When I sit down with someone for a “matchmaking date“, one of the conversations that clocks a fair amount of time is around their deal breakers. I ask about common ones — age, height, and location for example — and ones people might not have thought of, like whether politics is a factor in dating for them. Having had hundreds of these conversations means I have heard every super-specific, wait-are-you-joking deal breaker you can imagine.
There was the girl who was 4’10 and insisted on dating someone no shorter than 6’0. Then, there was a guy who swore off girls named Elizabeth because he had dated two of them. The girl who would only date guys who lived not only in Center City, but between certain cross-streets… oh this list goes on. Deal breakers have a role in dating, and I’ll happily match people according to whatever they tell me is important to them — but like anything taken to the extreme, such ironclad must-haves can be a big barrier to success.
So how many deal breakers is too many? Go ahead and grab on a piece of paper (or pull a list you already wrote out of your sock drawer) and pick up your favorite pen. Think through the following questions as you write out your preferences:
- Do you want pets or have allergies?
- How do you feel about tattoos and piercings?
- Anything to do with smoking / drinking / drugs?
- How about dietary considerations like kosher or vegetarian?
- Is location a consideration?
- Are medical issues a factor in dating?
- Are you looking for monogamy?
- How important is sex to you?
- Do you have races or ethnicities you prefer to date?
- Is Judaism a factor in dating?
- Is Israel (or the possibility of moving there) a consideration?
- Do politics play a role in dating for you?
- Is height a factor?
- How about hair?
- How do you feel about someone who is divorced or has kids?
- Do you want kids, if so when, and how do you feel about biological kids vs. other paths to parenthood?
Now take a good, hard look at your list — then mercilessly attack it with fire and rage and slice that baby down to FIVE. Five non-negotiables, five make-or-breaks, five hills you will die on – EXACTLY five. No more, no less.
By limiting ourselves to this (admittedly arbitrary) number, it forces us to really think through what is inexorably important, and weigh competing priorities against each other. Is it more important that this person lives in the city, or that they don’t smoke? Is height a bigger factor than whether or not they want kids in the next three years? There are no right or wrong answers to these questions — just what’s true for you.
Having just five items on your list also helps to distinguish between what is a strong preference — of which you are welcome to have one billion — or a true, honest-to-god deal breaker. One way to know is to ask yourself whether whatever it is would stop you from going on a first date with someone. If you would pop an antihistamine to go on a first date with a cat owner who was amazing in every other way, then someone being cat-free is likely a preference and not a deal breaker.
Before I went apartment-shopping, I made a list of the five non-negotiable things I wanted in a place. When I found the place I ultimately ended up moving into, I was so excited — and then of course I started with the second guessing: oh but the kitchen isn’t that big, oh but it’s near a main road… getting in my own head about it. But I had my trusty list — and those things were not non-negotiables. I was able to move through my doubt and into my (totally sweet) apartment.
Those items that made me second-guess were at most nice-to-haves, and they may even have just been my crazy mind’s way of convincing me out of exactly what I was looking for — something that happens a lot in dating. Making a paired-down, thought-through list before the complication of an actual human is involved is something you’ll be grateful to have when you reach a crossroads with someone.
And then, of course, know that sometimes you’ll click with someone who makes you throw away your list. After a particularly tumultuous break-up a few years back, I fumed to my roommate: “I’m DONE with younger men, Russians, and AEPi brothers!” And damn if my next serious relationship wasn’t with a younger Russian AEPi.
Consider your list-of-five a guideline, a living document that can change as often as you do… and don’t beat yourself up too much about it. Happy scribbling!
Our in-house matchmaker wants to be in your corner. As the only “non-profit matchmaker” in the country, Danielle blends traditional Jewish matchmaking with modern sensibilities. To meet up with her for coffee, email firstname.lastname@example.org.