No one looks for quite the same things in a potential partner. That’s what makes romance so exciting, so unpredictable—and a bit scary, too.
But idiosyncrasies aside, research shows that men and women alike universally value three characteristics, no matter whether they’re looking for a fling or a committed relationship:
- Social status
- Physical attractiveness
Psychologists refer to this triad as the primary “dealmakers” of a relationship, be it long-term or short. Other commonly cited characteristics people seek include intelligence, emotional stability, passion, and dominance.
Naturally, the exact combination and rank-order preferences are highly specific to the individual, although researchers can nevertheless make accurate predictions about what traits you’re looking for just from your relationship goals and your sex. But on the flip side is the lesser-understood category: dealbreakers.
What are the most common dealbreakers?
In their 2022 research, psychologists Zsófia Csajbók and Mihály Berkics describe dealbreakers as those traits we explicitly avoid when selecting a potential partner. In their first study of several, they asked people to list dealbreakers for both short- and long-term relationships. The psychologists collated no fewer than 96 characteristics which people proactively stay away from on the dating scene.
Next, Csajbók and Berkics asked participants to rate each of the 96 dealbreakers on a scale of 1–7, where 1 meant they wouldn’t rule out a relationship with the person based on that trait and 7 meant they definitely would. This data was analyzed, and the 96 traits arranged into seven overarching categories of dealbreakers:
- Unambitious: indecisive, dependent, purposeless
- Hostile: malicious, grumpy, unfriendly
- Filthy: dirty, slovenly, smelly
- Arrogant: opinionated, egotistical
- Unattractive: ugly, unfit
- Clingy: insistent, sentimental, pushing for commitment
- Abusive: aggressive, violent
The rank of these seven categories depended on the respondent’s sex and the type of relationship they were seeking—although filthiness was universally a dealbreaker. In contrast, clinginess was a dealbreaker only for a casual fling, and lack of ambition a dealbreaker only for a long-term relationship.
Which dealbreakers are most important in a potential partner?
Csajbók and Berkics then conducted a so-called budget allocation task to determine how much of a dealbreaker each of the seven actually was. They provided online participants with a finite number of “mating dollars,” which they could spend on “building” their perfect partner. The more mating dollars they assigned to a trait, the more important it was to them in a potential partner.
For men, the two biggest dealbreakers were unattractiveness and filthiness, regardless of the type of relationship they were looking for. For women, the two biggest dealbreakers were filthiness and abusiveness, regardless of the relationship type sought—but unattractiveness was considered the biggest dealbreaker of all when it came specifically to casual flings.
Dealmakers vs. dealbreakers: Which is more important to people?
In the final part of their study, the researchers explored whether seeking positive traits or avoiding negative traits is generally considered more critical in our romantic decisions. They gave people the opportunity to learn about a potential partner—one characteristic at a time.
Participants saw a list that included the seven dealmakers determined from their previous study (warmth, attractiveness, high status, intelligence, stability, passion, and dominance) and the seven dealbreakers they had ascertained (hostility, unattractiveness, filthiness, lack of ambition, arrogance, clinginess, and abusiveness). Each item was ranked in the order that participants would like to learn about them. And the results were pretty surprising.
A widely accepted fact in relationship science is that the negatives outweigh the positives. For example, if you make a hurtful remark to your partner, it might take three or even more positive comments to alleviate the damage. Given this trend, Csajbók and Berkics expected people to be more interested in hearing about potential dealbreakers before considering dealmakers.
That’s not what happened. Although the rank orderings depended on the participant’s sex and the type of relationship they were looking for, people in general actually wanted to hear about the positives before the negatives.
The Spell of the Honeymoon Period
In hindsight, the results of the researchers’ final study do make some sense. People often ignore red flags early in relationships, when they’re whipped up in the thrill of those heady first few months, infatuated with all the wonderful things about their new partner. Moreover, we often reevaluate our dealbreakers entirely when we meet someone who actually meets our dealmaker requirements.
We may well know the qualities we’d prefer someone to have—but there’s no stopping the fall once you’re head over heels, even if it’s for someone you never could have imagined being attracted to. Often, those dealbreakers don’t matter quite as much when love’s right there in front of us.
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So whether you’re looking for someone who checks your dealmaker boxes or is free of every one of your dealbreakers, get in touch today. Our vast network of attractive eligible singles are ready and waiting to meet someone truly special, settle down, and love one another for who they are. You might just be astonished at who you fall for.