as not horrible, and if you're with a woman like that, try to accept and love her for who she is, not help, enlighten, instruct, or change, as so many intelligent men are wont to try to do in relationships.  You may need to go to your own counseling to work on your tendency to be judgmental about these traits, and to enhance your ability to accept women for who they are. I mean, they may be messy and conservative but they aren't axe murderers.  Good luck!

Till we meet again, I remain, The Blogapist Who Loves Imago Theory.

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