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Maybe it’s me, being the product of a white American father and a black Ethiopian mother, but I find it extremely weird when I see couples who look like they’re related. And I’m not talking just superficially similar in looks, like they have the same hair color and skin color, I mean when they appear so similar that there is no doubt in my mind that strangers regularly ask them “Are you twins/cousins/father and daughter?”
Studies show that the happiest couplings are between people who are more alike than different, but that refers to things like beliefs, values, upbringing, life experiences, and life goals. Resembling each other has little or nothing to do with the aforementioned list, except where ethnicity or nationality can mean having more of those things listed in common. Often, coming from the same culture or having the same obstacles in life can make it more likely you’ll understand each other, but everyone of the same skin color, ethnicity, nationality don’t have the same facial/physical features.
I don’t think anyone could line up all the men I’ve ever dated and find one who looked a lot like me. My husband and I look almost nothing alike, besides being light-skinned and even then he has pink undertones and I have tan/yellow undertones, which is apparent in every selfie of us.
You might be thinking, “Who cares?! As long as they’re not really related to each other, so what!” And you are correct, it doesn’t truly matter, other than from a psychologically/biologically curious standpoint. When I see couples who could be mistaken for siblings, I wonder if it says something about an innate human narcissism (is this more normal than I realize?) or is there something about these individuals that make them drawn to someone who is essentially a mirror image?
Part of my slightly disturbed response comes from our innate disgust with incest; how would most of feel us if we discovered that lookalike couple really were brother and sister? In addition, the fact that humans do better genetically when we disperse our DNA by mating with “others”, people not within our village/ethnicity/family, makes me ponder why more of us haven’t evolved to be more attracted to our physical opposites. The children of more genetically diverse parents have stronger immune systems and fewer physical abnormalities. Perhaps lingering xenophobic attitudes end up overwhelming our biological drive to mate with those who are more genetically different from us?
Social scientists have studied this phenomenon before. Remember the 1995 study where women sniffed the sweaty shirts of men and rated the ones who were more genetically different from them as more attractive? That and other studies suggest we do have a biological need to produce the healthiest offspring through diversity, but why wouldn’t that have made us evolve to rarely be attracted to someone who looks like us, in a subconscious revulsion of the possibility of having weaker babies?
To my horror, I discovered a recent study that showed we are “attracted to those who look like our opposite sex parent or ourselves”. Say what? Now, I’ve heard of people saying they want to find someone “just like Dad”, but I always took that to mean his sweet personality or strong work ethic or something endearing like his boisterous laugh. But someone who looks like him? Ewww. That’s just too incestuous for me. Maybe it’s subconscious, but still.
It occurred to me that whether or not you’re attracted to those who look like one of your parents might have something to do with how healthy your parent/child relationship is. An old friend of mine’s first husband looks eerily similar to her father, and she had a very close relationship with her dad when she was growing up. I did not have a close relationship with my dad, and I’m over here all grossed out even imagining being attracted to plain, blonde white guys (no offense, plain blonde white guys). Even so, I have a hard time seeing this study as indicating anything “normal”; it seems to go against our biological need for genetic diversity.
What do you think?
Follow Liz on Twitter @liz_lapoint