If You Somehow Convinced Yourself Your Ex Was Awesome While You Were Dating, Blame The ‘Halo Effect’


It’s common to look back on failed relationships and wonder, “What was I thinking?!” But before you begin to doubt yourself too much, know that poor judgment may not be entirely to blame. Rather, your judgement probably didn’t seem poor at the time, because you were being influenced by something called the “halo effect.” It’s a psychological phenomena that warps your view of a person based on one impression of them. For example, if you think that someone is attractive, you are more likely to overlook the ways they are controlling.

Essentially, it conflates all of a person’s traits into a drastically more positive light, just because you like one part of who they are. It’s why we often think that attractive people are kinder, and kind people are more intelligent.

It’s important to note that the effect is particularly strong when it comes to appearances. There have been studies that have found that jurors are less likely to believe an attractive person is guilty of criminal behavior (sound familiar?)

More importantly, if someone has an arbitrary set of qualities and traits that you once thought your soulmate would possess, you will be more inclined to overlook their negative or ill-fitting qualities. This is why we get ourselves trapped in romantic situations that are objectively wrong for us. We find “signs,” or determine a thing or two we really, really like about the person, and the rest we feel we can ignore.

This is also fueled by the fact that we are taught that love is enough for a relationship to thrive, and it is not. Love does not equal compatibility. Love is not enough. You will not have a successful relationship with someone whom you share an attraction, but no other similarities in lifestyle, preference or opinion. You don’t need to be the same, and they don’t need to be perfect – but you need to be able to work together.

The “halo effect” tends to touch other parts of our lives, too. We are instructed to “follow our passions,” with little regard to how much work it will entail, and whether or not we really want to commit to it. We are blindsided by a bit of love or comfort – literally. It’s important that in love, and life, we don’t confuse the pieces for the whole. One or two redeeming qualities do not make up enough to sustain a happy relationship. More importantly, you should not keep pining after someone whose reality starkly differs from your hope for them, or a job in which you dislike the actual labor, but like the title, or compensation.

The most classic sign of the “halo effect” at work is when we fall in love with someone’s potential instead of their reality. Unless you would be happy to commit to someone just as they are today, and unless your relationship in your day-to-day life is healthy and constructive, there’s a chance you’re being blinded by one redeeming – but not saving – grace.

So if you’ve ever looked back on your past partners and cringed, wondering what you possibly could have seen in them, chances are it could have been just one or two qualities you liked, and then confused the rest for being just as good.

Brianna Wiest is the author of 101 Essays That Will Change The Way You Think, available here.