Showing your friends a photo of the person you’ve just started seeing can be stressful – will they give you a raised eyebrow and approving nod, or will they burst your bubble? It’s a risky business with friends like mine: when I shared the first photo of my new boyfriend on Instagram, my mate Ross wrote a single-word comment: “Lannisters.”
Ouch. Luke and I don’t have the faces of Cersei and Jaime, but I could see Ross’s point: We’re both Lannister-shade dirty blonds with hazel eyes, and of similar height and build. Luke and I are certainly not remotely related – we grew up on different continents – but is the fact I've chosen someone so similar to myself some kind of twisted narcissism-by-proxy? Whatever it is, it does feel like a failure of creativity.
“Well, we don’t look dissimilar,” Luke says when I put it to him. Really? “Ok, we're in the realm of similarity that's noticeable at a passing glance,” he concedes. So does that mean I remind him of his mother? Luke studies me intently for three terrifying seconds, before deciding I don’t. “Why, do you think I look like your father?” Oh, this is a dangerous game.
Is this just a coincidence, or do I like Luke because he looks like me in boy form?
Now that I’ve noticed it, the similarity can be eerie, especially considering our wardrobes are almost exclusively grey and black, with a few blue items. This means we’ll often meet up after work and realise we’re in basically the same outfit, yet again. Black jeans and grey T-shirt! Or to mix it up, grey jeans and black T-shirt. I feel the urge to point out that we’ve both had several relationships with people who look very different from ourselves – this is a fluke, not some racist pattern of a lifetime. Going through my little black book shows an undeniable preference for tall, dark and beardy – I broke my "no blonds" rule for Luke! Asked if he has a type, Luke doesn’t think so, but after doing his own little inventory he reports finding a pattern: There’s a lot of curly brown hair. “Now that I think about it, you may be the only fair girl I've ever dated!” We’ve both learned something today.
But what’s going on here? Is this just a coincidence, or do I like Luke because he looks like me in boy form? The science is actually pretty clear on this: We’re far more likely to end up with someone who looks a lot like us. “There might be a tendency for young adults to go for opposites because they want to break with convention, but overall there seems to be evidence that we’re attracted, on a deeper level, to people who are similar to ourselves,” says Berit Brogaard, a professor at the University of Miami and director of the Brogaard Lab for Multisensory Research. Genetics is only one part of it: “Similarity in facial features can be the initial attraction, but eventually it's also going to be about [similarity in] personality traits, the way you act in different situations, and your likes and dislikes,” says Brogaard, who’s studied attraction both as a philosopher and neuroscientist.
Despite what we’ve seen on Game of Thrones, nature has a pretty good failsafe to stop you from fancying your siblings. But yes, says Brogaard, this taboo means it can feel a bit creepy to realise you look a lot like your partner.
As I’m wondering how to reconcile this awkward information, Brogaard says something that makes me feel a little more at ease: Even if they don’t look like each other at first, couples often start resembling each other over time. “You can come to adopt the speech patterns and mannerisms of people you're close to. Looking like each other isn’t just having a similarly shaped nose or equally big eyes, but also little things like hand gestures and the way you smile,” says Brogaard.
Luke and I have decided to lean into the Lannister factor, although we may need to start calling each other in the morning. Luke likes it: “I like your fashion style, and I like mine. It's casual and soft cotton. It’s deliberate and it fits.” I remind Luke of the time I tried on his jeans and was surprised to find they fit me better than my own: “Well, that makes me feel like I need to do more squats,” he laughs. But it’s convenient to be the same size: I recently bought Luke a jumper and tried it on myself to make sure it would fit him – it’s perfect.
So have we learned anything from this? Luke thinks about it. “With few exceptions, every woman I've dated has tried to change something about me. Clothing has been high on that list. But I wear the same 10 T-shirts over and over and you never give me a hard time.” I shake my head – thinking you can change your partner is a rookie mistake. And it’s not just women who do this: More than one guy has encouraged me to dress more girly.
Over the years I’ve adapted a uniform of grey-toned jeans and T-shirts similar to Luke’s, although he has a roster of button-up shirts for work. Simplicity is fine as long as the clothes fit properly. “Yes, but I also knock about the house in my PJs and don't shave for weeks at a time,” says Luke. “I wake up with bedhead and you think it's cute.” I laugh, but ultimately the reason Luke and I are together isn’t because we look similar – it’s because our personalities are similar. We’re both pragmatic night owls who know good things when we see them, including the value of a good pair of checked old-man flannel PJs.
Attraction is a murky science and the things that turn us on are often a mystery, even to ourselves. We may think we’re open-minded and unbiased when choosing our partners, but the science says decidedly otherwise – really, we like a familiar-ish face. I ask Brogaard if it’s possible this preference is a shortcut to seeking common ground? “I think that may be right,” says Brogaard. “Beyond biology, the studies of what makes people attracted to each other in the longer term show it’s the similarities. There’s much more a feeling of attachment when you're more similar than if you're different.” Regardless of what my primitive reptile brain is up to, I don’t care what colour eyes or skin my partner has. What I want is to be with a person who gets me, and what can I say – this one just happens to look a lot like me.