One of the easiest ways to sum up a potential mate’s shortcomings is with the simple phrase, “He’s just not my type.” But why do we have types? Most people can write down a list of must-haves and must-not-haves—everything from job status and music taste to eye color and shoe preference (mandals are a surefire deal breaker). But the reasons why people have types and the things that drive their finicky tastes are less clear.
Rules of Attraction
It’s not hard for scientists to determine the traits that make people attractive: a good waist-to-hip ratio; symmetrical features; for men, a masculine jaw and a deep voice; for women, a high voice. All these characteristics relate to hormone levels and overall genetic fitness. We’re attracted to people with whom we’ll have a good chance of having healthy offspring, even if we’re only looking for a fun night or two. Scent also plays a large role in what we consider “chemistry” and relates to how our own immune system matches up with a potential suitor’s.
But rarely do we describe our type as someone who’s “symmetrical” or who has kick-butt immune defenses. Instead, we want someone who’s athletic or artsy, or someone who has oodles of ambition and the 401k to prove it.
Birds of a Feather?
Our perfect type may have less to do with biological attraction and more to do with our own personality, style, and interests. Studies have shown that people tend to fall in love with those from their same socioeconomic background, similar levels of intelligence, and consistent values and principles. There’s even a term—homophily, or “love of the same”—that describes the tendency for similar people to attract each other.
In both romantic and platonic relationships, homophily happens. Researchers at MIT’s Media Laboratory looked at homophily in online dating and found that users sought people that were like them most of the time, just as it happens in the offline world. Users were most likely to seek similarities in preferences for marital history and desire for children, but also things like physical build, attractiveness, and smoking habits.