By Dr. Justin R. Garcia
I was recently watching (and laughing to) past episodes of the TV show 30 Rock. In one of the story lines, Liz Lemon (played by Tina Fey) causes quite a stir with her “Deal-breaker!” catch phrase. It made me wonder: when today’s singles are considering getting into a committed romantic relationship with someone, what sorts of things really would be total deal-breakers? In other words: What are those characteristics that, once revealed, will instantly turn you off? In this year’s Singles in America study commissioned by Match.com, we asked over 5,000 singles just that question.
One of my own personal pet peeves is poor hygiene, so I wondered how many others agree. Not surprisingly, I’m not alone. 63% of single men and 71% of single women agree that a disheveled or unclean appearance would be a deal-breaker for a potential partner. And older singles are even more likely to say this is a deal-breaker: 55% of singles in their 20s compared to 82% of singles in their 60s or older. Being unkempt can signal to a potential partner that you might not be willing to put in effort to take care of yourself, or the one you love. Similarly, a majority of men (60%) and women (72%) think being lazy is a deal-breaker. It can be hard to develop a loving relationship with someone when that person just isn’t motivated to get off the couch (and into the shower), especially during those early stages of courting.
Several years ago, I dated a woman who told me she wouldn’t date someone unless she could see the potential to have children and a family with that person. As an evolutionary biologist, I fully respected her reproductive motive — and there is something flattering about an attractive woman telling me I have fathering potential. But when she asked how many kids I wanted to have, I was a bit taken aback — it was only our first date! To her, not wanting kids was a deal-breaker. In the Singles in America national study, a minority of men (13%) and women (15%) actually said that not wanting kids would be a deal-breaker. And when asked how they’d react if they met someone who already has children, only 14% of men and 12% of women indicated that this issue would be a deal-breaker. While there are some people who simply aren’t interested in having children, the vast majority of single Americans seem willing to explore their options when current or future children are involved.
We also asked people about long-distance relationships (i.e., more than a 3 hour commute). Among my university students, many would talk about the difficulty of maintaining a long-distance relationship when they first came to college (which is something that is even easier these days with all the technology we have at our fingertips). But about half of singles in the survey report that this would be a deal-breaker for them: 51% of men and 47% of women. While LDRs can work very well for some daters, many need to be able to see, touch, smell, and feel the object of their affection.
What about how singles behave in the bedroom? There’s a rich variety of things that people like and don’t like when it comes to sex. We asked singles about two possible deal-breakers in this area: bad sex, and having a low sex drive. Nearly half of the heterosexual people (44% of men and 50% of women) surveyed say that bad sex would be a deal-breaker. Interestingly, slightly more women than men feel this way. This also holds true for 52% of gay men and 55% of lesbian women. Sex can be incredibly important for any long-term relationship; you can even ask your elders! While 39% of singles in their 20s say that bad sex would be a deal-breaker for them, 48% of singles in their 60s and older agreed.
It’s important to talk openly with your partner, know what works, how to turn each other on, and what turns your partner off. Open communication, a positive outlook, some regular grooming, and treating your partner as well as you want to be treated in return can be the key ingredients needed to keep you both turned ON.
About Dr. Justin Garcia
Dr. Justin R. Garcia is a CTRD Research Fellow with The Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction, at Indiana University. He is an expert on the biological foundations of human behavior, particularly romantic love, intimacy, and sexual behavior. Dr. Garcia earned his MS in biomedical anthropology and PhD in evolutionary biology from Binghamton University, where he holds an appointment as adjunct faculty. He is currently co-editing Evolution’s Empress: Darwinian Perspectives on the Nature of Women (Oxford University Press), and co-authoring a book on evolution and human sexuality (Harvard University Press). Since 2010 he has also served as a scientific advisor to Match.com.