But just because it’s common doesn’t mean that everyone is content to stick with their types. According to a survey by Badoo, a dating app, 77 percent of daters wanted to try dating outside of their type—aka “untyping.”
Experts In This Article
So what does it mean to break a pattern and date people outside of your usual frame of reference? We talked to dating and relationship experts to break down exactly what it means to untype.
Why we develop romantic types in the first place
For some people, having a “type” in mind helps the often-challenging dating process go more efficiently and smoothly—or at least feel that way.
“Developing ‘types’ in dating is a way for individuals to identify the characteristics and traits they are attracted to in a potential partner,” says Minaa B., LMSW, a therapist, eHarmony relationship expert, mental health educator, and author. This essentially helps people narrow down what folks are worth investing time on for dating. She adds this includes both desirable preferences and personality traits that feel “safe.”
Often, types are developed based on people who already know, or encounters you’ve already had. There’s some evolutionary basis behind that, says Krista Jordan, PhD, a therapist with Choosing Therapy. “On a mammalian level, when we see someone who reminds us of people we already know quite well… we are less likely to want to avoid them,” she says. Basically, your “type” aligns with what’s familiar because it feels more trustworthy. She believes this happens without conscious intention.
How we develop our romantic type
So what’s the secret behind this mysterious, subconscious attraction? A couple of things, experts say.
In a sense, “typing” begins when you’re quite young, and still developing an attachment style, a term for how you subconsciously approach relationships based on how you were treated by parents and caregivers as an infant. “Early experiences with caregivers between the ages of 1 to 3 tend to set our expectations of close relationships,” Dr. Jordan says.
People are typically most comfortable with what they know, she continues, which explains why “we tend to gravitate toward partners in adulthood who share characteristics of our parents.”
This can be true even if someone didn’t have the greatest relationship or experiences with their parents. From a Freudian standpoint, this is a case of repetition compulsion, which Dr. Jordan defines as “the unconscious mind’s desire to fix problems from childhood by replaying them in adulthood.” She gives the example of seeking out narcissistic men after being raised by a narcissistic father to finally win that kind of person’s approval.
These processes are often unnoticeable and quick, Dr. Jordan adds. “Humans in general tend to form an opinion about a person in one-tenth of a second…So the idea that you could be consciously choosing how to feel about a person does not follow cognitive science.”
That’s not to say we’re constantly ruled by our unconscious or subconscious. Dr. Jordan points to factors we can choose more consciously, such as social status, religion, political beliefs, physical attractiveness, and education level. “Those can be linked to larger societal beliefs, such as wealth being attractive, or more personal priorities, like marrying someone from the same religion,” she adds.
Jess O’Reilly, PhD, resident sexologist at Astroglide, agrees that social expectations and norms have a lot of influence on setting our types. “We receive strong messages about what constitutes ‘attractive’ according to our identities, and these messages can be highly limiting and biased,” she says.
We get those messages daily, Dr. O’Reilly continues, from media images, sexual interactions, peer group reinforcement, and who we’re around. “If you tend to socialize or immerse yourself in specific circles, you may find yourself drawn to those in close proximity. We’re also likely to gather around people with similar educational and economic backgrounds,” she says. That’s when critical examination of societal beliefs and challenging personal biases (we all have them!) can be important and come in handy.
Why you go for your “type,” even when it doesn’t work out
As discussed above, familiarity is a big piece here. “Even when things go awry—with an ex, for example—the exposure effect can result in a preference for traits and experiences with which you’re already familiar,” Dr. O’Reilly explains.
That makes sense, right? Being around what you already know and understand does bring its comforts, and vice versa. The fear of the new is real. Amelia Kelley PhD, a trauma-informed therapist, author, podcaster, and researcher, validates the “fear of the unknown and what it may feel like to be with someone entirely unfamiliar or who challenges you in ways you may not think you are ready for.”
It’s important to note that familiarity can put you at ease, in a sense, even when it’s unhealthy. “This can happen as a result of harmful or problematic behaviors being normalized in a person’s family upbringing, as well as among their peers and in society,” Minaa B. adds.
When this is the case, she encourages introspection—why do you choose who you choose, and how is it affecting you?—to prevent the repetition of toxic cycles.
Is “untyping” in dating the answer if “typing” hasn’t worked?
Maybe! “The success of deviating from your usual type varies among individuals,” Minaa B. says.
“Untyping” may be a particularly wise choice if you feel like your “type” isn’t doing you any favors. “If you continue to repeat old patterns and find yourself in relationships with similar endings, it can be helpful to ‘untype’ your dating style in order [to] see how you react and feel in a relationship with new dynamics,” Dr. Kelley says. “It is also important to practice ‘untyping’ if you find yourself attracted to people who remind you of your past (as people often do) if those in your past were not necessarily good for you or healthy attachments.”
To be clear, you don’t have to go for the complete opposite of your type. Minaa B. recommends having boundaries you don’t compromise on, and being clear about what those are, before you hop on a dating app or agree to a setup with a friend of a friend. “There is a difference between deciding you are going to date short men when you usually prefer taller men, versus deciding to date someone who has different religious beliefs when your religion is important to you,” she says.
Dr. O’Reilly agrees. “For example, if someone’s values conflict with your sense of identity—and safety—they’re unlikely to be a fit for you,” she says. (There are certain values, like white nationalism, that don’t deserve the benefit of the doubt!) “I don’t see this as a matter of ‘type,’ but as a matter of values.”
The potential benefits of “untyping”
Dr. O’Reilly sees several pros of untyping in your dating life.
1. Enjoying different kinds of connections
While having a “type” is fair, normal, and common, it’s not always helpful and can be based on bias. “Sociocultural messaging around who is worthy of love, affection, and desire are exclusionary,” Dr. O’Reilly says, noting how only a small few are favored. “When we buy into this, we are absolutely missing out on so many potentially valuable and fulfilling connections in social and sexual arenas.”
She adds that diverse experiences can also be more genuine because you aren’t as focused on what “boxes” they check off. Instead, she says, you can sit back and enjoy yourself.
2. Learning more about yourself and what you like
Another benefit along those lines: You gain insight into what you value and biases you hold. “The deeper your dating pool, the more likely you are to learn something about yourself,” Dr. O’Reilly says.
And yes, that includes sex. We all approach sex differently, meaning you may have a better (or at least novel) experience you wouldn’t have had otherwise, she adds.
3. Breaking patterns that don’t work
Looking at your “type” with a critical eye can be healing and promote healthier relationships. For example, if all of your exes had a quality you didn’t like, Dr. O’Reilly says, and weren’t a fit, why continue to pursue other people with that same quality?
The risks that can come from “untyping”
Just as “untyping” may go well, it may go not so well, too. “Some things we can get used to, or learn to appreciate, but others may just not work for you,” Dr. Jordan says. “This can be painful because you may start relationships that just don’t work in the long run.”
More specifically, this might look like entering relationships that lack compatibility or shared values, lead to confusion, and more, according to Minaa B. Given this possibility, she recommends approaching untyping “with open-mindedness while still being mindful of one’s own needs and preferences.” In other words, perhaps this is one of those “expect the worst, hope for the best” situations.
“If you ever feel you [are] dating someone ‘despite’ a person, trauma, or relationship, that is also not a good practice for ‘untyping,’” Dr. Kelley says. She also urges people not to ignore their intuition and gut instincts about a person and go along with a situation just because you’re trying to date outside of your type. Translation: Don’t ignore obvious red flags or problems for the sake of untyping! There’s a difference between getting out of your comfort zone and getting into a situation or a relationship that is unsafe or unaligned with your values. Keeping those reminders in your back pocket can help reduce the risk of harm.
Other steps to take for best results
Before diving into untyping, Dr. Kelley suggests listing your “needs” and “wants” in a partner. Think about what qualities you’re willing to experiment with and which ones are deal-breakers. “In these cases, it can help to start with ‘dating yourself’ first,” she says, to better understand what you’re looking for in a relationship and what matters to you, period.
It makes sense you may feel confused, for example, when spending time with someone who has a different vibe. “At first, people outside of your type are not likely to seem attractive, may feel ‘too nice,’ or ‘kind of boring,’ or it may just feel ‘blah,’” Dr. Jordan says. She explains that if you’re used to intense relationships, for example, the lack of stress can feel like a lack of spark.
Dr. Kelley encourages remaining curious and present throughout the date, as well as being intentional about not sabotaging it. The relationship may seem “too good to be true,” she continues, when it could actually be a sign you’ve met a partner you can have a happy and healthy relationship with. (Just make sure you’re not running into a sign of love-bombing.)
In short, this dating trend is less about “typing” and “untyping,” and more about considering your intentions, values, needs, and feelings of safety. You deserve positive experiences from those limited right swipes!
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- Park, Yoobin, and Geoff MacDonald. “Consistency between individuals’ past and current romantic partners’ own reports of their personalities.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America vol. 116,26 (2019): 12793-12797. doi:10.1073/pnas.1902937116