Most of Us Have a “Type” When It Comes to Romantic Relationships

By Justin Lehmiller

In pop culture, the idea of a romantic “type” is everywhere.  From television to books to movies, people’s past and current lovers tend to be portrayed as sharing certain traits or characteristics.

But is this an accurate reflection of reality, or is it the stuff of Hollywood fiction? Just how much do people’s exes and their current partners have in common anyway? A recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences offers insight into these questions. 

Researchers at the University of Toronto analyzed data from a 9-year longitudinal study that involved a nationally representative sample of Germans. However, they only focused on the responses of 332 adults (159 men and 173 women) who got two different romantic partners to participate in this study at different points in time over that 9-year term.  

Each individual—and each of their partners—were asked to complete the Big Five personality inventory, which assessed their standing on the traits of openness to experience, conscientiousness, agreeableness, extraversion, and neuroticism (see here for a primer on what each of those terms means).

Researchers then looked to see whether the responses of people’s partners overlapped—and they did. In other words, people’s exes and their current partners tended to have similar personality profiles.

It’s important to note that people’s own personality traits were also related to those of their partners. In other words, people tended to select partners who were similar to them. However, similarity between partners existed above and beyond similarity to the self. In other words, this means that what we’re seeing here is indeed evidence that people are going for a certain “type,” as opposed to simply seeking out a like-minded partner.

That said, it’s worth mentioning that some personality traits were linked to having less consistency in one’s chosen partners. Specifically, those who were more extraverted (meaning they are outgoing and sociable) and those who were open to new experiences (meaning they like to try new and different things) didn’t seem to have as strong of a type. This makes sense because extraverts are likely to meet a wider range of people due to their outgoing nature, while those high in openness are just more willing to experiment and explore in general.

One limitation of this research is that it only considered whether people tend to seek out a certain personality type. Do we tend to have a physical type as well?

A 2017 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology considered the extent to which people’s previous partners “clustered” in terms of certain physical traits, such as attractiveness and masculinity. The results of that research revealed that there was indeed some consistency in the physical traits of one’s previous partners.

These findings, combined with the results of the more recent study, suggest that people tend to have both physical and personality types they tend to seek out in a partner. 

We need more research to know whether this tendency toward romantic types ultimately has positive or negative implications. For example, does having a stronger type make it harder to initiate and maintain a successful relationship? Likewise, do people find it disconcerting or comforting to discover similarities between a current partner and an ex? We just don’t know the answers to these questions yet.

That said, there are important implications of this line of work. One of the big ones is that it means we may very well be able to predict who ends up with who after all.

A lot of online dating companies match people up through computer algorithms. Those companies are notoriously tight-lipped about how precisely their matching systems work; however, these results suggest that matching people based solely on how similar they are to another person probably isn’t enough. Taking a person’s “type” (both physical and psychological) into account as well could potentially enhance the quality of matches made.     

Eastwick, P. W., Harden, K. P., Shukusky, J. A., Morgan, T. A., & Joel, S. (2017). Consistency and inconsistency among romantic partners over time. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology112(6), 838.
Park, Y., & MacDonald, G. (2019). Consistency between individuals' past and current romantic partners' own reports of their personalities. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences116(26), 12793-12797.



Dr. Justin Lehmiller is an award winning educator and a prolific researcher and scholar. In addition to publishing articles in some of the leading journals on sex and relationships, he has written two textbooks and produces the popular blog Sex & Psychology. Dr. Lehmiller’s research addresses topics including casual sex, sexual fantasy, sexual health, and friends with benefits. His latest book is Tell Me What You Want: The Science of Sexual Desire and How It Can Help You Improve Your Sex Life. Follow him on Twitter @JustinLehmiller or

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