If the protagonist of a love story wants a certain type of person at the start of the story, their final True Love will be very different. The guy who prefers the Proper Lady will end up with the Tsundere, the girl who only gets turned on by "bad boys" will end up with a nice guy.
Generally, this is shown in terms of "you don't know what you're looking for until you find it", and, on a more pragmatic level, makes for a better story under the Rule of Drama. Would you really want to watch two hours of "person dates a bunch of similar people until they find the one that suits them best"? Or worse, a nice couple who hit it off immediately and hook up without any problems.
One explanation for this is namely in exploring differences between what one desires in a partner and perhaps what one needs in a partner (namely, that what they could want may not necessarily be what they need in a partner so they could have a long-lasting relationship.) Another could be circumstances; the two would typically not be seen together, but have been through so much together than the bonds allow them to see them different than if they were strangers.
One of the most popular variants is the Troubled, but Cute guy who only dates so-called "easy" girls until he finds true love with the Girl Next Door — falling into the old (sexist) adage that "there are girls you sleep with and girls you marry," a popular mantra for parents who didn't mind their son "sowing his wild oats", but didn't want a girl who was less than virginal marrying into the family. (The same is, of course, true of women who are presented as making a distinction between "men they sleep with" and "men they marry", although in accord with the Double Standard, it's less likely to be brought up as an issue).
The female protagonist often travels along a different arc: they will fall for someone she'd usually consider unsuitable or downright dangerous after a string of more sensible partners. Usually, it comes across as "even if a woman decides to date men who can at least spell "morality," they will still get ditched as she falls for the Bad Boy anyway."
Most audiences aren't interested in love-as-political-point-scoring and will treat the work as a love story.
Occasionally, the True Love will differ even from the preferred gender, with accompanying If It's You, It's Okay. The double-whammy is popular in tales of Yaoi Guys, where not only is one character the "wrong" gender for his partner, but the "wrong" personality type as well.
- In From Eroica with Love, Dorian's preference (if you ignore his love life's status as an urban legend) is for submissive, artistic, fey(-er than himself) pretty boys. The unrequited love of his life is Klaus - who is macho, domineering, artistically insensitive, and has a volcanic temper to boot.
- At the start of Future Lovers, Kento dreams of marrying a sweet and responsible homemaker and having a family. He's forced to seriously revise that dream when he finds himself falling in love with Akira, who is as far from the ideal housewife as you can get, gender included.
- Gravitation's Eiri Yuki had a track record that consisted of "girls who won't mind if I forget about them post-sex, but who are happy to get an encore should I deign to call them." He ends up with clingy, demanding, (and male) Shuichi.
- Sumire from Kimi wa Petto has it in mind to date a man with her "Three Highs" - taller than her, more educated than her, and earns more than her because she's learned from experience that No Guy Wants an Amazon. Naturally, she falls in love with Takeshi, a short and out-of-work modern dance student.
- In Lovely Complex, Risa, who's unusually tall for a girl, wants a boyfriend who's taller than her. Otani, who's unusually short for a boy, wants a cute girlfriend who's shorter than him. Take a wild guess as to whom each one hooks up with in the end. Admittedly, they have a lot in common aside from the height difference, but it takes quite a while for them to get over that mental hurdle.
- In Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic Sharrkan's type of woman is the loose, easy kind that a man can have a quick score with. In other words, call girls and the like. However, he fell in love with Yamraiha, a woman who takes relationships very seriously and who is probably the farthest thing from "easy."
- Rei in MARS dates any girl willing to sleep with him, most of them shown as brash, shallow and self-obsessed, until he meets painfully introverted and artistic Kira, who has some serious issues regarding sex and is the first girl not to immediately make for the bedroom.
- In Sasameki Koto, Ushio makes it very clear that she only cares for extremely cute girls—much to the lament of her best friend, Sumika, who does not consider herself cute in the least, being a rather tall karate prodigy. Things become rather ... complicated, once Ushio realizes she has developed feelings for Sumika after all.
- Wotakoi: Love is Hard for Otaku — everyone in the alpha (Narumi/Hirotaka) and beta (Hanako/Tarou) couples have described types (which the other person in the other couple ironically fit), but are steadily dating people who don't fit these archetypes.
- Narumi likes scary, tough-looking guys like Tarou, but is with the stoic and caring Hirotaka.
- Hirotaka likes busty, mature women like Hanako, but has been carrying a torch for the petite and cheery Narumi.
- Hanako likes Prince Charming-type men and considers Hirotaka a good catch, but is with Tarou, who is rough around the edges and hot-tempered.
- Tarou likes sweet, cute girls like Narumi (and actually does tend to find Narumi adorable in internal dialogue), but is with the belligerent and serious Hanako.
- Heather Douglas, Marvel's telepathic Moondragon has one of the more convoluted stories, starting off as a manipulator who would sometimes use sex as a weapon and always was involved with males. Then to her own surprise she fell in love with Rick Jones's wife Marlo Chandler, but that did not work out. Marlo eventually returned to Rick, and to ensure her future happiness, Heather "confessed" that she thought she had subconsciously made Marlo fall in love with her in the first place. Phyla-Vell, the cosmically aware daughter of Captain Marvel (the first one, with Phyla herself being the fourth), was so moved by that self-denying lie that she fell in love with Heather, who thus unexpectedly found her true love after all.
- One also could put Spider-Man and Mary Jane Watson in this category, especially as MJ in her original form was not even intended to be a serious love interest by the creators. Here it took the tragic death of Gwen Stacy, which also affected Mary Jane deeply, and a few other twists and turns until the two realized how well they fit together and could finally tie the knot.
- One Astro City comic focuses on a man haunted by dreams about a strange woman, later revealed to be his wife who was retconned out of reality as a casuality from a villain's attempt to Ret-Gone superheroes. One thing that confuses him about his "dream girl" is that she really isn't what he would normally think of as his type; one of his friends notes the same thing about his own wife.
- The Child of Love: In chapter 1 Shinji thinks it is curious he -an introvert- is more drawn to a girl as hot-heated as Asuka rather someone more tranquil like Rei.
- Evangelion 303: In chapter 3 Asuka tells to Shinji that she will be keeping an eye on him, and Shinji wonders why can't a normal, well-adjusted girl say that to him. In chapter 5 Asuka screams that Shinji is not her boyfriend, and her ideal boyfriend is completely different from Shinji: her ideal man is manly, confident, beefy, always acts carefully and thinks with lightning speed. Shinji and Asuka got together at the end of that episode and got engaged in chapter 13.
- In Shatterheart R!Syaoran believed that he would always love sweet Sakura, only to fall in love and eventually get engaged with with Kurogane who is a Jerk with a Heart of Gold .
- In Those Gilded Chains We Wear Hermione, who prefers kind and caring men, gradually falls for Bellatrix, who is anything but.
- In At Gates Edge Roy Mustang is a consummate Casanova whose type tends to be men and women that he can easily charm without effort and immediately sleep with him. He falls hard for Edward who is a stubborn, hard-to-impress Tsundere who takes commitment very seriously, but is physically incapable of touching due to being a ghost.
- In the first chapter of Advice and Trust, Asuka stated that she wasn't supposed to fall for a meek, insecure boy like Shinji:
"I don't know! I just keep thinking about it! I'm not supposed to be attracted to boys like you! I'm supposed to want a real man like Kaji! I'm not supposed to be wondering what it would feel like to kiss you, to have your arms around me! It's not supposed to feel this good to do it! It's not supposed to feel so good to be lying here with you! I shouldn't want this to never end..." Her outburst ran down into confusion. "Why is it you?"
- Rules: Light Yagami, with his looks and charm, could literally have any girl he would want. He's dated several over the years, and no matter what their status in life, they fawned over him and would do anything for him, including giving up their hopes and dreams to become the perfect, obedient Japanese housewife. Then comes Charlie. American, foul-mouthed, independent Charlie, who hated him at first. She fought with him, infuriated him more than anyone else besides Elijah/L. She was unlike any girl he had ever met. It wasn't hard to see that she would be the one he would fall for in the end.
- In the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014) series "2nd Time Around", April finds herself musing that Donatello was always the turtle she sought out when she was a child in her father's lab, hinting at their deeper connection even before the mutagen gave him sentience, leading to him becoming her secret partner in her new private investigator business and the two eventually becoming lovers.
- In the Buffy the Vampire Slayer/Heroes crossover series Interventions, Spike forms a strong bond with Nikki/Jessica as he represents an unconventional blend of what each of her personalities want in a man after D.K.'s death, with Nikki needing a good father figure for Micah while Jessica prefers the 'bad boys'.
- In A Monsters Nature, this applies to both Caitlyn and Brandon, as Caitlyn can't ignore her feelings for Brandon even as she wishes he wouldn't kill people and Brandon makes it clear more than once (in his own unconventional way) that he genuinely loves Caitlyn despite his regularly-expressed belief in his own superiority over the rest of the human race.
- Shrek: Princess Fiona dreamt having a typical storybook ending with her Prince Charming, who would slay the dragon and climbed to the highest room in the tallest tower and break the curse that turned her into an ogre at night. She ends up falling in love with Shrek, an ogre who is a far cry from Prince Charming, and when the curse breaks she ends up becoming an ogre permanently (which doesn't really bother her since her mannerisms were ogre-like in both of her forms). In the sequel, when Shrek offers her the chance to live their Happily Ever After in beautiful human forms, can you guess what Fiona's response is?
Fiona: I want what any princess wants, to live happily ever after...with the ogre I married.
- In Tremors Val has a precise checklist for women he dates; "long blonde hair, big green eyes, world class breasts, ass that won't quit and legs that go all the way up!" (Unspoken is the fact they have three names and the intellects of cheese spread.) He ends up falling in love with Rhonda, a brunette with blue eyes who is rather short and Hollywood Homely. (But at least she has brains!)
- Danny Zuko in Grease prefers "girls who put out," only to fall for sweet and naive Sandy (at least, she is until the end of the film, making this a possible subversion where the True Love changes in order to conform to their partner's "type").
- This is the entire plot, albeit forced on the main character, of Shallow Hal.
- This appears to be set up for Confessions of Georgia Nicolson — despite Georgia's claims that only "Sex Gods" need apply to be her boyfriend, her closest and most constant relationship is with Dave "The Laugh." While he's not as attractive as Georgia prefers, and lacks the status symbols of both Robbie and Masimo (a car/scooter, sings in a band, older than Georgia), she can't stop thinking about him (often remarking mid-monologue "How did Dave The Laugh get in there?") and shows surprising maturity in her reactions to him; Georgia can be ludicrously insensitive to most people, but she genuinely fears hurting or offending Dave in any way, not out of pride for herself but out of an honest regard for his feelings.
- In the Spy High books by A.J. Butcher, super-wealthy Jerk Jock Ben has only ever dated girls equally as privileged and physically gorgeous as him (which in the first series brings him together with Lori), but ultimately falls in love with Cally, who although kind and loving is a wrong-side-of-the-tracks former delinquent and grew up in comparative poverty.
- In Anne of Green Gables, Anne Shirley had always insisted that she would only marry a man who fit her ideal. Tall, dark, handsome were non-negotiable requirements. Preferably one who owned a castle somewhere, like Spain. In the end, she winds up with Gilbert Blythe. She had rejected him many times for not fitting her ideal. (Granted, Gilbert is tall, dark, and the handsomest guy in her hometown — but he trained as a doctor, he was too much of a Boy Next Door, and she didn't want to ruin their friendship.) note
- In L. M. Montgomery's The Blue Castle, Valancy's cousin Olive, after her fiancé dies, proceeds to have a romance with a town bad boy, until her family's disapproval leads to her dutifully giving him up (with non-family gossips saying he was starting to cool on her), and finding a more suitable Second Love.
- In Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility, Marianne wants to find a man who is as demonstrably passionate about life as she herself is. She finds it in Willoughby, but when he turns out to be a callous rake who seduced and abandoned a young woman, leaving her pregnant and dissolute, and then abandons her in favor of marriage to a rich woman, she instead finds her happiness with the older Colonel Brandon - a quiet, serious, well-mannered man who is much less outspoken about his feelings.
- I Am Not a Serial Killer has another example that's less "not their usual type" and more "wait, they're actually into someone?" John is shocked and confused by his genuine interest in and affection for Marci-because he's a diagnosed sociopath. As he well knows, rules are meant to be broken. He also inverts the "girls you sleep with and girls you marry" variant-Brooke, ends up being a shallow infatuation, and Marci is maybe the only person in the world he really loves.
- Tends to happen a lot in Piers Anthony's Xanth series. The protagonist goes on an adventure to gain something (sometime, specifically, true love), but at the end of the story Character Development has set in and they're no longer interested in what they looked for, and has likely fallen for a companion in the meantime. In "Ogre, Ogre", Smash Ogre seeks help to rid himself of the Eye Queue Vine (which makes him un-ogrishly smart and thus an outcast among his kind, and undesired by female ogres) and in return having to escort the girl Tandy. In the end, he discovers that he always was intelligent, and having spent time with Tandy, he now finds other ogres boorish and unpleasant, including the females; he'd much rather be with Tandy. Similarly, in "Faun & Games" Forrest wants to find another faun, but when he does so (after lengthy, character-building adventures) he finds her shallow and uninteresting, even though she acts pretty much the way he did at the story's beginning. Fortunately, his companion Mare Imbri rejoins him in the end.
- In Polgara the Sorceress, Polgara has had genuine romantic feelings for two men in her past (and loved one of them) — Kamion, the first Rivan Warder, and Ontrose, a Wacite Arendish knight. Both were urbane, polished, cultured, well-spoken, courtly, and definitely noble. Though Ontrose in particular became something of a Lost Lenore to her, the man she ultimately married, thousands of years later, is... a plain-spoken, straightforward, unpolished, honest, hardworking blacksmith with no aristocratic connections whatsoever named Durnik.
- The truth of this trope depends where you stand in the Shipping Wars, but all of Angel's romantic interests were petite blondes (Buffy, Darla, Kate, Nina) with the exception of voluptuous brunette Cordelia. Who, for at least part of the time he was interested in her, had dyed her hair blonde. Dude has a type.
- Make them tough and confident too and you have a winner. Also don't forget some of Angelus/Angel's MALE lovers e.g. Spike, who is also (comparatively) small and blond.
- Lampshaded in the episode "Carpe Noctem" where an old man switches bodies with Angel, and is seen having sex on Wesley's desk. Cordelia isn't suspicious, saying that going at it with "some cheap blonde" is just the sort of thing Angel would do. However, when Fred mentions she was "some cheap brunette" the gang realizes there must be something wrong with Angel, and springs to action.
- Mulder's minor love interests in The X-Files tended to be tall, leggy, and blonde or brunette. In the end, he winds up with Scully, a petite redhead.
- Charlotte on Sex and the City spent the first seasons looking for her prince charming and eventually found Trey, who was everything she ever dreamed of, and married him. When she and Trey were divorcing she chose her divorce attorney, Harry, specifically because he was everything she didn't want in a man, and therefore she felt free to be as aggressive as possible during the divorce. Harry turned out to be her true love.
- Blair on Gossip Girl veers back and forth between jerkasses (Carter, Jack) and (apparently) sweet guys (Nate, Lord Marcus, Louis). Both types treat her like crap. However, resident jerkass Chuck is the only one who she's interested in for longer than a night.
- The insecure Chandler was terrified of commitment and went through Minor Flaw Major Break Up with his few relationships. Then he fell in love with his best friend Monica, and not only accepted her 'high maintenance' faults but felt good about dealing with them. With her help he forged through his own issues and proved to be an unbelievably sweet boyfriend and later husband.
- Monica previously stated she preferred 'mature' and sophisticated guys, but appreciated how Chandler's humour relaxed her. It's especially noticeable when her ex-boyfriend Richard appears and, despite him being her previous ideal man, she still picks Chandler. The pair established the happiest relationship on the whole show.
- Parks and Recreation: Before meeting the short, blonde Leslie, Ben apparently had a type:
Chris Traeger: You always like tall brunettes.
Ben Wyatt: Not exclusively.
Chris Traeger: Historically, yes, exclusively.
- On The Big Bang Theory Penny always dated the dimwitted Jerk Jock type. Her on-again off-again relationship with Leonard made her realize what she really wanted was a Nice Guy who challenged her intellectually (in other words, Leonard).
- In one of her "off again" phases, we got to see her current boyfriend. Who was dumb as a post and pretty self-absorbed. He was friendly enough ... he just didn't put a lot of thought into preserving other peoples' feelings. Which basically made him Sheldon without the high IQ.