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Does Everyone Really Have a "Type"?

The evidence for trends in personality similarity.

Key points

  • The idea of a "type" has rarely been subjected to empirical scrutiny.
  • Using longitudinal data, researchers were able to show unique correspondence between ex-partners' and current partners' personalities.
  • The possibility remains that some people might be more likely to have a romantic "type" than others.

Have you ever felt like you keep dating the same kind of person over and over again? Do you see some interesting similarities between your current partner and an ex?

The idea of a romantic "type" is popular but understudied.

The notion of a romantic "type" has circulated in popular culture, supported by largely anecdotal evidence and reinforced in the media. On one hand, there are plenty of reasons why we might gravitate towards similar romantic partners. If we meet people while doing what we enjoy (e.g., sports, hobbies), perhaps people with similar personalities engage in those activities. If we meet people through friends, perhaps we are gaining new partners through pools of similar people.

At the most basic level, perhaps we ourselves have a heightened attraction to certain traits, and we keep pursuing those traits whenever we begin a new relationship.

On the other hand, having a current partner who is decidedly different from an ex-partner can also be a goal. You broke up with that person, so why would you want to date someone similar? In fact, when people reflect on a recent breakup, they often say that they learned what they don't want in a future partner (Tashiro & Frazier, 2003).

Empirical work offers new evidence for a romantic "type."

Recent research investigated whether ex-partners and current partners share common traits in a way that would suggest people have romantic "types" (Park & MacDonald, 2019). They relied on data from 332 participants from the longitudinal German Family Panel study and analyzed correspondence between self-reported personality traits obtained from ex-partners and current partners.

As you might imagine, not all trait correspondence would suggest a specific partner-to-partner similarity. Critically, the researchers engaged in analyses that allowed them to identify unique parallels between romantic partners. Specifically, they controlled for the fact that an individual's romantic partners might resemble each other simply because they each resemble the individual whom they both dated. They also controlled for normative similarities, the kind that tend to emerge when anyone describes themselves (e.g., people, in general, might see themselves positively).

Results provide novel evidence that, yes, people seem to have romantic types (Park & MacDonald, 2019). Current partners' self-reported personalities, which included the Big-5 personality traits, corresponded with ex-partners' self-reported personalities above and beyond shared traits attributable to dating the same person or normative self-reports of personality. People appear to be dating similar people over time.

Perhaps some people are more likely to have a romantic "type."

The possibility that people have a romantic "type" is exciting, but does everyone share this kind of stability in their partner preferences? Pursuing this idea, the researchers explored whether some people were more likely to have a consistent romantic "type" than others. Their findings were inconsistent and, at best, only tentatively suggest that individuals higher in extroversion and openness may be less likely to date similar people (Park & MacDonald, 2019). The authors make this conclusion with appropriate caution and note that the question requires additional research.

Why having a "type" matters

More research is needed on what it might mean to have a romantic "type." On the one hand, as Park and MacDonald (2019) noted, having a "type" could mean that individuals already know how to create healthy dynamics when they encounter certain traits. Or perhaps they learned from a prior relationship what doesn't work when encountering those traits and can adjust. Alternatively, as Park and MacDonald (2019) noted, dating someone who feels familiar could be a catalyst for easy self-disclosure, which could encourage healthy intimacy.

Of concern, however, is the possibility that one's "type" is an unhealthy match with their own personality and personal history. For these individuals, more research is necessary on how to potentially shift partner preferences towards alternative personalities, ones that could result in higher quality and longer-lasting partnerships.

Facebook image: Inside Creative House/Shutterstock


Park, Y., & MacDonald, G. (2019). Consistency between individuals' past and current romantic partners' own reports of their personalities. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 116(26), 12793-12797.

Tashiro, T. Y., & Frazier, P. (2003). “I’ll never be in a relationship like that again”: Personal growth following romantic relationship breakups. Personal Relationships, 10(1), 113-128.

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