Carbon Copy Men

By Keith Ablow, MD

pic1Q: “Why do I always choose the wrong guy?” —Alicia K., San Diego, CA

A: One woman after another has asked for my help with a similar problem:

The men they select turn out to share a core trait that ultimately short-circuits the relationship.

They might all be too controlling or too dependent or addicted to work or utterly unable to commit.  Even when a man seems like the “complete opposite” of the last disappointing lover, it isn’t unusual for a woman to learn that that wasn’t the case: He was almost a carbon copy.

Here’s why: Like magnets, the human mind and heart gravitate toward or are repelled by high-energy interpersonal dynamics. There’s often no middle ground. And some of the highest energy dynamics are those rooted in childhood, adolescence and young adulthood. So if your life story includes having a father who was too controlling, you’re more likely to choose controlling men who make you feel “at home.”  Or you might run so far away from anything like a controlling man that you end up with passive, dependent men.  Experience the loss of a best friend or a sibling, and you might either gravitate toward men who reproduce that feeling by disappearing from your life again and again or you might be repelled by any distance and find yourself with someone who clings to you too much.

What prevents you from recognizing these carbon-copy men when they enter your life? Denial.  So few of us examine the emotions we felt in our pasts that the way they dictate our behavior likely remains unconscious. Your heart—which can sense similarities between men that your head can’t—goes on autopilot.

How do you change all that and pick someone who’s good for you, not just “familiar” to you? Assume that your choices in men have been about way back then, not now.  Connect the dots between past and present.  Step back and identify what the really big need has been in your life to date. Is it a need for safety, independence, financial well-being?  What life events fueled that need?  And here’s the key:  How have men fed into it?

Once you answer these questions, screen new guys by figuring out whether an old theme in your life story then is making you include them as characters in your love life now.  Ask yourself the question on the first date, but ask it again on the tenth date, too.  The men who survive scrutiny will be the ones with their own value to you today, not merely as bit players in a repetition of yesterday.


Keith Ablow, MD is a psychiatrist and member of the FOX News Medical A-Team. If you’re interested in a private session, please send an email to

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