Is It Problematic To Have A Type?

Photo: Getty Images.
There's a new dystopian-seeming reality TV show called Game Of Clones that's going to make you think twice about saying you "have a type." In the show, one person is being courted by a group of people that all perfectly fit their perception of what they're looking for in a mate, physically at least. It's like a bizarro version of The Bachelor. The photos of the dopplegangers sitting together wearing the same exact thing are out-of-this world bonkers, and they bring up an interesting question: Is it bad to have a type?
"It's a little weird, but at the same time, it does make a lot of sense because we're attracted to types — that's a thing," says Michelle Hope, a sexologist in New York City. Most of us can spell out the personality traits we're typically attracted to ("quirky and smart," "bad boys," "creative musicians"), but that's sort of a different thing. Even if you claim à la Rae Sremmurd, "I ain't got no type," you probably subconsciously have one when it comes to looks. "What we perceive to be beautiful is a learned behavior, and we learn to conceptualize it based on our own positive experiences," she says. For example: If you had a really nice third grade teacher, that would stay with you for the rest of your life, and you might be attracted to someone later in life who looks or acts like your teacher, she says, adding, "Not saying you fantasized about your teacher, but you have a positive connection to someone like that."
This can be a slippery slope when your preference for partners turns "the exotic into something erotic," says Hope. People sometimes say, "I have a thing for Asians" or "I only date black guys," which is fetishism at its core. "Fetishizing a different race could be because you don't have exposure, and it seems mysterious, cool, and exotic to date someone of a certain race." That's why culture and attraction are so intrinsically linked, Hope says. Western society might have taught someone that blonde hair and blue eyes are the standard for beauty, but that has to do more with giving into a stereotype than actual preference, she says.
Of course, many people with similar ethnic backgrounds end up together because they have a shared human experience, says Hope. "Sometimes we favor people that look like us or have something that's like us," she says. "A biracial person might see another biracial person and subconsciously go into a state of, That person has an interesting look, I wonder if we've had a shared experience?" Drawing on similar experiences — good or bad — is usually a successful way to bring people together.
Let's say you had a great relationship with your last partner who had glasses, a big smile, and curly hair, and your next partner has glasses, a big smile, and curly hair. "In that case, you might be trying to duplicate what you had in that [previous] positive relationship," she says. There's no shame in this (it happens!), but it might not be the most successful way to find a mate (sorry, Game Of Clones).
"You don't want to categorize people into lumps, you want to give them the opportunity to be themselves," she says. People who look and dress the same can be very different, which shouldn't be that groundbreaking of a realization, but maybe that's what the show is trying to prove. Take it from Hope: "It's okay to have a type, but every now and then, you might be missing out because you're not stepping out of your comfort zone."

More from Sex & Relationships

R29 Original Series