- A potential partner’s negative rather than positive traits have a greater impact on people’s impressions.
- Potential unambitious, hostile, filthy, arrogant, unattractive, clingy, or abusive partners tend to be rejected instantly.
- People with high sociosexual orientation, who are more focused on sex than love or commitment, are less impacted by a partner’s negative traits.
What are you looking for in a romantic partner? This simple question seems to pop up frequently on first dates and in the “About Me” section of online dating profiles. Yet, for such a simple question, your dating success may depend on how you answer.
Some people are so focused on finding someone who possesses all of the characteristics they deem essential for a relationship that they seemingly turn a first date into a job interview. But research suggests that relationship dealbreakers may be equally, if not more, important to dating success.
To identify which characteristics in a potential romantic partner are instant turn-offs, psychologists Zsofia Csajbok and Mihaly Berkics surveyed single people looking for a relationship. They asked them to list any characteristic a partner might possess that would instantly elicit a rejection. As you can imagine, a ton of characteristics turn people off, which may explain why some daters transform into ghosts, never to be seen or heard from again.
Interestingly, many of these dealbreaker characteristics seemed to overlap or be closely related. To narrow down the list of dealbreakers, the researchers used a statistical technique–a factor analysis–to identify the seven most prominent themes, which they named the seven deadly sins of a potential romantic partner.
So, what characteristics are such an instant turn-off that daters avoid them like the plague?
The Seven Deadly Sins
- Unambitious. This characteristic refers to people who seem lazy and lack direction, goals, and determination in life. Unambitious people tend to be highly dependent on others and relatively indecisive, which may make it difficult for a potential partner to predict what a future together may look like.
- Hostile. A hostile partner was described as someone wicked, malicious, grumpy, and unfriendly. These unattractive characteristics suggest a disagreeable or antisocial personality that is likely to persist across time and situations.
- Filthy. Go figure, people tend to reject partners who are dirty and stinky. Nothing that a shower and shave can’t fix, right? Perhaps not. This characteristic also refers to slovenly or messy partners who are undemanding or unconcerned with themselves and their appearance.
- Arrogant. Arrogant partners tend to be overly confident, opinionated, and egotistical–all traits often associated with subclinical narcissism. A psychologist once joked that dating a narcissistic partner is like eating chocolate cake. It may sound good at first, but over time, it can make you sick to your stomach.
- Unattractive. For some daters, a partner’s physical appearance matters greatly. Unfortunately, someone who is characterized as ugly or has a socially undesirable body type may be a non-starter for some people.
- Clingy. A “stage 5 clinger” especially values commitment and is insistent and demanding of their partner’s time. Clinginess may reflect an anxious, insecure attachment style. When clingy partners think about relationships, they may have negative views of themselves–"I'm not good enough"–and positive views of others–"My partner can meet my needs."
- Abusive. A potential partner who displays aggressive, violent, and abusive tendencies is a major red flag. Given the negative impact that being in an abusive relationship can have on people’s physical and mental health, it is not surprising that single people view potential partners who might be abusive as a non-starter.
Who Cares Most About Dealbreakers?
A study conducted by P.K. Jonason, Kaitlyn White, and Laith Al-Shawaf shows that some people care much more about relationship dealbreakers than others. The researchers measured men's and women’s personality traits, including their sociosexual orientation–i.e., how focused on sex, rather than love or commitment, they tend to be–and then asked them to imagine getting to know a potential romantic partner. Then, they rated how much their impression of the partner would change upon learning their negative traits (e.g., the partner is hostile) or positive traits (e.g., the partner is intelligent).
Findings revealed that both men’s and women’s opinions of a potential partner were more affected by learning negative rather than positive characteristics. In other words, what people don’t want in a partner seems more impactful than what they want.
In a fascinating twist, women were much more impacted by dealbreakers than men. The researchers speculated that because women invest so much in childbirth and parenting, they should be especially sensitive to a partner’s negative traits. Missing a relationship dealbreaker–and possibly raising a child alone or with an unambitious or hostile partner–may be an especially costly error for women.
Findings also revealed that some people were relatively unaffected by dealbreakers. People with a high sociosexual orientation, presumably looking for sex rather than love or commitment, were less influenced by a partner’s negative traits.
So, the next time you’re on a first date or perusing others’ dating profiles, pay attention to both dealmakers and dealbreakers. Knowing the seven deadly sins of a potential romantic partner may be a godsend for dating success.
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Csajbok, Z. & Berkics, M. (2022). Seven deadly sins of potential romantic partners: The dealbreakers of mate choice. Personality and Individual Differences, 186, 111334.
Jonason, P. K., White, K. P., & Al-Shawaf, L. (2020). Should I stay or should I go: Individual differences in response to romantic dealmakers and dealbreakers. Personality and Individual Differences, 164, 110120.