Let me paint you a picture of an all-too-familiar scenario. Girl brings her new boyfriend home to meet her family. Her parents and siblings are nice enough, but as soon as he gets up to use the bathroom, they start to pick him apart, from his job prospects to his background. The boyfriend evisceration ends with your mom saying something like, “What ever happened to that nice Cooper boy from down the street? I ran into his mother the other day, and apparently he’s in law school now!”
Turns out there’s a good reason this scene rings a bell for all of us — our families, especially the female members, are programmed to be hypercritical of the prospective partners we bring home. And what’s more, the more attractive he is to us, the less likely they are to approve of him.
The science behind this phenomenon is called “the Juliet effect” named after the well-known Shakespearean heroine who went against her parents’ wishes and fell in love with the son of their mortal enemies. Of course, that’s a somewhat better reason to be wary of a potential suitor than his penchant for wearing tight shirts, but you see the correlation.
When I first started bringing my now fiancé around my parents’ house, there was a lot of initial friction. Even though they had known him since he was a teenager, now that he had the potential to be their daughter’s life partner, they were noticeably on their guard. At the time, he wasn’t financially viable and had trouble keeping to one career path. Of course, my mother saw this as a problem, whereas all I could see were his adorable dimples and piercing blue eyes. Thankfully, he got it together over the next few years, and now he is both the cutie I fell in love with and a reliable lifetime mate in the eyes of my parents.
Recently, a group of psychologists in Norway found this familial conflict over a daughter’s suitor is firmly rooted in genetics. The long and short of it is moms want their daughter’s mate to have qualities that will benefit the family in the long run, aka why Juliet’s mom wanted her to marry the wealthy Paris. Meanwhile, Juliet wants first and foremost a physically attractive mate, because it will increase her chances of having attractive children who will in turn make good matches because of their genetic superiority. Leave it to genetics and evolution to ruin a good love story, right?
However, there’s a funny twist here. When asked what sort of partner sisters and mothers would choose for themselves, they almost always went for the same hunky sort of man their daughter/sister opted for. Talk about familial hypocrisy!
“For their own partners, women focus on an attractive appearance that suggests good health and an ability to pass on their genes. At the same time, they prioritize qualities in their sister’s partner that can provide direct benefits for the whole family,” wrote the Norwegian researchers.
So how can you make everybody in your family happy, including yourself, when it comes to choosing a mate? Simple — find someone with a great job who’s kind, genuine, funny, good with kids and somehow also manages to be funny and sexy as all get out. No problem, right? (Cue every woman reading this slapping their foreheads simultaneously).