7 Reasons You Keep Dating People Just Like Your Ex, According To Science

by Kristine Fellizar
If you're nervous about dating, lower the stakes to feel more confident

Studies have found that people really do have "types" when it comes to dating. In fact, a 2019 University of Toronto study found that you're likely to keep dating people just like your ex, despite how bad of a relationship it was. The human mind and body work in mysterious ways. So even if have a desire to date outside your type, there is a science behind why it's not that easy.

"Life is all about patterns, from what we eat to how we dress to which side of the bed we get out of," James Green, certified love coach and author, tells Bustle. "The same can be said for dating. When you begin your 'dating career' it's a lot like a record that has yet to be recorded. Still smooth. As you begin to have romantic relationships, ridges begin to form. Depending on the length of time you spend in these relationships and the impact (positive or negative) they have on you, that will determine how deep these ridges become."

After a series of bad relationships, you'll consciously know to stay away from dating certain types of people that are wrong for you. But at the same time, "subconsciously, an imprint has been left by them that we may not be fully aware of," Green says. So you may find yourself being attracted to people who are similar.

There are psychology-based theories and studies that look into why we keep dating exes. So here are some surprising reasons why you keep dating people just like your ex, according to science and experts.


People Tend To Choose Things That Feel Comfortable And Normal

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"As a trauma focused clinician who spends most of her time helping survivors of partner violence choose healthy relationships, I’ve noticed how difficult it is for people to lean into loving and nurturing relationships simply because it's not the norm in their lives," Maryann W. Mathai, licensed professional clinical counselor who specializes in trauma-focused therapy, tells Bustle. Humans tend to choose things that feel comfortable and normal to them, even if it's unfulfilling or toxic. When unhealthy relationships are all you know, meeting someone who's willing to give you the total opposite of that can be a little scary. When fear and insecurity kicks in, the tendency is to self-sabotage and revert back to situations that feel more familiar.

To avoid getting into another unhealthy situation, Mathai suggests paying close attention to how your body feels around people you're attracted to. "Ask yourself whether this feels familiar or uncomfortable," she says. "Explore who else in your life makes you feel this way and whether you get your needs met in those relationships." If not, it's best to leave that situation alone.


It's Been Less Than Three Months And You're Already Trying To Date

"To move on from the past, you must move through it," Mathai says. "Since our pasts leave an imprint on our body and mind, it’s important to learn how to process and learn from these experiences."

According to a 2011 study published in the Journal of College Student Psychotherapy, researchers found that it takes about 11 weeks for the average person to fully bounce back from a breakup. If you don't have any unresolved issues from childhood, that's about the amount of time you need to process the breakup, heal, and move on. Instead of trying to get over a breakup as soon as possible, Mathai says, "Intentionally explore what happened in the relationship, how it impacted you, and what you want to be different in future relationships." That way you can move forward and find someone who's a better fit for you.


You're Trying To Heal Issues From The Past

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"Romantic relationships can serve as surrogate relationships for ones that didn't turn out so well earlier in our lives," Erika Martinez, Psy.D., clinical psychologist who specializes in helping people get unstuck in love, work, and life, tells Bustle.

Typically something about your ex, and the type of people you date, reminds you of someone from your past that you had a difficult relationship with. When something feels familiar, you may naturally gravitate towards it. But in some cases, there may be more to it than that.

"By being in a relationship with someone similar, you're making an effort to psychologically heal the wounds of that past relationship," Martinez says. "The issue is you're likely to get hurt again, which only re-wounds you." The first step is to recognize that you have a pattern of doing this. Once you're aware, Martinez says, you can work on developing a tolerance for doing things that put you out of your comfort zone. "Stick around despite your inclination to run away," she says. This can help you develop healthier dating patterns.


You "Think" You Know How Things Are Going To Go This Time Around

"When we tend to date people of a problematic type, they're usually similar to primary caregivers in some way we'd like to go back and fix," Heather Z. Lyons, PhD, licensed psychologist who specializes in indivudal and couples therapy, tells Bustle. "Psychologists call this 'repetition compulsion.'"

There's comfort in the familiar. Since you think you know how things are going to play out, it's easy to feel like you're in control of the situation. When you're in control, you can create change. However, that never really happens. Instead, Lyons says, "We recreate the past in current relationships by 'picking, provoking, or projecting.' That is, we might pick someone similar to our ex or early caregiver, provoke them to act in ways similar, or project." You never really get to the "changing the past" part because the tendency is to either recreate the past by "provoking" a new partner to act a certain way, or project past hurts and insecurities onto a new situation. It may just happen without you realizing it.


You're More Introverted

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A 2019 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that it's easy to say you want to date someone else, but you'll still look for love in the same type of people. It's common for people to date others that have similar personalities to their ex, especially if you're more reserved and introverted. People who scored higher for extraversion and openness, were more likely to find love in other types of personalities. If you do find yourself dating someone with a similar personality to your ex, researchers suggest transferring the skills you learned from that relationship to your new one. If you dealt with similar personality traits before, you should have an idea of how to deal with them.


Your Ex Is Just Your "Type"

There are several different factors that go into who you're attracted to from their scent to their personality. A 2015 study published in the journal Current Biology found that your social circle can influence what personal life experiences shape the type of faces that you find attractive. Researchers found that more positive exposure you have to certain faces, the more likely you are to find them attractive. So the people you're friends with and the people you're exposed to each day all play a role in determining your dating "type." If your ex was physically your type, you may continue to go after people that look similar to them.


Like Attracts Like

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“If we don't work on ourselves between relationships we will tend to attract exactly what we had before because like attracts like (quantum physics tells us that)," Belinda Ginter, certified emotional kinesiologist who specializes in healing after adversity, tells Bustle. So if you're in the same state of mind and situation you were in when you first attracted a bad match, you're more than likely going to keep repeating the same choices until you work on yourself. According to Ginter, the best way to beat this cycle is to look for ways to complete yourself. "Make a list of all the qualities you are looking for in a life partner and than start modelling those characteristics daily in your own life," she says. "That is when your perfect match will show up.”

If you're dealing with childhood issues or an unhealthy relationship, therapy can help you heal and move on. Practicing self-care and reminding yourself of your worth each day can also help you find the right person. Your past experiences can greatly affect your choices in life and love. But you don't have to let it control your life forever.