When you're in the dating world, it’s not uncommon to be drawn to a certain “type” of person. Maybe you’re interested in a physical type, such as people who are taller than you or brunettes with curly hair. Or perhaps you gravitate toward a certain personality type like someone who is more reserved than extroverted, with hobbies and interests that most closely align with your own. After all, being selective has never been easier with the abundance of dating apps and websites at our disposal—many of which allow filtering by lifestyle and physical trails.
But whatever your preferences have been up to this point, you may want to reconsider your screening prerequisites and recognize that dating someone who isn’t your typical type can be quite beneficial. In fact, experts say it can be the key to developing a meaningful, fulfilling relationship.
Ahead, we breakdown why we seem to press repeat when it comes to relationships, and five reasons mental health professionals say you should consider breaking that pattern and dating people who aren't your type.
Why Do We Date the Same Type?
According to experts, there are many layers that make up the reasons why we're drawn to a specific type. From the evolutionary perspective, for example, pairing up was a means for survival as opposed to seeking love and attraction, explains Dr. Shannon Curry, a clinical psychologist and Director of Curry Psychology Group in Newport Beach, California. "In the early days of human existence, life was short and brutal. Those who chose male partners who were healthy, strong, and capable of providing protection and access to resources were more likely to survive." And those who selected female partners who were healthy and fertile (plush lips, symmetrical face) were more likely to continue their genetic lineage, Curry adds.
Then, there's an individual's personal history to consider. "We also tend to choose partners based on our early experiences with parents or other primary caregivers," adds Curry. These formative interactions inform our sense of self-worth and expectations for others' behavior that carry over into adulthood, says Curry. Genesis Games, a Licensed Mental Health Counselor in Miami, adds that these important people "can be biological parents, step-parents, grandparents, older siblings, aunts, uncles, and even nannies. The absence of one of these adults can also leave a mark and influence our 'type.'"
For example, if we grow up experiencing comfort and affection, "we learn that we are worthy of love and that we can expect others to treat us with care and kindness," says Curry. On the other hand, if we were surrounded by pain and fear, we may view this as normal, too. That said, from a neurological perspective, our brain loves shortcuts. It's human instinct to "seek out patterns and operate according to them," says Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D., psychotherapist, and author of Dr. Romance’s Guide to Finding Love Today.
And finally, "We probably end up dating similar kinds of people because we do have a type, because we attract a certain type of person, and because we just happen to be in situations where we encounter a certain type of person more frequently," writes Gwendolyn Seidman, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology and chair of the psychology department at Albright College.
Why Is It Important to Break the Cycle?
Dating a "type" is limiting. If you only date a certain type of person, you limit the number of people who could potentially be right for you. And while you shouldn’t lower your standards or feel like you’re settling, you should open your mind and give other people a chance—even though they don’t necessarily fall into your usual dating category. After all, you simply don’t know who you’re going to mesh with, and that’s true for people who are your type or not. "Statistically speaking, if we reduce the dating pool to singles who meet strict physical and monetary criteria, our odds of meeting someone who also possesses the personality traits that are conducive to lasting happiness significantly decrease," says Curry.
You’re prematurely judging someone. Along these lines, if you only date people you consider to be your ideal type, you’re passing judgment on them before taking the time to get to know them, which is especially easy to do with online dating. And in today's app and online dating world where the information provided by a potential match can be sparse, you may be missing out on meeting someone truly great by evaluating them under such rigid standards.
"Once you are consciously aware that dating people who are your type doesn't equate to happiness, you can open your eyes that what is familiar is not necessarily good. Try not to judge people quickly but rather allow the relationship to grow and become more comfortable with change," says California-based psychologist Diane Strachowski, Ed.D.
Katie Lear, a Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor, says that "identifying what you want out of a relationship and common warning signs that you're falling into familiar patterns in advance can help to combat this."
You’re stuck in an unhealthy relationship pattern. Another important reason why it’s in your best interest to date someone who isn’t your typical type is that it can help break a detrimental relationship pattern. In fact, you may not even realize that you’re dating the same kind of person over again, such as continually dating someone who can’t or won't commit, or whom you’re trying to fix. "That being said, if you’ve experienced a pattern of chaotic, deceitful, abusive, or uncaring dating experiences, then I would urge you to seek some guidance from a licensed mental health provider," says Curry. "A competent and qualified therapist can help you work through underlying issues that may be standing in the way of the relationship you want."
You’ll challenge your comfort zone. While scanning online profiles for a specific "look" has become a quick way to navigate through thousands of options, says Julie Ingenohl, a Glastonbury, Connecticut-based Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, "when we consistently opt for looks first, we miss out on the big picture. Who is this person? What are their strengths as a human being? What kind of heart do they have? Will they treat me right?" Ingenohl's suggestion, particularly with online dating is this: "Scan until you find someone who is not your typical type. Continue to look at their picture until you find one attractive feature, then click and read their profile. In this way, you can begin to retrain your brain on how it finds beauty."
Turn off any unnecessary filters you might have set on your dating apps—this alone can help you branch out and connect with someone you might not have otherwise.
You may not know who’s “right” for you. It's true: Your type may actually be wrong for you. While you may be looking to meet someone who shares all of your interests, has a similar background, and/or is just like you, it’s important to keep an open mind. The key to keeping an open mind, says Lear, is taking the time to analyze past relationships and look for similarities. For example, "Do I tend to be attracted to guys who come on really strong at first, and then ghost me in a few weeks? Do I keep chasing men who are more aloof and distant than I am?" offers Lear.
The Keys to a Satisfying Relationship
When it comes to relationship satisfaction, Curry references the work of psychologist Ty Tashiro, who identified personality traits that tend to be associated with it, including high levels of agreeableness (kind, tolerant), emotional stability, and lower levels of novelty-seeking. "While these traits may not sound as sexy as a combination of good looks, wealth, and adventurousness, Tashiro's research has shown that couples who rate their partners higher in the stable stuff have the strongest levels of intimacy and sexual satisfaction," says Curry. Similarly, psychologists John and Julie Gottman have researched couples for more than five decades to learn that intimacy and sexual satisfaction are strengthened when partners are attuned to each other's needs, says Curry.
It may also be helpful to understand your attachment style. Referring to the work of Sue Johnson and attachment theory, Games says, "People who approach relationships from a secure based [attachment] believe that they are deserving of love and that they will find love." What does this look like? Says Games, "They communicate their needs and wants clearly. They are transparent about their dealbreakers and tackle red flags head-on. They also give their partner the benefit of the doubt and extend [them] grace." Additionally, people with a secure attachment style know how to balance their lives as a couple and their own life outside of the relationship, says Games.