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Why dating deal breakers matter

Here’s why setting, sticking with, or sometimes changing your deal breakers is so important.

by Kelsey Misbrener

My friend recently had drinks with someone new for the first time since ending a long-term relationship. She was nervous about the whole event, but mostly about one thing: His politics. So when he showed up to the café and started their hangout by disclosing whom he would not be supporting in an upcoming election, she was relieved.

He didn’t make the cut for a second meeting, but he made it past her first dating deal breaker.

What’s a dating deal breaker?

I first learned about this concept during a Human Sexuality class in college. At the time, I had been through a few boyfriends, but nothing serious. So, when my Kent State University Professor Irene Axiotis opened the class by asking everyone to write down their dating deal breakers, I sat and stared at my blank notecard. I hadn’t ever thought about the red flags that would make me say no to a relationship before it began. I scribbled down: “Someone who hurts my cat.”

Dr. Axiotis then collected the notecards and read some aloud to the room.

She said she discusses deal breakers at the beginning of her class on relationships because it’s something most people in the room have probably thought of before. “They could look at other people’s relationships and think no, that would not be ok with me. Or they have already set boundaries for themselves about what kind of relationships they want to be in.”

Staying true to you

In grade school and high school we talked anatomy in health class, but never discussed consent or healthy relationships. I was taught it was good manners to always say “yes” to a dance and often accepted advances just because someone was attracted to me. Low self-esteem and bullying also made me more likely to say “yes” to anyone interested.

Bedsider U campus rep Emma developed her main deal breaker after a long struggle to come out as bisexual. For years, Emma never told anyone she dated about her sexuality for fear of being dumped or having her sexual preference fetishized.

“When I finally came out, I realized the best way to ensure that I was being respected was with being upfront and unapologetic,” Emma said. She began disclosing her bisexuality on first dates—along with her choice to not shave her legs.

“If the person I was seeing wasn’t okay with that stuff, I wasn’t okay with dating them,” Emma said. “I stopped allowing others to dictate the parts of me I shared, and instead let myself decide. Now, I have a boyfriend of almost a year who loves me, my openness with my sexuality, AND my hairy legs!”

Changing with time and experience

Another Bedsider rep established a deal breaker early in life based on her own family’s experience, then adjusted it with time.

Jennifer’s mom is Catholic, her dad is Jewish, and she grew up in a “loosely Jewish” home. Part of her dad’s family did not accept her mom, so Jennifer initially vowed not to allow religion to be a deal breaker in her own relationships. When she went to college and became more religious, she realized she might prefer to be with a Jewish partner.

In Jennifer’s own words: “As I began college, I became more religious, and while I knew I shouldn’t automatically discount someone who wasn’t Jewish, I realized how important to me it would be to be with someone who was… However, after a bit of that mindset, I also realized that religion ultimately doesn’t make that big of a difference in partners for me—as long as they have the same values as me, whether as a result of religion or not, I’m happy. While I no longer view religion as a deal-breaker, I have reconciled my feelings to somewhere in the middle: while I would prefer, for a number of reasons like familiarity and comfort, to be with a Jew, I have decided to be more open-minded and see what that brings me.”

Then and now

My professor’s deal breakers exercise encouraged me to have autonomy and set boundaries for myself. It taught me I am allowed to be picky when it comes to a mate, but can also be flexible if someone is a good match but doesn’t jive with some of my smaller deal breakers.

There are some deal breakers I would never compromise on. I could not be with someone who is not a feminist. I could never date a person who treats wait staff poorly. For me, these are two things that define someone’s character—so no matter what seemingly good attributes they might have, it would never be enough to overpower those major flaws.

Dr. Axiotis said a good activity for self-exploration is to write down your deal breakers now, then look back at them in 5 years. How have they changed?

I’ve added quite a few deal breakers to my list since that day in class and have compromised on a handful as well. Life is not black and white, but setting deal breakers has helped me to protect myself and find the best possible match for me.

Kelsey Misbrener is the Associate Editor for Solar Power World. She’s a feminist and animal lover who lives in Northeast Ohio with her partner, two rabbits and a black cat named Wanda. She spends her free time volunteering for NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio and advocating for women’s rights.

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