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Why do people have dating types at all?

Dating types

If you’ve ever watched the TV Land show Younger, which is actually pretty good, they have a joke in Season 4 about Kelsey (Hilary Duff) being a “doppelbanger,” which means most of the guys she sleeps with or dates look very similar.

In other words, dating types.

Sometimes the concept of “dating types” refers to like, literally types of dating. (Casual sex, long-term relationship, friends with benefits, etc.)

Here, we’re gonna use it to refer to the whole concept of “I have a type” and/or “He/she is not my type” or “He/she is my type.”

In a world where surprise and delight seemingly means so much to those looking for their own beautiful happy ending, does it still make sense to stick to specific dating types, especially if those types haven’t necessarily worked in the past?

Seems like this needs a minute of exploration, so let’s go.

Research on why people have dating types

First we’re going to try Psychology Today, which seems like a mostly-vetted source. What they’re going to say is a little bit depressing, though. Here’s the gist: as young children, we develop defenses (i.e. defense mechanisms) to deal with frustration and pain. As we get older, we often become more wedded to these defenses to the point that they are part of our personality. When we enter into relationships, we choose people whose defenses align with our own. In short:

We choose partners, then, who reinforce familiar attitudes we’ve long had toward ourselves. You may think you were drawn to the aloof and mysterious guy because he seemed deep and interesting, but ultimately, you may have been drawn in by his emotional absence or inability to fully relate to you.

Additional research has shown that our perception of facial attractiveness (a big part of dating types) is at least 50% tied to previous positive experiences in our life, meaning a guy could be hideous to one woman and handsome to another. Could be because of her dad, past boyfriends, whatever.

The flip side of the dating types deal is the “revisionist history” argument: when you ask people in relationships to describe their dating types, they describe the person they’re currently with. Logical, right? Ask the same people after a breakup and it changes. Also logical, right? But maybe dating types are contextual to time and not firmly set in stone.

Finally for this section, you need to consider personality types as well. The research is split on this. Some believe like-minded personalities will be good long-term fits, while others believe couples need to complement rather than be similar. More on that in a while.

A much simpler reason for dating types

Same as with silos or hierarchy in a work context, dating types allow our brains to be lazy — which is inherently what our brain probably wants. Silos allow you to avoid other groups and just deal with your in-group. Dating types means you don’t really have to think deeply about what might make you happy long-term; you can just keep moving between the vague idea that’s somewhat worked so far.

So why are dating types inherently bad or good?

They’re not. It’s all about what works for that specific person and eventual relationship. No value judgement per se.

But there’s much research out there on the power of experiences, as well as embracing ideas/concepts opposite from you, not to mention the idea that you should spend less time with people similar to you. At that three-way intersection, wouldn’t dating types be a massive miss? Shouldn’t you play against type?

Dating Types 2

Probably. But that’s going to be hard for people because their dating life is going to be tied to where they work, where they live, where they hang out, and what various algorithms point them to. It’s hard to break free of those things because they’re all fairly static to some degree. Algorithms literally exist to push you towards types (brands, products, like-minded viewpoints) because then you’ll keep coming back, and the company with the algorithm will make more money.

I guess we should talk about bad boys here, right?

That’s probably the ultimate “dating types” deal, no? The bad boy and the good girl, or the girl who can’t step away from the bad boy?

Two things.

There’s a theory out there on this that’s kind of interesting, but ultimately stupid. Go on any dating site and read profiles for females. It’s all the same. “Want a nice guy who can make me laugh, BTW I love patios and my dog…” Everyone wants the same thing. But what’s the No. 1 category of literature for females, far and away? Literotica. What happens in those books? Typically bad boys eff around with female emotions, debase them in bed, etc. Women love reading that, but say the polar opposite when presenting themselves to potential mates. So is the literature focus the escape or the reality? And is the dating profile the thing we’re supposed to do or the truth? Think on that for a second.

Second thing: the bad boy deal is where dating types are bad. If you keep going for bad boys and your long-term romantic life isn’t going anywhere except you being hurt, well, it’s time to stop going for bad boys. That’s where dating types are extremely limited.

And hey, hasn’t dating changed a lot in the last 10-15 years?

Yep. I touched on algorithms and stuff a bit above. That’s a huge change. More women are also reporting funny > sexy, which might be something you say to sound good on a survey. 30% of couples meet through friends; that number has actually been increasing in the digital age, probably because people get frustrated with the “Hey I can cum on your face?” nature of Tinder and want to move to trusted friend recommendations. It’s a different world, though.

So why the hell did I just dedicate 1,000 words to dating types?

Got divorced this year. So eventually I’ll need to deal with all this shit. Not now, though — I got a lot of work I need to put in on myself.

Having been through some of that arc in the pre-Tinder world, none of it too successfully, I’d say these things:

  • Both genders inherently lie a lot about what they want in the name of meeting self-perception or societal norm; that’ll probably never change.
  • Probably the best deal you can find is a complement with an overlapping base of life goals/concerns.
  • Each person evolves over time, though, and therein lies the challenge — the dating types you chased at 24 might not seem great at 42 with a few kids and a mortgage now. I think that is one reason “explaining” (not justifying) infidelity, but that’s a different post.
  • The whole idea of dating types can seem to run counter to the human brain’s typical desire for new experiences, but never under-estimate the laziness of the brain in trying to organize concepts either.

What else would you add on dating types?

Ted Bauer

One Comment

  1. Man, I’ve thought about this subject many times in many different iterations over the years. I think you bring up a lot of good points here, particularly about lying about what we want in a romantic partner (either to oneself or to others), shifting desires over time, and your observation that “in a world where surprise and delight seemingly means so much to those looking for their own beautiful happy ending”. People love to over-focus on moving towards that happy ending.

    For me, I’ve observed that “types” are often the product of

    – our uncritical digestion of life scripts handed down to us from parents, peers, the media, or us connecting dots that shouldn’t be connected and THINKING that we’re being handed scripts for our lives that will portend us success when in actuality these sources are just doing what they do without much in the way of intent

    – us couching our language in so many soft terms to the point where we’ve confused “not my type” with “not physically attracted to”; if we communicated in direct language with ourselves, we’d have a better understanding of what we want, or could at least begin analyzing why we are/aren’t attracted to a particular person

    – our fallacious obsession with what other people think and the implications of choosing a certain partner (related to your piece yesterday about credibility and reputation)

    We sure are a neurotic people, aren’t we? Maybe a lot of this is the result of too much input being thrown at us in too rapid of a succession and us not taking the time to thoughtfully reflect on issues.

    We also, I think, have entrusted the telling of our most popular stories to a lot of shitty scriptwriters. As in, maybe the idea of “a type” wasn’t a thing 100 years ago, but after we’ve been inundated with decades of entertainment garbage written by emotionally stunted people, we think “hey, this is how we should be! if it was full of good enough ideas to finance a Hollywood film, it must be good enough for me!” I’m looking at you, “When Harry Met Sally”.

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