Nowadays, there is much talk of “types” in dating. “He’s a nice guy, but he’s not my type.” “I don’t know a thing about her, but she is definitely my type”. Friends and family chime in as well because apparently they are in tune with your “type.” But what is a “type”?
I have come to believe that we use the word “type” as a replacement for a feeling that accompanies an attraction that really can’t be put into words. There are certain physical features, ways of dressing, how a person conducts themselves, personality qualities, or something else, that just always seems to get your attention and spark interest.
In my opinion, that’s not really “type.” That’s preference. We can’t really say “I prefer” one person over another, though. That would sound too snobbish. But we do have preferences, and that’s okay.
When it comes to “type,” there is something very different going on that I don’t think anyone likes to admit.
When it comes to dating, we believe and maintain that we are doing something exclusively in the “now.” Certainly, it’s a new person, it’s a new day, things are what they are right now. So yes, we shall see what happens as two people attempt to become a couple.
But in reality, this new person we’re dating is being viewed through a prism — the prism of our our past. In doing so, we evoke types, based on people in our past. From these past types, we create our present type, which influences our decisions with the person we’re dating.
That sounds kind of creepy. Nobody wants to think that any new person they’re with is some kind of placeholder of a previous person. No one wants to think the person they’re dating is looking at them as if they are someone else, or that they want them to actually be someone else. That’s not really it. It’s something far less obvious and calculating, promoted from a more subconscious reality.
One of the foremost past types in our lives is our father and mother. None of us can escape our parental influences. We lived with them through all the formative years. Their ways, their mannerisms, their vernacular, their interests, their behavior, have rubbed off on us. They raised us as they saw fit, and we learned from their example. They were the role models of our lives (whether parent, uncle or aunt, grandparent, step parent, etc.), and they have formed us in how we believe a male and a female adult should be.
Everyone’s prism is different. In fact, it’s absolutely unique to each individual, even those from the same household. Two siblings have just started dating new people in their lives. The siblings both find the person they’re dating is just like their mother. One sibling hated their mother, the other idolized her. The one who hated their mother finds the new dating relationship is not working out and soon breaks it off. The one who idolized their mother finds the new dating relationship is working out well and allows it to get more serious.
Both siblings had no idea they went into the new relationship looking through their prism. Like all of us, they went into it with a completely “now” approach. But the fact is, the past type of their mother played an influential role in the present type, and had the subsequential results.
Now consider this. The sibling who idolized their mother had a distorted sense of what was to be idolized. The idolizing was because she was the mother, but what was learned from the mother was dysfunctional. The new relationship is, in fact, not going well because it is dysfunctional. But the dysfunction is what is considered normal to that sibling because having someone like their mother is more important than what is objectively healthy in a relationship as a couple.
The sibling who broke off the new relationship because the new person was too much like the mother was a move toward breaking free from dysfunction.
How about those who had wonderful, truly ideal parents? A young adult girl begins to date and very much wants (and needs) to find someone like her father. She doesn’t know this consciously, but her prism is very specifically in search of this. Unfortunately, she cannot meet anyone exactly like her father. Her standards are so high, and finding a man with so much quality and virtue is so difficult and discouraging.
As the years go on, this girl becomes a bitter woman, more bitter with every passing year of experiencing men who are not like her father. Each new man gets less and less of a chance with her because their window of opportunity to prove themselves is shorter because she has become impatient and too assuming of the worst. Some good men actually come and go, all because she coupled her high standards of a past type with her disappointing experiences and time-frame for finding such a man.
We can’t help the prism we have. It’s there. It has to be accepted. However, like all prisms, they can present a different light if you look through it on a different angle. Our prisms might very well be an indicator of how we have been fashioned to be attracted to a certain type, but it does not mean we have no say in the matter or are predetermined to be stuck with that certain type. No! We have a choice.
This is precisely why the Catholic Church puts so much emphasis in marriage preparation (and in the annulment process) on the upbringing of individuals. How we grew up matters. It’s why a therapist or counselor often attempt to help you make connections with your past, specifically your parents. It’s not to make you feel like you’re crazy or get you to admit you hate your parents. And it’s not so you’ll realize that you’re not fit for marriage and no one will ever want you.
On the contrary, it’s meant to prompt awareness. Awareness of who you are based on your past, why you do the things you do, what your triggers from the past are while you are in the “now” with the person you’re dating. All kinds of things to be aware of regarding your prism in order to help you see through it in a different direction, and so it can cast a different light on the now.
Knowing and embracing our past is all part of embracing who we are. Our prism is a phenomenal and beautiful mechanism that shapes our adult life and future. Understanding it and how to use it can make all the difference between healthy and dysfunctional relationships.
So the next time you are interested in discussing your “type” in dating, consider the prism through which you can know your true type, and through which you can discover who to enjoy the type of person you’re with in the “now”.