For all its prevalence in conversation and modern culture, really defining “type” is harder than you might think. While a 2019 study suggests we do indeed have go-to preferences for physical and demographic characteristics, another from the same year has a more radical conclusion:

If you’re not sure what your type is, just look in the mirror.

Researchers used the longitudinal German Family Panel study to see where 12,000 participants fitted with the Big Five personality trait: extroversion, neuroticism, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and openness to experience. Over nine years they tracked participants’ relationship statuses—and, thousands of questionnaires later, found that a participant’s current partner would describe their personality in a similar way to the participant’s former partner. This suggests people do indeed have a type—even while many of us may believe our personalities change too much over time for that to be possible.

The researchers found that the personalities of a participant’s partners over time weren’t just similar to each other’s, but also to that of the participant themselves. So your type is potentially a lot closer to your identity than you might like to admit.

And you know what? That makes a whole lot of sense when you break it down.

Seeking out a little of ourselves in a partner explains why our personalities tend to be relatively stable when interacting with our nearest and dearest. It’s a lot easier to seek relationships that let us hold on to our preconceived notions of what we’re like as individuals—unless you’re an extrovert specifically seeking new experiences. Then you’re less likely to choose a partner with a personality similar both to yours and to your exes’. So while we may believe our relationships entrench in us our perception of “who we are,” if we’re willing to “try something new” we may just discover a different way of looking at the world—perhaps even one that works better for us than what we were doing before. And it can all start by trusting in a partner markedly different from what we’re used to.

Interestingly, this research could also hold implications for online dating. While previous research struggled to predict romantic desire from personality traits and preferences, this 2019 German study suggests that, just as music streaming services utilise our existing library to make personalised recommendations, so dating apps could leverage our relationship history to refine our search for a partner.

That being said, of course, most of us have been in relationships where we were just “too similar.” If you haven’t experienced that then it may be surprising to hear that two partners’ personalities can actually be too closely aligned—but actually this can make partners feel unable to grow and develop. (As someone who’s been there myself, I can absolutely vouch for this. For me it was like we just ended up “enabling” one another’s bad habits and not challenging each other to best the version of ourselves—because we were “too comfortable.”)

Moreover, if a new partner displays similar traits or behaviors to an ex (especially an ex with whom the breakup was acrimonious), a personality reminiscent of an old flame’s can stir up anxiety and hopelessness. But then it’s totally unique to each couple, because of course some degree of similarity to an ex can make it easier for us to engage with, understand, and bond with a new partner.

Research like this tells us many things about why we love (or lust after) who we do—but there’s much to learn, and studies can’t tell us everything. The minutiae of romance are endlessly granular and especial to us and no one else. And if you need a helping hand finding a soulmate of your own, we can help.

Maclynn is a boutique, multi-award-winning introductions agency with offices in London, New York, New Jersey, and California. We’re world-renowned for bringing together highly compatible singles within our vast network of attractive, intelligent professionals, and our matchmakers are relationship experts in their own right. Get in touch today, and prepare for genuinely meaningful dating—just like you deserve.