A new paper published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology sought answers to the age old frustration all your friends suffer from when they support you through breakups: do people really have a romantic type and if so, why? Unlike other studies of its kind, this one out of the University of California, Davis observed heterosexual people in relationships over time, rather than using one committed relationship and comparing it to a person's previous partners.
The paper combined the results of three different studies meant to determine how many characteristics a person's partners share and why we continue to be drawn to people with the same characteristics. In all, over 1000 heterosexual relationships were studied. One study found that people's exes tended to share similar physical traits, regardless of whether it was a short-term and casual relationship or a long-term and committed relationship. Researchers say that this trend may point to a problem people have with being able to differentiate between a partner's long-term or short-term dating potential. In other words, the more a partner fits your physical "type," the more difficult it may be to determine early on whether or not you're truly compatible in other ways.
Another study looked at the similarities between a person's exes with regard to education, religiosity, and intelligence. It found that a person's exes tended to be extremely similar with regard to all three, as well as with regard to attractiveness, but not because the person is necessarily hunting for a specific type. Rather, the similarities of a person's exes were due to the fact that the person shared a similar background with everyone they dated. In other words, people tend to find themselves in communities with other people who share their education level, level of religiosity, and level of intelligence.
"The exes of a particular person tended to be very similar," said Paul W. Eastwick, lead author of the paper. "But this type of similarity was entirely due to the school that people attended. Within their local school context, people were no more or less likely to select educated, intelligent, or religious partners."
When it came to attractiveness, the study authors concluded that type boiled down to attractive people simply having the ability to attract other attractive people. When it came to personality traits, they concluded that people were simply more likely to meet people who shared their educational, religious, or intellectual backgrounds. In neither case did people specifically and intentionally go out looking for a partner of "their type." Basically, your type is just a coincidence. So the next time your friends harangue you for repeating your bad partner picks, you can gently remind them that you're human and we all have trouble differentiating between good and bad fits sometimes.