Dump the checklist and go with your gut, a relationship writer advises.
Ask my friends, and they’d tell you I have a type. In fact, the refrain, “He’s soooo your type!” has chased me around for most of my adult dating life.
If I was scrolling a dating app, I’d probably be drawn to men who are similar-ish in some ways. I like doctors; I once wanted to become one. I go for clean-cut guys, usually tall and lean with some aesthetic of their own, whether it’s preppy or sporty. I'm also drawn to European. There’s something about their refinement that gets me.
Perhaps I do have a type, yet you’d never know it by looking at my relationship history. Of the most significant relationships I’ve been in, one was with a quirky inventor. A couple were European, but one was American, another Hispanic, and another was of Asian descent. A few were finance guys. No doctors. “Clean-cut” couldn’t even be a defining trait among them. On paper, the men have very few common threads between them.
My experience echoes recent research published in the journal Psychological Science. In two speed-dating studies, researchers asked participants to rank 100 traits and preferences before the start of the event. After they sat down for their four-minute speed dating conversations, each dater was then asked to rate their sexual attraction to and general interest in the person they’d just met.
The researchers analyzed the data to see if they could predict how many study participants ended up feeling a strong attraction to their type—or in this case, a person who possessed the traits the dater ranked the highest. While researchers could successfully predict the odds that a person would like and be liked by someone (the classic question of ‘hot or not?’), they could not predict genuine mutual attraction.
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The trouble with types
The study demonstrates the problem with having a type—that traits we’re initially drawn to don’t always result in sparks in real life. And if you only swipe right on people who fit your so-called type, you limit yourself. Personalities are unique, and so is attraction and compatibility. While I was researching my book on dating and relationships, I interviewed both men and women who were befuddled by how right a person could seem on paper, yet be a complete mismatch in the real world.
Types are fun to joke about (my friends still crack jokes when tall, European-bred doctors cross our path), but based on science and anecdotal experiences, I wouldn’t recommend relying on a checklist of traits to guide you toward a potential partner. What you think will work, and what actually does in practice, are often very different from each other.
Types exist to try to rationalize a romantic process that is highly irrational. After all, how do you describe exactly what kind of partner you’re looking for to your girlfriends at brunch, to your mom or sister? How do you verbalize this unique, true-to-you formula for the kind of person who turns you on? You probably focus on what creates butterflies, what lures you in on dates and in early interactions.
But there’s so much more to real attraction. Sustainable attraction is not just the sexual spark or intrigue that fades over time. Genuine attraction is more about who will mesh with your quirky habits, your long-term goals, how you want to live, and who you want to be.
Intuition should be your guide
I’ve looked at a lot of research on intuition, and it’s fascinating; intuition is knowing without quite knowing why. The research makes the case that when it comes to finding loe, trusting your gut works much better than looking for a type.
After interviewing countless men and women for months, a commonality existed among so many: “I knew it wasn’t going to work from early days” or “I started to feel like we weren’t compatible well before we broke up” they told me. Don’t we always? Deep down inside, you often know the person isn’t going to fit long-term. Or the other pieces of your life aren’t fitting around your significant other. It sucks; we try to make it work until we’re sure, and then we’re forced to scrap the relationship and start from scratch.
In my interviewing process, I concluded that the daters who found great, lasting love all had one more thing in common: They listened to themselves. They knew when to trust the connection, even a connection they couldn’t understand completely, and invest in building a relationship accordingly when it just felt right.
After researching love and experiencing it as well, my best advice to daters is this: Don’t pin your hopes of someone who checks all the boxes for your so-called type, and don’t overthink a date or potential relationship. Go with what your gut is telling you. It's a predictor of the magic of attraction and connection that science can’t fully explain.
Jenna Birch is author of The Love Gap: A Radical Plan to Win in Life and Love (Grand Central Life & Style).