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Doomed Typecasting

Posted Mar 01 2008 12:00am


Science may explain why people constantly find themselves falling for the same type of person when it comes to a romantic relationship

Story by Lauren Levine // Photography by Michelle Bersani

Mike Eassa likes blondes. He’s not sure why. The junior normally doesn’t have any specific preferences, and he’s certainly not opposed to dating other girls, but when it comes down to it he always finds himself chasing fair-haired women.

Eassa is among the many college students who find themselves pursuing one particular sort of person, despite the lack of any logical explanation for this behavior. In fact, many people say that when it comes to dating or hooking up, they go after a specific “type.”

Part of what prompts people to seek out a certain sort of person as a partner is genetic. Dr. Jason Reed, a social psychologist at SUNY Morrisville, says, “Evolutionary psychology has research to suggest that men may be more likely to seek out more sexual partners. This is because they produce many sperm cells and don’t have to invest time and energy in carrying a child.”

Culture can also have an impact on the way males and females view relationships. During childhood, little girls watch Disney movies where the beautiful princesses find their handsome princes and live happily ever after. While young girls are being raised to nurture and love, young boys are taught to build things, destroy them, and dominate. These gender roles can lead to different expectations and beliefs in adult life, and also work to form stereotypes about what girls and guys expect from their significant others. Women tend to be described as clingy and looking for a commitment, whereas men are looked upon as only wanting a sexual relationship and nothing more.

Reed says that it’s a combination of genetics and culture that grooms males to behave in one way and females in another. “It’s best not to think in terms of behavior being completely driven by biological “hardwiring” or the social environment. Instead, nature enables nurture,” he says. “Your biological systems set the stage for the behaviors you could potentially do, but the environment that surrounds you your entire life makes it more or less likely to fulfill that behavioral potential.”

However, these biological differences don’t mean that men will always cheat more than women. “Given the right environmental circumstances both men and women could exhibit either fidelity or infidelity in a relationship,” says Reed.

Junior Meghan Lisson knows from experience that the stereotypes about gender and relationships aren’t always true. “I like to assume that the worthwhile ones aren’t just in it for the random hookup, but maybe I’m just lucky. My boyfriend and I just celebrated our one-year anniversary. At this point, I’m pretty sure he wants a relationship.”

In terms of women and dating, Eassa says, “I think the stereotype is true for some, but not all. I know a lot of girls who don’t want a relationship in college. They want to date around and see what’s out there.”

These stereotypes feel more pronounced in the college-dating scene. Perhaps it’s because in college people have more freedom to date and more options for who they want to date. But sometimes it seems as if the art of the date has been replaced by the art of the casual hookup. But does this mean that the date is gone forever? Answers seem to differ among guys and girls. Eassa says, “Hookups are common and preferred among people in college.”
However, Lisson disagrees. “The date is alive and well, you just have to look for the right person,” she says.

But sometimes it is hard to believe the dating scene is still common among college students. However, this may simply be because we are searching for the wrong type of person. For instance, a girl could be chasing the bad boy when the nice, smart guy sitting next to her in class is perfect for her. Or maybe a guy only notices brunettes but there’s a blonde who’s exactly his type living next door.

Reed says there’s a psychological reason for why humans systematically gravitate towards the same type of person.

“Finding someone similar to us leads to predictability,” he says. When interacting with the social environment around them, people are most comfortable when they have some guess as to how the person will behave.”

Such is true for Eassa. “I typically go for the same type of person,” he says. “If things don’t work out, I move on and eventually enough I go for a similar kind of person… I don’t know why that is.”

English and textual studies professor Bob Gates, who teaches a course about love and the unconscious, agrees that it isn’t a coincidence that people are constantly searching for a specific type. “We search for people to ‘fill us up,’” he says.  “Studies of attachment have been extended from family relationships to romantic relationships. We tend to believe everyone has free will, but not enough credit is given to larger psychological patterns that dictate behavior.”

“I think naturally we’re all attracted to a certain type of person,” agrees Karin Davenport, a graduate student. “I’ve noticed that, without even meaning to, I tend to gravitate towards guys who have similar personalities.”

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