I keep dating the same type of person

The Guardian: I keep dating the same type of person.
Should I break my own habits?
Having a type isn’t necessarily an issue – but it can become problematic when inconsistent with our desires
Elle Hunt 31 Jan 2024 | The Guardian To the Full Article >>

I often get told – by long-time friends, dismayed lovers and my gently insistent therapist – that I have “a type”. I would protest, but 10 years of data doesn’t lie. There’s a lot of fellow journalists, or other creative sorts; most dark-haired, with boyish features and – preferably – a big nose.

My track record is so consistent that friends have been able to scout dates for me with laser precision, while past boyfriends have felt self-conscious about their button noses, fearing themselves the exception that proves the rule. I don’t think I’m being shallow, at least not more than the average dater – but sometimes you can’t fail to notice the patterns.

Freya, 34, describes her type as rugged and hairy, following a “blip” in her 20s when she dated a man who shaved. “Now I’m happily married to a wild man – phew.” Jasmine, 31, tells me that she veers between two types, which she calls “the rats” (“tall, gaunt and pretentious”) and “the bears” (“stockier and hairier”). Stella, 39, is more consistent: “If you were to put everyone I’ve ever slept with in a room, it would look like a family reunion: a lot of 6ft men with black hair, at least one Irish parent and often even the same name.” Kesha, 35, also pictures her past loves: “A small crowd of neurodiverse redheads, of all genders.”

well actually – read more buttonMy informal survey suggests that types can go beyond blond or brunette to be unsettlingly specific. “It was pointed out to me a while ago, and now I cannot unsee it: all the men I’ve ever dated have looked in some way unwell,” says Parminder, 37. Her current date runs ultra-marathons – yet still looks somehow “Dickensian”. Ronnie, 24, is drawn to women who look like they “could be cast in a European period drama … like Alicia Vikander mixed with Vicky Krieps: manic pixie fräulein”. Simon, 37, has a history of dating women who look like his ex – who looks like the female version of him. It hasn’t caused him any difficulties, he protests: “I don’t consciously lean into or away from it.” And, he adds, it goes both ways: “I think there have definitely been women for whom I have been their type, too.”

Having a type isn’t necessarily an issue. The biologist and genetics specialist Liat Yakir writes in her forthcoming book, A Brief History of Love, that attraction is influenced by “a variety of genetic, evolutionary, familial, psychological, social and cultural factors”. But it can become problematic when inconsistent with our desires – for example, when we find ourselves repeatedly dating fun but flighty characters though we’re seeking a long-term relationship. Dating apps enable us to pursue our type exclusively by foregrounding superficial traits like height. But type can also extend to personality traits and reflect our past relationships – meaning we might not be conscious of all the ways in which we’re limiting ourselves in the search for love. My own type, distinct though it may be, has so far failed to lead to a lasting bond – though that might have more to do with my subconscious pursuit of emotionally unavailable men than nose size. So what can you do if your type seems to be working against you?

“A lot of people come to me for dating coaching and say: ‘Logan, I know exactly what I want: a 5ft 7in redhead who plays tennis,’” says Logan Ury. As both the director of relationship science at the dating app Hinge and a dating coach, Ury sees first-hand how people can get in their own way in the search for love. Her 2021 book, How Not To Die Alone, metabolises insights from psychology and Hinge’s data into practical advice. Much of this has to do with resisting the temptation – heightened by apps’ shallow profiles and split-second decision-making – to pursue only people who seem immediately attractive. “My slogan is: ‘You think you know what you want – but you’re wrong,’” says Ury. My slogan is: ‘You think you know what you want – but you’re wrong’ Logan UryMost clients prioritise what she calls “résumé traits” like height, job or education level. “I try to help them to understand that the type of person they have been going for may not be the type of person who makes them happy in the long term,” Ury says. Her first task is to figure out which of her clients’ criteria are actually deal breakers, and which might be better reframed or ditched entirely. For example, a person seeking someone who works in finance might simply want financial security, which is not exclusive to any profession. As for height, Ury says those who draw the line at 6ft might be dismayed to discover just how much they are shrinking their dating pool: only 14% of men in the US, for instance, are 6ft or taller. “People complain, ‘There’s no one good out there, I’m not meeting anyone’ – but they’re not meeting 86% of potential partners,” she says. “There’s no evidence that finding someone who’s 6ft or taller makes it a better romantic relationship.” Ury then encourages her clients to “date like a scientist”, and test their hypotheses. When a woman claims to only be attracted to men with beards, Ury challenges her to go out with some men who are clean-shaven, to see if that’s really the case. skip past newsletter promotion Sign up to Reclaim your brain

Sometimes it is. For example, Rose, 25, couldn’t shake her preference for height, being 5ft10in herself: “Part of it is to do with being a bit bullied for being tall at school.” But according to social psychology, we develop a preference for characteristics that feel familiar – meaning we’re at risk of embedding our type, even when it’s not working out. A 2019 study comparing the personality traits of participants’ current and past partners found that we tend to date “the same type of person over and over again” – potentially contributing to recurring difficulties within relationships. Ury challenges her clients to “broaden their filters”: literally, on apps – by casting a bigger net regarding parameters like age, religion or location – and by remaining open to being surprised. Ronnie often feels frustrated by his type. “I’m bored of it – my omnivorous friends have much more fun,” he says. But changing, he guesses, “would require immense, Zen-esque self-discipline”.

Nadine, 31, always used to date thin, artistic men: “trendy pricks”, she summarises now. So when Nadine met Harry, she was put off by his job. She texted her friends, dismayed: “He works in finance,” followed by four skull emoji. “I was very prejudiced,” she admits. But kind, steadfast Harry soon provided a welcome contrast to the patchy attentions of her usual type. “I couldn’t believe I was going out with someone who was just nice, and always phoned when they said they would,” Nadine says. “I was like: ‘Wow, this isn’t supposed to be a fucking nightmare?’” They are now engaged. Their vision of love, and what they’ve experienced, is the chasing and not knowing Logan UryOften, Ury says, her clients will describe dates who are “nice but boring”: “They say ‘I don’t feel the spark – I’m not thinking about them all the time … Why wouldn’t I be with a person who gives me that feeling?’” But this attraction tends to reflect a problematic “attachment style” – often simplified as “anxious” or “avoidant”. “Their vision of love, and what they’ve experienced, is the chasing and not knowing,” says Ury. “When someone is straightforward with them, saying ‘I like you; I want to see you again’, or even just being nice to them – suddenly, that person doesn’t feel exciting.” For those familiar with this pattern, the path to love is learning to recognize how past experiences are influencing their present – and what kinds of personalities and dynamics, though compelling, might not bring them happiness. The way out of “this anxious-avoidant loop” is by becoming more secure in oneself, and learning to recognize that as a desirable quality in others, Ury says. But it’s far from easy. “Securely attached” people – those who neither shy from intimacy, nor deny themselves in its pursuit – reportedly make up just 20% of the dating pool, because they’ve already securely attached to someone else. “People ask ‘How can I tell from someone’s profile if they’re secure?’ – but you can’t,” Ury says. “That’s too much pressure.” She suggests meeting up with promising matches as soon as possible: after three days of messaging is the “sweet spot”, according to Hinge’s data. Then, instead of waiting for the fabled “spark”, try to tune into the subtleties of the interaction. We tend to approach dates as an “exchange of information”, like a job interview, says Ury. More important is the experience, which she gauges with a list of eight questions, among them: “What side of me did they bring out? How did my body feel during the date: stiff, relaxed, or somewhere in between? Did they make me laugh?” These are far more robust gauges of compatibility than instant chemistry, which can be short-lived, non-specific or otherwise lead us astray, Ury says.

Changing your dating strategy can feel disorienting, and even unnatural; Ury likens it to tasting pure cacao after a lifetime of eating milk chocolate. But for those genuinely seeking a stable, loving relationship, it is worth it, she says. “You have to break some patterns to get there, [but] it can be so liberating.” The research and her clients’ experience bear this out, Ury says. She herself found love by dating outside her type.

Ury met Scott at college; they started dating years later, after they both wound up working at Google. But before their paths crossed for the second time, Ury had seen Scott’s profile on Tinder – and swiped left. In his pictures he was wearing a cap, backwards, and a tank top; he looked like “a bro … not my type,” she says. She would never have thought to put “5ft8in redheaded vegan engineer” on her checklist for a partner. They have now been together for nine years. Scott proved nothing like the bro that his profile made him out to be. Instead of chasing the spark, Ury went for the “slow burn”: “someone who is really great, and continues to get better,” she says happily. “That’s what I hope for other people.” Ury’s case is persuasive, and her curiosity contagious. She may not be able to bring me around to blonds – but swiping through Hinge after our call, I find myself feeling more open. By restricting my right swipes to big noses, I might not have been seeing past the end of mine.

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