We Need to Change the Way We Talk About “Types”
Most people I know have a "type" that they're attracted to; some won't even consider dating outside of it. Blonde hair. Tall. "Fit." Brown eyes.
The dating apps enable this: most ask for at least some information about your physical appearance, whether you upload photos or not. You might think this makes sense, that it's "understandable" people would want, and even have a right, to know information about prospects' bodies, and that those who do not wish to share such information are untrustworthy or an automatic swipe left.
"You can't help who you're attracted to," the justification goes. And physical attraction, or "chemistry," is elevated as a valid need"in a relationship—meaning intense, physiological responses to another person (physical appearance included) are considered appropriate things to look for in potential dates, sometimes even to the point of their absence being a sign that a relationship would never work out.
Even as our culture is becoming more and more sensitive to ableist and other oppressive language, I still haven't heard "type" being commonly talked about as anything other than physical preferences. But physical preferences are far more conditioned and cultural than we like to talk about. They are thought to largely be based on childhood experiences—how your parents were physically and whether or not you bonded with them—and not as much about truly free preferences. For example, many of my male friends who had good relationships with their mothers will find themselves attracted to short women if their mother was short and tall women if their mother was tall.
Because "type" is based largely on culture and what one is exposed to, discussions about "type" are inherently ableist. Most people are not around people with physical disabilities regularly. This is because of how segregated our society is. Human beings naturally react to unfamiliar things with suspicion if not fear, and physical disability remains largely unfamiliar to many people because it is still separated from mainstream society.
Much of our environment continues to inaccessible to people with mobility and other physical differences. Events and social gatherings are still designed with only the able body in mind. Classes on disability are elective or optional. Getting accommodations in most sectors of employment are arduous. All of these forces combine to keep disabled people and non-disabled people separated and disability an unfamiliar phenomenon for most.
But even if disability wasn't so unfamiliar and mysterious to most people, the fixation on the physical body to the point where people are convinced that they "need" this or that physical trait in their partner is not healthy, and it's hurting all of us, disabled and able-bodied alike. All bodies change and all bodies die; no physical characteristic can sustain a relationship long-term. Instead, we need to focus on the personality, values, and character of potential dates.
Let's normalize talking about "types" in a way that doesn't focus on physical appearance and body type while excluding all else. I'll start. If I have a "type," it's someone who is authentic, treats me well and is emotionally mature. It's someone whose goals and values align with mine and who is committed to emotional, spiritual, and relational growth with me. It's someone who takes initiative to make their goals happen, chooses responsibility over victimhood and who takes the time to get to know who I really am before deciding whether they actually want to be with me.