"What’s your type on paper?" It's the question that Love Island entrenched within the modern dating lexicon. Most commonly, your 'type' refers to the physical attributes you seek out in a potential partner — and in the two years I’ve been single, I’ve identified mine so specifically that I could draw a police photofit portrait of my ideal man.
I’m not alone in seeking out a specific look in the people I date. Khloe Kardashian married one 6ft+ basketball player and had a baby with another; Jennifer Lopez got together with two of her backing dancers; Kate Moss’ exes include near-identical, dark-haired rock musicians. In her song "All Too Well", Taylor Swift recently declared — with a considerable amount of side-eye — Jake Gyllenhaal's type to be women in their early 20s. Even when you’re a celebrity whose DMs are undoubtedly overflowing with desirable suitors, your type prevails.
I live in Berlin, which, like any large city, means dating apps present a seemingly endless pool of potential matches. Knowing the type of guy I was attracted to — sporty, short hair, baby face — enabled me to make efficient, split-second, yes or no decisions when I was swiping.
But several months of using the apps led to nothing more than dead-end dates, confusing situationships and so many ghosts that the whole city may as well have been a casting call for the next Scream movie. One mediocre meet-up in early August was the last straw. Me and the guy parted ways after an hour and on the way home I bought a bottle of wine that I would drink by myself later that evening. I deleted each app in the supermarket queue.
My evenings were no longer consumed with getting to know new matches and idle moments on train platforms were spent reading a few pages of a book rather than mindlessly swiping. Behind the scenes, something else was happening to my mind. Because I was no longer analysing photos to figure out if I was attracted to someone, physical appearance lost a lot of its significance. Subconsciously, I’d stopped focusing on someone’s looks when determining whether we had a spark.
I first noticed this transition on a night out in September. During the pre-drinks I’d been chatting to a mutual friend, Michael, who, while attractive, didn’t fit my usual type at all. But when we began dancing in the club, the moments our arms brushed against one another felt charged.
Having a particular type is often due to the earliest relationships formed that create a sense of comfort for that person, no matter how serving those relationships have or have not been.
Sarah Louise Ryan
Around 6am, once daylight had infiltrated the dance floor and our unsuspecting friends had said their goodbyes, the attraction became too much and we started kissing.
My brief fling with Michael never got off the ground but it subverted what I thought I knew about my so-called type. I had always felt like dating guys who fitted the look I was especially attracted to meant that I wasn’t compromising when looking for love. On reflection, putting too much focus upon physical appearance likely influenced many of my ill-fated dating decisions.
Matchmaker and dating expert Sarah Louise Ryan tells R29: "Lots of people create subconscious romantic 'type' frameworks as they navigate dating, attracting the same type of person over and over again." When it comes to dating apps, "having a 'type' can limit people from seeing other romantic options who could be potentially compatible for a romantic relationship."
Sarah explained that having a particular type "is often due to the earliest relationships formed that create a sense of comfort for that person, no matter how serving those relationships have or have not been." This struck a chord with me. Was this why I’d spent the last two years subconsciously seeking a lookalike of my first boyfriend, with the laddish, outgoing personality to match?
A few weeks after kissing Michael, I surprised myself once again when I got together with another friend, Jakob. We’d known each other for a couple of months and in that time I’d never felt an attraction between us. But my new outlook on dating changed things and I realised that our senses of humour were perfectly aligned. This dalliance with Jakob also went nowhere (finding out I was the side chick to the main girl he had feelings for killed any budding romance pretty quickly) but my theory about the disintegration of my physical type was once again proved.
I’m not the only one who has been having a rethink recently of their dating preferences. In a poll published by Bumble last month, 48% of daters said that the pandemic has made them question what their type is. Netflix series Sexy Beasts reflects this shift away from looks-based attraction: the show sees contestants go on dates while wearing incredibly realistic prosthetic makeup that hides their physical appearance. The result for viewers is nightmarish and surreal; for the daters, it’s a chance to make a genuine connection based on personality alone (despite everyone underneath the prosthetics being stereotypically gorgeous, which kind of defeats the point).
After four months without dating apps, my physical type was out of the window and, like a Sexy Beasts contestant, I was focusing on personality. I wanted to date confident, social guys who were funny and extroverted. Identifying these requirements, I thought, would help me out rather than hold me back in my dating search.
Then I met Yu Teng on a night out and, over the course of a few dates, got to know him as someone creative, a good listener who is curious about the world. He wasn’t the loud guy I’d been looking for, who would command a room with jokes, but that suddenly felt like a refreshing change.
When Kim Kardashian was first photographed holding hands with Pete Davidson, the Internet went into meltdown. The pairing seems so surprising because, before hooking up with an easy-going, self-deprecating comedian, Kim was married to Kanye West, an über stylish, self-proclaimed genius with a humourless exterior. When she got together with Pete, Kim subverted public expectations of her dating life.
Judging by the mile-wide smile on Kim’s face (and the suspicious hickey on Pete’s neck), breaking old habits can be stimulating. I contemplated this as I browsed bookshops with Yu Teng on our fourth date, an activity I’d never done before with a romantic partner. Our eyes met above the shelves and I mentally leaned into not checking off the boxes I had drawn for myself. I could not have been happier at the prospect of being completely wrong about the type of guy I want.