It’s culturally accepted that everyone has a “type” — a romantic ideal that we seek in our partner. Scientifically, however, it’s been much harder to prove its existence with consistency. Recently, the authors of a new study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology tried, like many before them, to solve this romantic mystery once and for all. Their efforts paid off. Sort of.
Their answer to the key question — “Is there such a thing as a type?” — is a bit of yes and a bit of no. The data they collected showed that people sometimes show evidence that they prefer a certain type of romantic partner, but most of the time, people simply work with the romantic options that they’ve got. The study’s primary author, University of California-Davis associate professor of psychology Paul Eastwick, said in a statement that “yes,” people do have a type, but his caveat was most important: “[Sometimes] it reflects your personal desirability and sometimes it reflects where you live.”
Eastwick and his co-researchers came to this conclusion after conducting three separate studies on people involved in 1,000 past and current heterosexual relationships. The first study showed the most evidence that people have do have romantic types — at least when it comes down to attractiveness. In the study, 97 undergraduates provided researchers with online photographs of people they’d had either committed or transient (that is: hookup) romantic relationships with. Then, research assistants were given the subjective and inherently problematic task of rating the people in the photographs for attractiveness, masculinity or femininity, and level of confidence.
Doing so revealed a trend in the different partners of any one individuals, which they referred to as “clustering partner qualities.” It appears that people really are drawn to partners that share particular characteristics — a physical type — at least, as far as photographs can show.
But the second and third studies were less conclusive. In the second, the researchers examined data taken from the National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent Health and looked for patterns in self-reported answers about the traits of people’s romantic partners, like intelligence, education, and religiosity. When consistencies did emerge, however, “it was largely attributable to demographic sorting into different school contexts,” they write. In other words, the patterns didn’t reflect traits that people actively desired in others; rather, they were the traits most common to the communities that they were living in. For example, people living in a predominantly Christian neighborhood would likely say their type is Christian.
The third study’s findings were the least robust: The researchers examined the information from a “new website” that they determined “harnessed the pervasive tendency among young adults to publicly rate things, places, and people.” (They don’t name the site, but it sounds a lot like LuLu, the now-defunct app that let women anonymously rate their past and present romantic partners.) They compared the ratings that different women gave to the same men and found that there was no consistency. Women didn’t agree that any one person was desirable or a good partner for the same reasons, dispelling the idea that the man in question would be able to fit a certain “type.”
While the authors appear confident that people do have types, it’s still apparent that while we fall in love in similar ways, the sort of people we fall in and out of love with may vary. Other scientific studies that have examined mate choice have come to similar, inconclusive conclusions. For example, a 2011 paper looked at the partner choices of a large sample of twins and found that there was zero genetic influence on mate choice and, at most, a slight influence from mom and dad. Earlier, in 2003, a study found that the strongest indicator of mate-preference was whether or not individuals liked similar things.
In other words, the debate over whether a type exists remains unresolved. If anything, your “type” is probably someone you think is hot and likes the same shit as you (which, of course, can vary over time). From there, the chemicals in your brain will likely take the wheel.