A reference to the 1993 rom-com Groundhog Day, in which weatherman Phil (Bill Murray) lives the same day over and over again until he changes his ways and falls in love with his colleague Rita (Andie MacDowell), groundhogging in dating involves the same kind of fruitless repetition.
While the tendency to continually date the same kind of person may spring from good intentions—like a feeling of comfort or a desire to go after a specific “type” that you think is right for you—dating experts say it can seriously hinder your chances at finding genuine love.
Wait, what exactly is “groundhogging” in dating?
“Groundhogging is a trend in which people keep dating the same kind of person over and over while expecting different results,” says relationship coach and dating expert Susan Trotter, PhD. Each time a relationship ends for whatever reason, the person will “groundhog” to another similar person and date them, only for that relationship to inevitably end soon, too.
“Groundhogging is a trend in which people keep dating the same kind of person over and over while expecting different results.” —Susan Trotter, PhD, relationship coach
Perhaps it isn’t working out each time because the type of person you’re repeatedly dating embodies toxic qualities—maybe they’re all narcissists with a flair for love-bombing—or they’re just straight-up emotionally unavailable, and it’s the desire to “fix” them (or get them to fall in love with you) that leads you to keep seeking them out.
Or maybe the type of person in question just fits a particular image you’ve constructed in your head; in other words, they wouldn’t be problematic for everyone, but they just aren’t right for you, whether because they’re too similar or too different, or for some other reason. And by focusing only on this one kind of person (say, confident lawyers or funny actors), you’re missing out on the people who don’t fit your preconceived notion of the ideal partner, but who actually have more of the qualities that would make them compatible with you long-term.
In any case, someone who is groundhogging does not learn from the experience and make changes to the way that they date; rather, they repeat the cycle, even though it never works out with their chosen type. According to psychotherapist Mollie Spiesman, LCSW, people often turn to groundhogging as a comfort mechanism. You know exactly what you’re getting yourself into, which is comfortable—but each time, you convince yourself that it will turn out differently.
What are the key signs of groundhogging?
“The biggest sign that you’re groundhogging in dating may be the outcomes,” says Dr. Trotter. No matter what you do, you keep finding yourself in the same kind of relationship, and it doesn’t work out. Perhaps all your relationships end the same way, too, whether suddenly and abruptly, or by fizzling out.
Dr. Trotter also says to keep an eye out for the following signs of groundhogging:
- You feel like your recent relationships have all progressed in similar ways
- You’re very rigid and selective about whom you date but to little success
- You aren’t at all selective about whom you date and wind up with the same types of people who pursue you
- Your past partners remind you of one another
- You rush into relationship after relationship with your usual type
Why do people repeatedly date the same type of person if it never works out?
“The majority of people believe that they have a certain ‘type,’ and it can be hard to shift from that,” says Dr. Trotter. We are all creatures of habit. We crave routine and familiarity, even in situations where it might be better to think outside the box or challenge ourselves to try something new. “Familiarity is comfortable even when uncomfortable,” says Dr. Trotter.
Indeed, Spiesman finds that her clients sometimes make choices rooted in comfort, even when they don’t actually serve them. For instance, some people might choose partners who are controlling or domineering, thinking it's love. Others might keep picking partners who can't commit, perhaps because of the allure of a challenge. “They might think, ‘Oh I'll try again—this time will be different,’ however, time and experience likely prove that is not the case,” she says.
In certain scenarios, the nature of someone’s attachment style (that is, their way of navigating interpersonal relationships developed through childhood interactions) can play a role in their tendency to groundhog with a particular type. For example, people with an anxious attachment style may frequently find themselves drawn to partners with an avoidant attachment style—who then exacerbate or reinforce the anxiety they feel by thwarting intimacy.
“When people don’t take the time to reflect on their relationship history...they are more likely to stick with that familiar feeling and repeat patterns without even realizing it.” —Dr. Trotter
In still other cases, people might be so eager to find a partner that they don’t even know they’re groundhogging. “When people don’t take the time to reflect on their relationship history—for example, considering what worked and what didn’t work in the past, what they really want and need now, what part they played in past dynamics—they are more likely to stick with that familiar feeling and subsequently repeat patterns without even realizing it,” says Dr. Trotter.
Both the desire for familiarity and the fear of the unknown can act as powerful forces that keep people stuck in the groundhogging cycle, she adds.
How to break free from the groundhogging trap
As with any pattern of behavior you're trying to stop, “the first step is recognition,” says Dr. Trotter. If you identify that you may be groundhogging, it’s important to acknowledge that you may need to make some big changes in the way you date, she says.
In particular, Dr. Trotter suggests taking time to review your relationship history, while paying attention to the patterns inherent in your dating experiences. For instance, if you note that you’ve often dated emotionally unavailable people, you might do some thinking about why you’re choosing people whom you know can’t give you the closeness you need or want, suggests Spiesman, and aim to reacquaint yourself with your own feelings and values.
In a similar vein, Dr. Trotter suggests giving some thought to what you think your ‘type’ is and why. In so doing, you might discover that there isn’t any solid reason why you can’t broaden your scope a bit, and you’ve just been choosing the same kinds of people largely out of instinct or convenience.
“Create a life that is full and joyful and then look for people whom you can invite in to enhance it.” —Mollie Spiesman, LCSW, psychotherapist
Spiesman also recommends taking time to practice self-love, process past relationship issues, and surround yourself with loved ones who know your worth and value as a means to increase your confidence. “Create a life that is full and joyful and then look for people whom you can invite in to enhance it,” she says. “Doing so allows you to be more intentional in the dating process, rather than settling or choosing people just to fill the void.”
When you’re dating, aim to strike a balance between being selective when it comes to finding someone who shares your values and also being flexible, so that you don’t write off potential matches who happen to fall outside of your typical type. Specifically, be an observer and be engaged at the same time: Notice the pull toward those who are familiar (and not necessarily best for you), and then pause and challenge yourself to move in a different direction.
Dr. Trotter also advises seeking guidance from a dating coach or relationship therapist to help facilitate these changes. Having a professional in your corner who can help you identify unsupportive patterns and pivot accordingly could be just what you need to keep from falling down the rabbit (er, groundhog) hole of repetitive dating.
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