How The Psychology Of Attraction Affects Who We Date

Updated September 6, 2023by Regain Editorial Team

The psychology of attraction can impact who we date. Whether we realize it or not, there may be a specific set of traits that attract us to certain people. This psychology may apply to many of the relationships in our lives, but here, we will focus on how it affects our choice of romantic partners.

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There may be a variety of explanations that go into what and whom we find attractive. These motives can come from childhood, from previous relationships, or they can be innate. Although there may not always be a rhyme or reason why we feel the way we do, our decisions regarding who we pursue romantically can have a significant impact on our lives.

What Is The Psychology Of Attraction?

The psychology of attraction may answer the "whys" to who we are attracted to. It is the science of why we want who we want. Although it is not the most widely understood or discussed topic, it may have implications on our relationship choices. Many people may not understand why they go for the type of person they do. This is a topic that has been frequently depicted in TV shows and movies. For example, you may be familiar with the female lead that likes the "bad boys" and ignores the sweet, loving neighbor guy.

When we don't understand what drives us to be attracted to others, though, we may risk sliding down a slippery slope. That is, allowing negative behaviors to be repeated frequently because "they are what they are" might just guarantee a poor-quality life. For this reason, it may be beneficial to get in touch with the innermost workings of ourselves. This understanding can empower you to make the right decisions and find a compatible partner.

When choosing a life partner, it may be crucial to keep a clear head. You may want to ensure you’re not allowing previous negative experiences to impact your choices. It could be equally important that we focus on the positive things that drive us to be attracted to someone. This may allow you to get a balanced sense of who to date and why to date them. 

Roots In Childhood

Childhood experiences and interactions could also influence attraction. Some people may find themselves attracted to people who remind them of their parents in some way. Perhaps this is because our parents may be the people who make us feel safest as children. In many cases, they are also the ones who ensure our basic needs are met and that we’re generally content.  When we are searching for a partner, we may want someone who will take care of us mentally and emotionally. 

On the other hand, if our parents or someone close to us model bad relationships, it could throw this instinct off. You may find yourself attracted to someone with abusive tendencies because you were exposed to unhealthy relationship values as a child, for example. As a result, you could spend years in bad relationships or end up with someone who mistreats you.  

Another psychological phenomenon can be found by exploring not only attraction, but attachment. People who have core wounds from their childhoods may be drawn to others with wounds of their own to heal. Here is a common scenario:

Example: The Narcissist And The Co-Dependent

Narcissistic Personality Disorder, also known as pathological narcissism or NPD, is a personality disorder that may develop during childhood. For various reasons, a child developing NPD will become more self-centered, show a lack of empathy, and manipulate others.

As they grow, lying, blaming, and the need to be seen as the best becomes an essential part of existence. Because a person with NPD has no sense of real self, they need constant validation from others. This must be achieved at all costs. People are viewed as objects, and real attachment can't take place.

On the other end of the spectrum is the co-dependent. These individuals may have had a troubled childhood as well. Instead of rejecting love the way someone with narcissistic tendencies does, co-dependents seek acceptance and love to their detriment. They might people,-please, try to control others, play the victim, stay when they should go, and seek approval outside of themselves, just like someone with NPD.

When the two personalities are in a relationship with one another, the results can be disastrous. The person with NPD is often the villain, while the codependent may play the victim in a toxic game. Because they feed off each other, this dance may continue until someone is hurt or finds the strength to walk away and get help.


How Our Exes Affect The Psychology Of Attraction

Previous relationship experiences (whether positive or negative) may also have a significant impact on what we look for in a new partner.  For example, if you have supportive, loving, and loyal exes, you may be attracted to these things. Once you have had a taste of what a good relationship feels like, you might chase that in future endeavors.

On the other hand, you may find yourself attracted to partners who mistreat you because this has been your experience in the past. This could be because you don’t feel you deserve to be happy, or you may think you can change your new partner for the better. You may even feel as if you don't know how to function in a positive relationship because you've never known one.

If this sounds like a familiar pattern, consider that your exes are in the past for a reason. It could be helpful to remember that everyone deserves to be loved and treated well, despite past experiences. That includes you.  

If you do find yourself struggling, it may help to take a break from relationships for a while. You can use this time to get to know yourself and decide what you want out of your next partnership. Being alone can grant clarity at times. If you give yourself this chance to get your priorities and goals in order, you may be able to bank on a better future. 

Opposites Don't Attract

Science shows the popular adage is false— opposites don't attract. Researchers have determined that people who are in relationships with similar people reported higher satisfaction rates. People were also shown to feel more attracted to those who have similar personalities and beliefs. Thus, it could be important to share similarities and common interests with the person you spend most of your time with. Kindred spirits may make us feel included and at peace.

Conversely, people who had opposing beliefs and personalities experience less relationship satisfaction and higher divorce rates. Some traits and interests may inevitably be different, but overall, liking at least some of the same things could be instrumental to a happy relationship.

Getty/Jordi Salas
Is Your Relationship Toxic?

When To Get Help

If you are having trouble understanding why you are attracted to certain people, therapy can help. As much as we may like to fix things ourselves, some patterns of behavior can be difficult to break, especially if these patterns are ingrained or have existed since childhood.

It can be difficult to admit that you need help when it comes to finding love. This may be why so many people shy away from therapy in person. Online therapy, on the other hand, may put you at ease when discussing matters of the heart. You could find an online setting to be a more neutral environment where these discussions seem more natural. This type of therapy also offers the added convenience of flexibility. There’s no need be to worry about commutes or waiting rooms. You can log in from anywhere with an internet connection at any time of the day.

Extensive research in the field of mental health supports the use of online therapy to treat a variety of mental health challenges and conditions. A comprehensive meta-analysis of studies encompassing nearly 10,000 different cases showed no significant difference in outcomes between people who sought therapy online versus those who attended sessions in person. 


The people we surround ourselves with can play an instrumental role in our satisfaction and happiness in life. Their influence could be particularly impactful within romantic relationships. If you feel you are negatively impacted by who you are attracted to, help is available. The counselors at Regain can help you analyze and evaluate any attraction issues you may have so you can make more informed decisions about who you date. Reach out today to get started on your path to healthier relationships.

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