I’ve never quite understood the idea of having a “type” when it comes to dating. Favorite ice cream flavor? Sure. Favorite type of guy? Not so much. Perhaps this is because I’ve gone out and hooked up with a lot of different kinds of men, and I’ve found myself equally attracted to guys of varying ages, races, heights, and builds.
It’s puzzling to me, then, why I’ve encountered so many people who stick to a preferred physical type. I’m not talking about broad categories as much as I am about specific traits, such as hair and eye color or, more to the point, race. On the dating site OkCupid, for example, users can search for potential matches by filtering the database with specific criteria, including ethnicity.
I’m not even going to get into whether dating someone based solely on looks is a good or bad thing (because that would constitute a whole column of its own), but I have friends who exclusively date a particular type, be it black men, Asian women, or the ever-popular Abercrombie model. Some say, “But I’m just not attracted to Asian/Black/White guys.” Others claim they’ve never met a person they wanted to date outside their race. Unfortunately, if variety is the spice of life, then there are a lot of people out there dating the same bland types over and over again.
Some of them are self-aware enough to recognize where their preferences come from, but most are not. However, claiming that you “just happen” to prefer the blonde-haired, blue-eyed type (or whatever yours may be) ignores the biases we’ve each inevitably formed as a result of living in a society that promotes very specific beauty ideals. What many deem a “preference” is informed by their exposure to stereotypes, such as those depicted in television and movies. (The hypersexualization of black males and Asian females, the emasculation of Asian males, and the masculinization of black females are just a few examples.) Incredibly divergent interracial marriage rates are also a testament to the fact that physical preferences are really stratified by race.
Of course, it’s not easy to undo a couple decades’ worth of societal brainwashing overnight. But dating someone a tad darker or lighter than your usual fare isn’t going to kill you or your sex life. This also isn’t to say that we should reject preferences altogether. When it comes to personality or personal beliefs, preferences make sense to some extent. A relationship is probably not meant to last between two people with vastly different views on politics, money, or hygiene. But preferring to date people with particular political, financial, or hygienic attitudes is different from preferring to date people with certain physical attributes. The former is about compatibility; the latter has nothing to do with it.
Perhaps it’s telling that although OkCupid allows you to search for users of specific ethnicities, they also offer users the option of identifying themselves as “Human (Other)”. At least some of us out there would rather be pursued because of our more substantive qualities.