While at dinner with a few friends the other week, I took a casual poll: Does anyone here have a type?
“I definitely do,” said my friend, Alex. “I always went for preppy guys.”
She’s married now, and he’s indeed preppy.
“I’m not touching this,” said my other friend, Allison, who most definitely has a type but won’t admit it.
I don’t have a type, unless you count Aquarius men. (Three of my four serious boyfriends were born in February.) There’s not much of a pattern among my historical crushes, and I’m as starry-eyed over sad, emo-band bassists as I am Dev Patel. My preferences are all over the map. The only common denominator I can think of among them all is brown hair.
But the concept of having a type, a.k.a. a desire for romantic partners who have a similar feature or trait, still persists. Blame it on confirmation bias, or the idea that you seek out things that in retrospect that confirm your beliefs. “We tend to like the idea of types and will see them in our relationships because types — and categories in general — help to simplify something that is really complicated,” says Gary Lewandowski, Jr., Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Monmouth University. “Compatibility in relationships relies on a multitude of factors and influences, so it can be appealing to focus in on a few that help define a ‘type.’”
It’s actually not that different from how you interpret your zodiac sign. (I admit this even though I really am such a Virgo.) Instead of constantly seeking out the similar traits in your romantic prospects, it’s more likely that you approach the dating game with preconceived notions about your presumed type — and then retrofit the experience that unfolds in order to support what you thought. “A Pisces thinks they have XYZ qualities, then constantly sees those things,” sums up Lewandowski. So maybe I’m not a neat-freak perfectionist. We’ll never know.
To be fair, studies show that the dating type does exist in some respects. But it’s not as simple as saying that you only go for “Wolf of Wall Street” types, or anyone who looks like a decent-enough analogue of Taye Diggs. One recent paper in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that the biggest factor in the sort of romantic partner you desire is your environment — namely, the people you interact with and things you experience on a daily basis.
“It probably isn’t driven by an internal ideal or template about what people really want in a partner,” says Paul W. Eastwick, Ph.D., an associate professor at UC Davis who led the study. “It’s probably driven by either where you live — that is, you seem to have a type because the people you meet are somewhat similar to each other, and to you — or how desirable you are, meaning you seem to date hot guys because you yourself are hot.”
The social norms of where you live can also skew that idea of what’s hot and what’s not. “Social norms for desirability can impact our decision of who has status and who is considered ‘a catch,'” says Christine Whelan, Ph.D., a clinical professor and the director of the Money, Relationships and Equality Initiative at University of Wisconsin. “If you’re in a beach community and hot bods are everywhere, you might become a bit more selective in terms of physical physique.”
On the flip side, though, people are drawn to communities that match their interests. So if you’re into hiking and hitting the slopes, you might live in or close to mountains, while financial epicenters (see: New York City) might be the spot for ambitious, career-minded people. You may think you have your own unique list of desirable traits in a partner, but it’s way more likely that it’s impacted and influenced by where you live.
Besides your environment, it’s basically a free-for-all. “After accounting for these factors, there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of consistency in what people’s ‘type’ is,” says Eastwick.
But that might be a good thing. Because while pursuing a certain “type” can make things easier for you to process and organize in the short-term, it also has a big downside. “Anytime you oversimplify your life, you risk leaving out important information,” explains Lewandowski. “By focusing too much on your ‘type’, you may completely discount a potential partner who could be really great for you.” It’s better to take advantage of all your options, rather than nixing someone off the bat because he doesn’t have a British accent like everyone else you’ve dated.
Plus, eschewing your type can come with big advantages — one example of which is especially apparent in interracial dating. A survey conducted by Tinder found that there are perks to dating outside your own race or ethnicity. “We had 63 percent of people say they were trying new experiences or hobbies [as a result of dating someone of a different race],” says Mark Westall, the director of Insight & Planning at creative agency M Booth, who helped create the survey. “That was the role someone of a different ethnicity can play when it comes to shaping a person.” 66 percent of respondents said that dating outside of their race made them more open-minded, too.
Plus, dating beyond your presumed type enables you to broaden your experiences. “By doing so, people get a chance to add new perspectives, roles, identities, skills, and abilities to their self-concept — a process we call self-expansion in my research,” says Lewandowski. “The more you self-expand, the capable you become as a person, which makes you more appealing to potential partners.” On top of that, relationships that nurture this self-expansion lead to greater satisfaction, commitment, and passionate love — not to mention a lower chance of infidelity.
Dating types are going the way of the dinosaur, anyway. You have online dating to thank for that. The aforementioned survey found that 72 percent of global daters say they’re more open-minded about who they date when using an dating app or site, while a whopping 81 percent of respondents say that dating apps and sites makes it easier to meet people who are different than them.