Why do we gravitate towards the people we do when it comes to relationships? You may have a checklist of qualities against which you measure potential significant others, but the science behind who we’re attracted to – and end up getting serious with – is a lot more complicated than that.
According to a new study, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, we’re not necessarily attracted to someone because they’re our “type” – however much we might like to think we’re in control of our love lives. Instead, it largely depends on where we live and our own desirability.
Researchers from the University of California, Davis, examined the characteristics of more than 1,000 current and former heterosexual couples, and unlike much existing research on relationships, the study looked at people’s relationships over time, rather than just one relationship, EurekAlert reported.
Depending on how checkered your own romantic past is, the findings may or may not surprise you. The study found that most people’s former partners have similar physical traits – even our casual flings.
This is because, the researchers noted, “during the partner-selection process, people may have difficulty differentiating between partners that prove to be casual and short-term versus committed and long-term.”
We’re also more likely to be romantically drawn to people of a similar level of attractiveness, intelligence, and those with similar religious beliefs and educational backgrounds. But this isn’t because we’re actively seeking out a romantic “type”. Rather, similar people end up together because attractive people generally seduce other attractive people.
Where we live is also hugely influential when we’re looking for a partner, as people who live close to one another often share educational or religious backgrounds. So, similarly educated or religious people tend to meet each other because of their proximity – not because educated or religious people actively seek each other out.
“The exes of a particular person tended to be very similar on variables like education, religiosity, and intelligence, but this type of similarity was entirely due to the school that people attended. Within their local school context, people were no more or less likely to select educated, intelligent, or religious partners,” lead author of the study Dr Paul Eastwick, associate professor of psychology, told EurekAlert.
"Do people have a type? Yes," said Eastwick. "But sometimes it reflects your personal desirability and sometimes it reflects where you live."