A long time ago in a land far away—specifically Thebes, Greece, legend has it that a king and queen abandoned their son after hearing a prophecy that he would grow up to kill his father.
Decades later, the prophecy came true when the father and son—not knowing each other’s identity—fought over whose chariot would drive first on the road. The son killed his father in the petty fight, and went on his way, never knowing that he had murdered the man who had given him life (and abandoned him).
His name was Oedipus (Ed-duh-pus).
Back in the city of Thebes, a giant dangerous creature with the body of a lion, wings of an eagle and the face of a human, called a sphinx had taken over. The now-widowed queen offered her hand in marriage to any man that could free the city from the sphinx.
When Oedipus arrived in Thebes, Sphinx asked him a riddle. When Oedipus was the first person to finally solve it, Sphinx left the city and the queen, Jocasta, married Oedipus.
Neither she nor Oedipus knew that they were mother and son. They went on to have four children.
But that Greek Myth is how the Oedipal complex was given its name by psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud. Freud argued that boys grew up harboring a secret lust for their mothers and the innate desire to kill their fathers and take their fathers’ place as their mothers’ lover.
The equivalent for girls is the Electra complex, named by psychologist Carl Jung, for the story of Electra who murdered her mother as revenge because her mother killed her father.
Now this is probably not true. Most people do not have lust for their opposite-sex parent, nor are even aware of the concept of lust at the young age Freud and Jung wrote about, but these Complexes do manifest in the romantic lives of adults.
Women often date, marry and are attracted to men that remind them of their fathers in some way. Men often date, marry and are attracted to women that remind them of their mothers in some way, as well.
The reason for this is that children’s first concept of what adult men and women are supposed to be is (usually) their parents. They carry that first concept in their minds from childhood into adulthood and use that as an indication of what to look for in a romantic partner.
This can be good and bad, depending on whether the parents were good or bad.
A man that treated his daughter, and her mother, with love, respect and kindness, will most likely have a daughter who grows up to look for a man that treats her with love, respect and kindness. But a man that treated his daughter, and her mother, disrespectfully or abusively, might have a daughter who grows up to be abused by the other men in her life.
Oedipus and Electra Complexes are not just about behavior. They are also about looks.
Some men may prefer to date and marry women that look like their mothers.
Basketball player Stephen Curry has become a recent, prominent example. It may be a coincidence that his wife resembles his mother, or he might have unconsciously or even consciously sought out a woman with similar looks.
And who can blame him? They are both gorgeous.
Think about your own life; childhood and dating as an adult.
What traits do your parents and your romantic partners have in common? Which of these traits do you like and which do you not like?
You can use the Oedipal and Electra Complex to your advantage.
Choose which traits you value in your parents—good cook, polite, affectionate—and choose a romantic partner who has these. You will feel naturally at home with this person.
But if you hate how your mother is a neat freak, or your father’s corny jokes, avoid dating people who clean obsessively every day and make terrible puns—even if you find yourself consistently drawn to them without even trying.
And if you want to become closer to a romantic partner, you can imitate some of the traits your partner appreciates about their parents. Observe their interaction with their mother and father, or simply ask them what they find annoying about their parents (so you do not do the same thing) and what they find comforting (so you can do that, too).
For example, your man might like how his mother expresses her love for him through cooking—but hates how she expresses her love by calling multiple times a day.
Time to get Oedipal! Cook for him once in a while but limit yourself to calling him once a day and wait for him to call you.
Just do not let him kill his father and marry his mother instead of you.