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Dating Dealbreakers: How to Make or Break a First Date

When it comes to selecting romantic partners, our expectations precede us.

Estrada Anton/Shutterstock
Source: Estrada Anton/Shutterstock

Looking Backward From a Happy Ending

All happy couples remember their first date. They often have an endearing first date story that they tell with a smile, no doubt having shared the account many times. Included within that story, in almost every occasion, are the first impressions they had of each other on that first meetup, impressions that paved the way for a successful relationship.

On the other hand, most of us can swap stories of bad dates. Often humorous in retrospect (although usually not at the time), bad date stories often involve bad behavior. Our happily-ever-after stories rarely include accounts of bad behavior on a first date — a truth that survives even the most skeptical listener's presupposition of editorial license in storytelling.

First Impressions Last

First impressions are hard to change; that's why bad first dates don't lead to second dates: If they are bad enough, the offending party will never have a chance. When it comes to first dates, both parties are usually on their best behavior, which makes a social gaffe even more prominent — and problematic. Yet in the long run, such gaffes are less problematic than character flaws or enduring personality characteristics, which are harder to discern over coffee or dinner. Anyone can dress and act the part for a while. After a few dates, though, even masterful manipulators begin to reveal the person behind the persona.

Yet, given the reality that time is precious, it is best to recognize problems early on in a relationship, ideally as soon as the first date, when both parties are at their most objective. This is true even when a first date was planned online.

Dating Dealbreakers

Singles have weighed in regarding the types of things they will and will not tolerate in prospective partners. While actions speak louder than words when faced with actual relational mismatches, it is interesting to learn what people believe they want and do not want in a partner. The fact that some dealbreakers are apparent upon one's very first meeting should inspire both parties to be at their most perceptive when they are also most objective.

Research by Jonason et al. entitled “Relationship Dealbreakers” (2015) identified the personality and lifestyle characteristics and preferences viewed as relational dealmakers and dealbreakers.[i] They examined factors including unhealthy sexual and romantic lifestyles, undesirable personality traits, and differing romantic and sexual mating strategies.

To get their results, the team conducted six studies involving different age groups. Some of the dealbreaker questions used within the heterosexual college sample they studied included: "Has health issues such as STDs”; “Smells bad”; “Is currently dating multiple partners”; and “Has anger issues or is abusive.”

The researchers concluded that the factors which prompted what they termed “relationship repulsion” were negative personality traits, poor health, and using an undesirable romantic strategy. Poor health and negative personality traits operated as dealbreakers in all types of relationships, even friendships — although to a lesser extent.

The research by Jonason et al. also considered mate value. People with higher mate value listed a greater number of dealbreakers than people with less restricted mating strategies. They found dealbreakers to be stronger in long-term dating contexts, and stronger in women than men in short-term dating contexts.

Another interesting finding was that participants assessed dealbreakers more negatively than they assessed dealmakers positively. This was even more pronounced in women and in partners in committed relationships.

Dealbreakers in Relationships That Began Online

The first date may be particularly important when a couple has met online, due to research indicating the degree of disillusionment that can accompany a first date.

A recent study of online dating by Sharabi and Caughlin (2017) entitled “What Predicts First Date Success?” found a decline in both social and physical attraction after a first in-person date.[ii] The researchers surmised that this resulted in part from disillusionment: When couples correspond online, they can project their idea of an ideal mate onto their partner, resulting in positive illusions that are not sustainable over time.

Dealbreakers may be even more pronounced in a relationship that started online if it appears that one partner intentionally misrepresented themselves online in one of the categories highlighted by Jonason et al. It is easy to misrepresent personality and lifestyle in a virtual environment, because dating sites let users create profiles that allow them to become whoever they want to be. And with respect to romantic strategies, it is only after a couple meet-ups in person that partners can more accurately deduce relational goals and intentions.

Know Your Priorities

One person's dealbreaker can be another person's dealmaker, as is sometimes the case with attitudes toward having children, the desire to travel, or geographical preference. Beyond lifestyle preferences, however, keep in mind that first date dealbreakers usually involve static characteristics that are not only enduring, but obvious. Paying attention when you are most objective will allow you to perceive problems sooner rather than later.

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