Looking Backwards From a Happy Ending
All happy couples remember their first date. They often have an endearing first date story 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 the first date. Impressions that paved the way for a successful relationship.
On the other hand, all 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. 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. The reason is because bad first dates don´t lead to second dates.
First Impressions Last
First impressions are hard to change. If they are bad enough, the offending party will never have the 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, social gaffes are far 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, even people who are 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 on a first date, when both parties are at their most objective. This is true even when a first date was planned online.
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. That fact that some dealbreakers are apparent upon a very first meeting should inspire both parties to be at their most perceptive when they are most objective.
Research by Jonason et al. entitled “Relationship Dealbreakers,” (2015) identified personality and lifestyle characteristics and preferences viewed as relational dealmakers and dealbreakers.[i] They examined factors that included unhealthy sexual and romantic lifestyles, undesirable personality traits, and differing romantic and sexual mating strategies.
They conducted six studies involving different age groups. Some of the dealbreaker questions used within a 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.”
Regarding their overall conclusions, they found factors that 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 in short term dating contexts as compared to men.
Anther interesting finding was that participants assessed dealbreakers more negatively than they assessed dealmakers positively. This was even more pronounced in women and partners in committed relationships.
Dealbreakers in Relationships That Began Online
The first date may be particularly important when a couple met online, due to research indicating the degree of disillusionment that can accompany a first date.
A recent research 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, explaining that when couples are corresponding on line, 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 allow users to create profiles that allow them to become whoever they want to be. And with respect to romantic strategies, it is only after a couple meets 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—such as is sometimes the case with attitudes toward having children, 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.
About the author:
Wendy Patrick, JD, PhD, is a career prosecutor, author, and behavioral expert. She is the author of author of Red Flags: How to Spot Frenemies, Underminers, and Ruthless People (St. Martin´s Press), and co-author of the revised version of the New York Times bestseller Reading People (Random House).
She lectures around the world on interpersonal relationships, sexual assault prevention, safe cyber security, and threat assessment, and is an Association of Threat Assessment Professionals Certified Threat Manager. The opinions expressed in this column are her own.
Find her at wendypatrickphd.com or @WendyPatrickPhD
Find a full listing of Dr. Patrick´s Psychology Today posts at https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/why-bad-looks-good[i] Peter K. Jonason, Justin R. Garcia, Gregory D. Webster, Norman P. Li, and Helen E. Fisher, “Relationship Dealbreakers: Traits People Avoid in Potential Mates,” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 41, no. 12 (2015): 1697 – 1711. [ii] Liesel L. Sharabi and John P. Caughlin, “What Predicts First Date Success? A Longitudinal Study of Modality Switching in Online Dating,” Personal Relationships 24, no. 2 (2017): 370–391.
~ Salvador Dali