Most of us have a preference for everything. A certain brand of shampoo. A favorite color. Window or aisle seat. (Perhaps, there are some madmen who prefer the middle seat?) Our lives are wholly spent searching for and discovering the things we love, and when we finally do, changing these set opinions doesn’t happen easily.
This brand loyalty, however, isn’t just limited to consumer goods and seating arrangements.
A new study at the University of Toronto finds that people typically date a certain type of partner and usually gravitate toward this type, no matter the circumstances.
The research, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, analyzed data from 332 participants who rated themselves and their romantic partners on a series of personality statements based on the following traits: agreeableness, conscientiousness, extraversion, neuroticism and openness to experience (“I am interested in different kinds of things”).
Based on the likeness in which an individual’s current partner and former partners described themselves, researchers found “the degree of consistency from one relationship to the next suggests that people may indeed have a type.”
(However, researchers did find tentative evidence that extraverts were more open to dating different personality types.)
Why You Date the Same Type of Person
None of this should surprise you.
According to Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D., psychotherapist and author of Dr. Romance’s Guide to Finding Love Today, this behavior is completely in line with our human instinct “to seek out patterns and operate according to them.”
Our daily survival is contingent on our ability to make choices, analyze data, and process (oftentimes confusing or conflicting) information, which is only made possible by our brain’s ability to identify and follow patterns.
“When you’re operating within old, familiar patterns, you don’t need to think about what you’re doing. Your body is wired to do familiar things without having to think about them. This leaves your mind free to wander and to de-stress,” Tessina explains.
When it comes to buying groceries, this mental shortcut can be extremely convenient, but in relationships, they may not always be a good thing.
For example, if you grow up around violent people, addicts, or those who are emotionally unavailable, as an adult, you will already know how to deal with them, so they feel familiar, she says. “It’s comforting in an irrational way.”
Break the Mold, Build New Patterns
If humans operate via patterns, the only way to change our behavior is to start a new one. If you’ve ever tried to give up a bad habit or learn a new skill, then you already know how difficult changing an ingrained behavior can be.
These changes don’t (and most likely won't) happen overnight, but the following advice from experts may help you become more cognizant of your old patterns and help adopt new, healthy ones.
Identify the Problem Pattern
Addicts say the first step to getting clean is to admit you have a problem, the same applies if you find yourself in chronically bad relationships. But don’t gloss over what happened, really take the time to analyze what attracted you to each of them, suggests Tessina. Look for similarities. Are they financially unreliable, emotionally cold, violent, unfaithful? That’s the pattern. And if you can’t see it, then a good therapist can help you figure it out.
Pay Attention to Actions, Not Words
At least at the beginning of a relationship, focus on what your partner does, not what they say, advises Christine Scott-Hudson, a licensed psychotherapist and owner of Create Your Life Studio in Santa Barbara, CA.
“Anyone can say ‘Baby, I love you, you’re my whole world.’ But someone genuine will keep plans, be there when they say they will and treat you with respect.”
In other words, don’t be swayed by flattery, compliments, and promises. “Believe patterns, not apologies,” she adds. Negative patterns include, but are not limited to: ghosting you, never responding to texts, flaking on plans, disappearing when you need them or any other action in behavior that doesn’t match their words.
Find Out Your Attachment Style
As mentioned earlier, our adult relationships may be partly based on our relationships with parents or caregivers when we were children. This is because these early relationships are responsible for developing our patterns of attachment, or how we relate to others, especially in stressful situations.
The main attachment styles are:
- Secure: Love and trust come relatively easily, about half of the population falls into this category.
- Anxious: Wants to be close and intimate with others but is scared to be let down, so will often sabotage their relationships with counterproductive behavior.
- Avoidant: Avoids intimacy and emotionally withdrawn; prefers to be alone and engage in solitary activities
According to Dr. Roxy Zarrabi, a licensed clinical psychologist based in Chicago, IL, determining and reflecting “about your attachment style may impact the types of partners you are drawn to.” For example, those who have an anxious attachment style may be prone to attracting emotionally unavailable people, many of whom have an avoidant attachment style.
If you’re still not sure what you’re attachment style is, you can take this Psychology Today test here.
Write It Down Then Review
We may already be aware of our negative patterns, but oftentimes, love goggles have a way of clouding our better judgment. That’s why Zarrabi also recommends making a list of all the red flags from previous partners that show why they weren’t the right person for you. More importantly, “review this list periodically, especially when dating someone new.”
Lastly, take your time and be gentle with yourself. You’re attempting to make significant changes that have been programmed into your brain since you were a baby. All patterns take time to create and destroy. And remember, once you develop this new pattern, it’ll eventually become second nature to you.