Dealbreakers are one of the many mysteries of dating that are only understood by initiates. I didn’t really figure out this concept until I was about 30. I sat down and crunched some numbers and realized that, in my relationship history, I had been dumped about 97% of the time. Clearly, something was wrong on my end. It wasn’t something that prevented guys from going out with me – it had to be something I was doing after we got together. Maybe several somethings. Everything changed when I started putting more thought into what I wanted (rather than trying to be what someone else wanted), and asking more questions before I got involved with someone. A first date is an opportunity to interview someone just as much as it is an audition. It’s a way to figure out, as early as possible, whether there are any dealbreakers that should keep us from getting involved.
A dealbreaker is something that just won’t work for you. It doesn’t necessarily mean there is anything wrong with the person, just that there are factors about dating him or her that are incompatible with your world. One example would be whether someone is a smoker. For me, “non-smoker” means NEVER. Being around smoke gives me a nosebleed. But I don’t have to have a reason, just a preference. Whether anyone else thinks my preference is fair or rational or reasonable doesn’t matter. It’s up to me.
This can seem cold or cruel. Write someone off for something that may be a little trivial? What about compromise? What about getting to know someone? What about romance? What about love at first sight? Can you just vote someone off your island? I had a conversation about dealbreakers with a good friend who was unwilling to say that he would refuse a date with an 80-year-old woman. He was in his 20s. I told him, “It’s okay to say you won’t go out with someone who could be your great-grandmother! It doesn’t make you a bad person!” He did concede that he wouldn’t go out with an IV drug user or someone who slapped his kid. Most people would probably agree that those are dealbreakers that make sense.
Here are some examples of factors that may constitute a dealbreaker:
Verbally/physically threatening or abusive
Availability (married, separated, swinger, bi, polyamorous, celibate…?)
Has/wants/does not want children
Recreational substance use
Schedule (works nights/weekends, workaholic, student, different time zone)
Geography (long distance, commute, frequent travel)
Dog/cat/goat/parrot/reptile/horse/no pets person
Level of cleanliness
An easy shibboleth for me, when I was single, was to lead with my lifestyle. A guy would flirt with me and ask, “So, tell me about yourself.” I would coyly say, “Well, I’m a vegan…” and that was almost always the end of the conversation. My husband is an omnivore. We’ve never had a problem sharing meals together; in our relationship it’s like a 1 on scale of 1 to 10. If a guy couldn’t handle something that is such a routine element of my life, no way would he be able to handle me at full intensity. Another basically instantaneous eliminator of contestants is ladies’ body hair.
Once we pass 30, I think it’s a good idea to establish right away whether you plan to have kids, or more kids, and pass on anyone who doesn’t match. I have always been upfront about the fact that I can’t have children, and this sadly led to the breakup of a two-year relationship when the guy made up his mind. (Can’t fault him, though, because he did eventually start a family). A reasonable guideline is never to get involved with someone with whom you wouldn’t want to share custody.
A basic dealbreaker check on first meeting someone can save a lot of heartache – for all parties concerned. I used to have a bit of patter I called “the questionnaire.” I would offer to answer any question honestly if he would do the same for me. Guys would always laugh, because some of the questions were serious and some were surreal. “Are you now, or have you ever been married? Have you attended clown college? Do you own a gun? Creamy or crunchy peanut butter? Are you a registered sex offender? What is your name? What is your quest? What is your favorite color?” I would sometimes joke about being divorced. Ticking off on my fingers: “I’ll never get married again until I see a blood test, a criminal background check, a psychiatric assessment, and a credit report.” Within five minutes or so, we could size each other up, and quite a bit of my personality would be revealed. Always be yourself, because then you’ll only get people who really like you.
I’m a night owl married to an early bird. A vegan married to a meat-eater. A “bird person” married to a “dog person.” Our political leanings were wildly different. We’re seven years apart in age. On a dating website, we never would have found each other. In spite of these differences, we have a lot in common. We both have parents who are still on their first marriage. We were both in marching band. We both hate coffee, don’t drink alcohol, and don’t eat dairy products. We’re both “extroverted intuitive thinkers” on the Myers-Briggs chart. We have similar attitudes toward finances, travel, and housekeeping. We like the same types of restaurants, and our tastes in music and movies mostly overlap. It’s easy for us to make decisions together. We’re good influences on each other. We spend a lot of time talking, texting each other, and laughing like loons. We’re happy because we enjoy each other’s company, and we don’t have any of each other’s dealbreakers.
What everyone should be looking for in a relationship is someone who is emotionally available. That means someone who is single and ready for a relationship (not on the rebound, afraid of commitment, or hung up on “the one who got away.”) It should be someone who genuinely likes you and wants to spend time with you, and vice versa. It should feel like a natural fit. My husband and I got married basically because the phone reception was lousy after I moved, and it was interfering with our ability to talk to each other three hours a day. We always want to tell each other every little thing, and we have about a million inside jokes. A fun, friendly, comfortable relationship like ours is only possible when neither party has deep-seated issues with the other. It takes compatible value systems and the ability to be good roommates to each other. Loving one person for the long term means ruling out at least 7 billion other people. Dealbreakers are a good place to start.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.