Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Why Deal Breaker and Must Have Lists Aren't That Helpful for Daters

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A lot folks, when asked about their ideal mate, have a list of particular physical characteristics, set of basic qualities like having a sense of humor or being intelligent, and perhaps something about the person's career or level of income. In addition, many people will have another list (either revealed or in the back of their mind) of similar kinds of deal-breakers. The "I don't want no liars, cheaters, drug users, players, living in mama's basement and smoking pot" type lists.

Now, there's nothing really wrong with these lists per se. But do they really do much in terms of helping us find a quality partner?

When I was doing online dating, I found most of these kind of lists rather useless. A few things, like a check in favor of drug use or smoking, were helpful in weeding people out. However, with qualities like honesty, intelligence, humor, and the like, only time spent with someone can really flush them out.

The modern dating world makes us prone to doing the one or both of the following:

1. Rushing to judgment, usually based on a very limited sample of facts. (One or two dates.)

2. Zeroing in on a single area of a person's life, and failing to take in the whole person.

While there's a lot of good advice these days around rejecting "instant chemistry," the way I see it, many of us replace the search for instant chemistry with the search for someone with "financial stability," "good humor," or "wicked smartness." Others simply expand the criteria to include several "must have" qualities, while failing to realize or remember that great relationships are much more than the sum of some list. Or set of lists.

In addition, a lot of us make the mistake of thinking what we WANT is the same as what we NEED. Or that what we want in our lives will always be the same.

Many of the qualities I want in a partner today would not have been on my list 10 years ago. I can imagine the same is true for many of you reading out there.

At the end of the day, any list can only be a base level guideline. It can't save you from heartache, nor can it really help you reflect deeply enough about someone you're dating, and whether or not they could be a good match.


  1. One problem that I found with giving a person the benefit of the doubt, and taking time and effort to get to know them better before deciding whether to commit or not, is that if, at the end, based on all the learnings you've had about the person over 5-6 dates, you decide you don't want to commit, that person gets MAD. They think you've wasted their time, taken them for a ride, that you should've rejected them after date 1 instead of date 5, and they are NOT HAPPY! If you're a woman, and the person who's NOT HAPPY with you is a guy twice your size, that can be pretty scary. So with that in mind, I understand people who use lists and checks to turn a candidate down early on if he doesn't check off some of the items on their list. I still think this is silly behavior, but at least I understand where it is coming from - they want to ensure their personal safety by letting a candidate go sooner rather than later. I honestly do not know of any other way to approach this situation, other than crossing your fingers, taking your chances, and carrying pepper spray on the nights when you have to give a guy "the talk".

    Another thing, of course, is that some things really are legitimate deal-breakers, like an extensive police record for domestic violence maybe? I would take that as a sign to move on.

    I have pretty much narrowed my list down to three things though: personal compatibility, intellectual compatibility, physical compatibility. In that order. If we don't get each other on a personal level, nothing happens between us. Otherwise we look into things we both like to do, experience, discuss, think about etc and see if there's any overlap. If there's none, we move on. Otherwise, we make out and see how it feels... etc. This strategy is definitely a work in progress, as I am still learning the dating game, like most of us. I actually borrowed it, at least in part, from Helen, who used to comment on EMK's blog. Helen said it several times that she considers personal compatibility to be the only item on her list (or something like that) - if a couple has it, they will do great; if they don't have it, they won't work out as a couple. So far, my experience supports what she said.

  2. "They think you've wasted their time, taken them for a ride, that you should've rejected them after date 1 instead of date 5, and they are NOT HAPPY! If you're a woman, and the person who's NOT HAPPY with you is a guy twice your size, that can be pretty scary." I think a lot of people don't understand what dating is about. Because if they did, they would recognize that the whole point of the first few months is to figure out if you're compatible enough to move on to a more committed stage, however that might look like.

    But anyway, I hear you about dealing with possible anger. Seems to me there are different ways to deal with this, and not put yourself in harms way.

    1. Picking a public meeting place and making sure you have easy access to get home transportation (or a ready ride from a friend if needed.)

    2. Meeting during the day on the weekend to end it.

    3. Opting for a place or activity free of alcohol.

    4. If you're really concerned, perhaps the best route might be to end it via phone call or e-mail.

    I totally agree that there are some basic deal breakers, like heavy drug/alcohol use, history of violence, etc. The majority of folks with these issues can't hide them (completely) for very long. Some of the signs on this list, like rapid mood swings and frequently putting people down, are commonly displayed on first or second dates. One way to help prevent getting to date 5 with a potentially violent man is to pay more attention to these flags when they appear, and be on the lookout for patterns.

    So, it's not that lists are bad per se, it's that if you're going to have lists going into a dating situation, you want ones that will actually serve you. I think paying attention to patterns is more useful than a list of general traits or characteristics.

    And noticing patterns can go both ways. You can be on the lookout for a date who repeatedly shows openness to new ideas, handles disagreements in a respectful manner, demonstrates curiosity in what you're interested in, treats others (like waitstaff at a restaurant) with kindness or care, etc.

    The thing about seeking someone who is funny or intelligent or similar traits is that there are plenty of folks who fit the bill who also are angry, violent, or otherwise lousy partner material.

    I like Helen's short list. It seems to me, though, that the personal compatibility piece requires some flushing out. And will change as you move through different stages of a relationship. I've had several short term relationships (under 6 months) where we had physical and intellectual compatibility from the start, but that third piece didn't hold up. After awhile, for example, it wasn't enough that the other person was kind, respectful, caring, flexible, etc. That's first tier, still getting to know each other compatibility. But after awhile together, they get replaced (or should get replaced) by something else. Like noticing if the other person really supports you to be your best, and to grow as a person. Or noticing that the other person is regularly forgiving of mistakes and generally embraces you as a whole person, flaws and all. Or that the other person's life direction or goals are at least somewhat similar to yours.

    In those shorter term relationships I've had, there tended to be a lack of these second patterns - often on both sides. We got along well enough, but didn't really mesh at a level where we helped each other grow, brought out the best in each other most of the time, and/or shared enough core values.

    Anyway, this is almost another post, isn't it? :) I'll leave it at that for now.

    1. Wow! It is another post! And a good one :) Thank you!

  3. Several years ago I read an article where the author suggested throwing out all lists. She stated there was only one thing one needed : a person who made them feel good. When they were around, and also when they were not.

    I sat with this for a some time and it made a lot of sense. It covers must-have, dealbreakers, and wish lists - or makes them irrelevant. If you feel good with someone their height, income, professional title aren't going to matter to you. If you abhor smoking or flares of temper, you aren't going to feel good with someone who smokes or flies off the handle easily. If you feel good with someone even when they are not around you are not going to spend anxious hours analyzing everything they said and did the last time you saw them. You are also not worrying about how they feel about YOU and if/when you will see them again.

    I was also a big fan of Helen's and still miss her. What she wrote about personality compatibility trumping everything else has influenced me as well. I often think of it as personality chemistry - that hard to define something that you feel towards some people and not others. For me, personality chemistry has often overriden or supplanted the initial feeling of low sexual chemistry. The more I got to know someone, the more we hit it off, the more attractive they became in my eyes. Sometimes to my surprise!

    Goldie, I've read comments from both men and women who seem to believe if someone isn't into them they should know it by the end of the first date. These same folks what others to "give them a chance" though, so how they reconcile the two ideas I don't know. If I hadn't bothered to give some of the guys I went out with more than one date, I wouldn't have given personality chemistry a chance to develop. And I would have missed out on falling in love as it turned out.

    On Moxie's blog either she or one of her commenters once wrote:" We want the right to reject anyone for any reason, but we don't want anyone to reject US for any reason." I think that sums it up regarding those folks who think they are owed a relationship if someone goes out with them more than once or twice.

    I haven't had the experience of breaking off a dating situation with someone and fearing a nasty reprisal. I'm not convinced someone one went out with 5-6 times is "owed" a face to face breakup. A phone call would seem less awkward for both parties. Email seems a bit cold, but if it's gentle, yet firm...might be an option when dealing with a hot head.

    I need to check your blog more often Nathan, you've been writing some good stuff. :)

  4. Hi Selena,

    " For me, personality chemistry has often overriden or supplanted the initial feeling of low sexual chemistry. The more I got to know someone, the more we hit it off, the more attractive they became in my eyes. Sometimes to my surprise!"

    Yes! This is a big key people need to figure out. Which is why I think digging into personal chemistry and trying to come up with some foot posts or direction markers is helpful.

    And Moxie's line is very true. The couple of times I have dated women who acted like I owed them something after a handful of dates at most, no matter how careful I was in trying to break things off, they didn't really handle it well. You do your best, but how they react is their responsibility.

    1. Hi Nathan.

      I read the post you wrote last month and just wanted to say I'm happy you found someone who makes you happy. You are one of the good guys Nathan and reading that was a pleasure to see. :)

    2. I second that! :)

  5. Thank you Selena. Much appreciated!

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