Do People Really End Up Dating Their ‘Types’?

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Most people probably have at least a vague idea of the qualities they’d like their ideal partner to have: tall, funny, attractive, good with cats — the usual. But in a recent post over at Science of Relationships, social psychologist Lorne Campbell digs into the existing research to find out whether most people actually end up dating someone whom they’d describe as their “type.”

The short answer: Who knows! Campbell, a psychology professor at the University of Western Ontario, notes that there is a pretty substantial gap in the scientific literature here. But one of the studies he found suggests that when some people do start dating someone they like, a little revisionist history sometimes follows. Campbell writes:

Key Finding: If you ask people that are in a relationship about their ideal romantic partner preferences, it turns out their current romantic partner is a fairly close match to these preferences.

Limitations of this work: after entering a relationship people can change their preferences to match the realities of their new partner, and partners can over time change each other to more closely match their own preferences. Thus, we don’t know whether (a) those ideals reflect actual ideals held by study participants before they met their current partners, or (b) partners became more ideal over time (but didn’t initially match the ideals).

In other words, most people will indeed say that their significant other matches their description of their “ideal” partner, and they probably truly believe this, too. But it’s just as likely that they’ve slightly tweaked their criteria, so that their preferences now incorporate their current partner’s qualities. (A third possibility: Maybe people eventually realize that it is nigh impossible to find someone who fits every item on their mental checklist.) Campbell calls for more research, saying that “our existing knowledge of the association between preferences and actual mate choice is weak.” It is somewhat comforting to know that science is at a loss here, too.