Everyone has a type, whether they like to admit it or not. Just look at Taylor Swift and her British men (Joe Alwyn, Tom Hiddleston, Calvin Harris, Harry Styles), Leonardo DiCaprio and his supermodels (Gisele Bundchen, Bar Refaeli) or Khloe Kardashian and her basketball players (Lamar Odom, Tristan Thompson). Leaving your comfort zone can feel daunting at the best of times. But when it comes to matters of the heart, it may feel almost impossible.
Whether it comes down to hair colour, job, favourite TV show, or whether your potential partner is a dog or cat person, many of us tend to stick to a certain blueprint – or ‘type’ – when we’re looking for love.
Research by dating app Inner Circle found that while a mere one in five single people say that dating their “type” is going well, only one in four of them are willing to date someone different. Many are stuck somewhere between a largely unsuccessful pattern and the fear of trying something new, a behaviour the app has termed “groundhogging”.
Helen, 29, tells The Independent that the reason she’s done this in the past is because it’s an easy way of creating a “comfort blanket” in the scary world of dating, by assuring yourself that you know what you’re looking for. “But actually, you can miss out on a load of wonderful people with that mindset, and it is very limiting,” she says.
So what does it mean to stray from the beaten path of singledom and date someone different from your usual type?
Francesca, 34, had always envisioned her perfect match as someone who worked and lived in London, like herself. She admits on reflection that this belief came from her own “sniffy” idea that those who remained in their hometowns weren’t adventurous – a quality she sought in a partner.
However, after moving home following a health scare, she fell in love with a man who started out as her best friend, causing her to re-evaluate what the most important characteristics were when it came to cultivating a long-term relationship.
These lessons can be learnt during a briefer fling, too. Indigo, 32, was forced to rethink her criteria for an ideal partner after a chance encounter with someone she never imagined she’d date.
“I always had a ‘type’ and was determined that was all I was interested in, until I met a bartender who was the polar opposite of my ‘type’,” she explains. “I saw them and I could just feel they had a good heart. It was such a potent sensation.
“It changed my perspective on my dating style to this very day – it taught me to really see the person, and when I get that powerful feeling from someone, to listen to that feeling and go for it,” she says. “I’ll be forever grateful to that person for opening my mind and my eyes. We weren’t together for long because he had to move away, but we’re still friends, and I never forgot that instant instinct.”
Indigo adds that, before that encounter, she had been “very rigid in my dating mindset”. “What I was looking for was so unfeasible, and I knew that on some level. I just didn’t fully realise it until I met him.”
Some 60 per cent of Inner Circle’s survey respondents also admit that dating someone out of their usual type would feel like ‘‘settling” for something less than what they thought they deserved.
But you may run a higher risk of settling for the wrong relationship if you don’t step away from your perceived “type” every once in a while.
Alicia, 23, is currently dating someone who looks different to her “stereotypical type” and works in a different industry from her previous partners – and she’s enjoying the journey. “I’ve felt like I was on more of an equal footing with this person, as I felt less pressure to impress them and I didn’t feel like I had to act in a certain way, because they’re so different to the guys I usually date,” she says.
There’s also another delightful side benefit, she’s discovered: “The sex is really good, and I think that’s partly because I’ve gone for someone who isn’t my usual type. It makes it more exciting and unusual.”
The dominance of dating apps also undoubtedly encourages users to stick to a preconceived “type” due to the fact that you can curate your own profile so specifically, as well as what you’re looking for, leaving less room for chance.
“[They] encourage people to choose a box, which defines who they are and their potential future relationships,” Indigo says. “These apps are encouraging users to create a ‘designer partner’ and develop an ideal that, ultimately, is borderline impossible.
“We have an online dating culture that is not only actually narrowing down our choices, but also cultivating a toxic environment where, if the people we connect with don’t live up to the expectations we’ve created in our boxes, they’re discarded and considered inadequate or even dishonest. All because we’ve been ... encouraged to pursue the impossible – our perfect type.”
It may be that narrowing down our romantic choices to fit into certain criteria reflects something that we are missing within ourselves, rather than anything that is lacking in the other person.
“We are attracted to partners who mirror our own emotional state, so once we heal and grow as people we may find ourselves attracted to other ‘types’,” relationship expert Dr Kalanit Ben-Ari says. “Having said that, your partner can be a great mirror for the part in you that you need to develop or reclaim. You can learn a lot about yourself by understanding the ‘type’ you are attracted to.”
She suggests it could even be that we are seeking out characteristics – good or bad – that we experienced or appreciated in our parents during our childhood.
“There is a reason for this unconscious attraction, as being part of a relationship with our ‘type’ is nature’s way of helping us to heal our old wounds, grow from old defensive mechanisms, and regain the sense of contact, connection, wholeness and joy that we were born with,” she says, adding that when a relationship matures past the honeymoon phase, it will soon become clear whether this “type” works for you long term, or whether it is incompatible.
After all, romance lies in the most unexpected of places – don’t let a rigid idea of what that might look like get in the way of your quest for the real thing.
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