What’s In A Preference?

My thesis statement on dating preferences is, “The heart wants what it wants.” As I talk about dating preferences, I will try to make the case that dating preferences are personal and not something that a person should make broad “I do this,” or “I don’t do that,” statements about.

What are dating preferences? Broadly speaking, we could define them as the particular attributes that people desire in potential romantic or sexual partners. Ok, but what are they really? Orientations is one way to generally categorize. For simplicity let’s start with the two classics, heterosexual and homosexual. If we want to look more closely at either one, we realize that the identity of the person in question matters. If you’re a male heterosexual, you’re attracted to women, and so on. Also, when it comes to dating, you’d like someone who is also attracted to you. So now, as a hetero male, you should consider only hetero females as potential dating partners. Further, there are more than two genders, so to fully describe what’s going on, we need more orientations. Bisexual is also a thing, I didn’t mention it earlier b/c it doesn’t depend on the person in question’s sex/gender. Pansexual is a label that takes into consideration the full spectrum of gender, though bisexual is acceptable and not thought of as being an endorsement of a gender binary. There are also orientations that aren’t exclusively about sex/gender at all; sapiosexuals get a brain boner, demisexuals can’t get it up unless they get emotionally invested, and so on. These alternate orientations can take place alongside the basic ones, for example a female hetero sapiosexual is attracted to smart men, supposedly. Some people don’t like the idea of these alternate orientations, saying that you shouldn’t get a whole other orientation just b/c of a particular trait that you like. I’m not doing this to try to name and describe all the different orientations, gender identities, etc., what I’m getting at is, what’s the common factor? What is going on under the hood, regarding dating preferences?

Let’s focus on one group, cisgender heterosexual males. Cisgender means you identify as the gender you were assigned at birth. Have you ever been in a room full of cisgender heterosexual males and listened to them talk about what they find attractive in women? It can be a lot of different stuff. I read a book called A Billion Wicked Thoughts, written by some computer nerds that looked at Google’s data and figured out some really cool observations about people and the things that turn us on. Sometimes a man might say he’s attracted to one thing but end up falling in love with a person that has the opposite trait; I don’t mean settling, I mean giant, heart shaped heart thumping out of your chest, “Lady,” by Styx starts playing when you see her, you transform into a wolf and let out a big howl, LOVE man! It could be Lust, but that also speaks to dating preference, as dating preferences imply fucking preferences and vice versa. The point to this is, we can be surprised by our own tastes as they are revealed. We have a lot of ideas about why certain things are attractive but they don’t always hold. The things people are attracted to are deeply personal, it would seem.

When people talk about dating preferences, we can’t think that they are hard and fast rules that they must always live by. As we saw above, it’s possible for Cupid’s arrow to blindside you. When people talk about dating preferences, we could see these as search parameters. When you sign up for online dating, they work from the general to the more specific. You start with “I’m a man seeking a woman,” and from there they get more detailed. The search parameters are a starting point, you can always refine the search as you learn more about yourself and the world.

I think, underneath everything, anybody could find themselves smitten with anybody under the right circumstances. Therefore all this talk of labels is, in a certain way, attempting to write something in jello. It’s like that ancient greek philosopher saying, you can’t put your foot in the same river twice, b/c when you take your foot out, the river changes and it keeps changing. A lot of people want to get hung up on labels and man I’m just not with that scene.

I said all that to address this particular bit of dating preference-talk: when someone says, “I don’t date x,” where x is some kind of demographic. I want to stay focused on the internal experience of the person. When people make these statements, there could be many social reasons as to why they aren’t speaking truly. People say all kinds of bullshit to be coy or to hide their true intentions, because socializing is part of the mating process. If you’re more concerned about the social value of these kinds of statements, whether they’re problematic, sorry, I didn’t think of the speaking of dating preferences, only the having of dating preferences. For the record, I don’t like people saying these kinds of things, but also, whatever, people are gonna do what they’re gonna do.

In general, when people talk about themselves that way, saying I do this or I don’t do that, I feel like it would be more accurate in many cases to say “I have done this every time before, therefore I will most likely do this” or “I have not done that in any of my previous experience, so it’s not likely that I will do that” but of course people say I do this, I don’t do that b/c it’s shorter and exceptions are understood. So, instead of, “I don’t date trans women,” someone could say, “I have not dated a trans woman before, therefore it’s not likely that I will.”

In conclusion, I think I’ve shown that the common factor of our dating preferences are personal to the point where we may be surprised by our own desires; and that when people self-report their preferences, they may be deceptive or inaccurate. The heart wants what it wants.

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