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Bad grammar. A hairy back. Refusing to perform oral sex. Yelling in public. Lying. Lateness. Discussing your urology practice. Telling a date you have ESP. Shyness. Premature ejaculation. Promiscuity. Fake boobs. Flip-flops. For someone out there, these are all dating deal breakersthose behaviors, personality traits, or physical characteristics no amount of hotness can overcome.
I'm a stickler for proper grammar, so e-mail's a great way to weed out undesirables. I'm not talking about the odd English error. I mean someone who injects capital letters, "LOL"s, commas, and endless ellipses into their misspelled, overly jokey missives. For a first cyber meeting, this is definitely not cool. (Someone told me not to write about deal breakers because Carrie Bradshaw did. [a] Carrie was a fictional character who wrote three sentences per show. [b] My world is so different from her rarefied one that our deal breakers surely have nothing in common. [c] People haven't stopped making terrible first impressions.)
Another deal breaker is when someone thinks that because I write about sex, I want to delve into my pussy's most personal details right after we've said hello. I'm cool with joking around, and recently had an amusing discussion about the craziest place I'd had sex (a giant pussy float during San Francisco's gay pride parade), but that guy wasn't hitting on me. At another party, a guy who oozed sliminess asked, "Are you a very sexual person?" before reaching out to touch my necklace to "admire" it. So. Not. OK.
But our standards for what's acceptable and what's deal-breaking depend on how into the person we are. When I'm smitten, I'll let the object of my affection commit umpteen social faux pas and smile the whole time. For Michele Avantario and Maia Dunkel, authors of the relationship brainteaser book Deal Breakers (Broadway, 2005), posing these dating dilemmas caused them to relive their own. "I'd been dying to go out with this guy," Avantario recalls. We went to a restaurant and when our food arrived, he proceeded to eat off my plate without asking. That was it for me. I never went out with him again." Deal Breakers poses many tricky dating situations women may encounter, from receiving a cubic zirconium engagement ring to finding a gun in his closet. For each example that struck me as harmless (he wants to go Dutch, he has a porn stash), there were ones that made me pause (he doesn't vote, he takes Viagra), while others were a snap (he's never read a book cover to cover).
Both found that women were generally pickier than men. Explains Dunkel, "A woman tends to look at a man as a potential mate-for-life from the get-go, whereas a guy is simply thinking, 'Hey, she's cool and we're having fun.' Men are not thinking on the first date, 'Is she going to be a good mother?' "
Some of our trigger issues are visible right off the bat. One summer day while my friend J. and I strolled around, I learned he has an aversion to girls who wear flip-flops, no matter how sexy they are. "Flip-flops say you're lazy and can't be bothered to put on something else." I protested that with the blazing heat, everyone becomes a little lazy. What about pretty flip-flops with flowers or jewels on them? He wouldn't budge, even if it meant cockblocking himself when an otherwise attractive girl passed our way, until we saw one who could pass for a young Sinéad O'Connor. "Maybe she can get away with it," he conceded. I neglected to burst his bubble with the fact that he hadn't spoken to any of these girls, no matter what was on their feet. Was he being too picky? That's for him to decide; no one can tell you what's OK or not OK for you. My friend Art broke up with a girl in college because of an annoying extracurricular activity. "I realized, while watching her perform an a cappella, Brown-specific version of 'Ironic' that if we stayed together I'd have to go to a cappella concerts all the time, and I broke it off two days later." Avantario advises, "Go with your gut. People don't trust their instincts enough. They talk themselves into things because they don't want to be alone and just want 'it' to work."
Listing my deal breakers has also forced me to analyze my own flaws. I'm often late, get stressed out easily, am a social butterfly, and sleep on a bare mattress. Oh, and I bare my soul and sex life in this column, which for a lot of people is the ultimate deal breaker. Lately it seems like I'm the girl people want to hook up with but would never consider seriously dating, even though I crave the stability of a relationship. I want someone to love unequivocally, dote on, bake for, and plan a future with. Yet there's no point in contorting myself into some "perfect" image so as not to be a deal breaker for someone I may meet. Changing our core personality traits to conform to a hypothetical ideal is not only bound to fail, but may lead to dating someone who only likes us for our fake selves.
Analyzing our deal breakers can sometimes lead to a happy ending: figuring out what we do want from a partner. "I know I'm getting older because the things that turn me on have changed," comic Rena Zager jokes. "Just a few years ago, you know what turned me on? Hot Latino men. Now, know what turns me on? People who act reasonably towards me." I find myself caring about actions much more than looks: how someone treats his friends and family, whether he can keep a secret, if he's pursuing his artistic dream. Small gestures of kindness like babysitting for a niece, being protective of a co-worker's feelings, or drawing a card for a friend's birthday, make me weak in the knees. Those actions reveal qualities in a mate that will likely stand the test of time, once the initial surge of hormones has died down.
Finding someone to fuck every once in a while is relatively easy, but finding someone to spend my life with takes a lot more effort. Sometimes I wish I could compromise on my deal breakers, but settling always comes with an emotional price tag. Hopefully, Avantario's advice will pay off: "Be the best person you can be and eventually you'll attract the right person. Don't go hunting. Things should happen naturally. Most importantly, be open and receptive. You could meet someone on the grocery store line!"
For a future column, send your deal breakers to firstname.lastname@example.org.