I can’t say I love Patti Stanger’s advice on everything (and I certainly don’t try to emulate her demeanor), but once in a while she shares a nugget of information that I actually agree with. This time it has to do with non-negotiables and deal-breakers. Patti tells her clients to limit their non-negotiables to five things that they either can’t live with or can’t live without. I don’t know if five is the magic number, or if there is a magic number at all, but having a long laundry list of a dozen “must haves” will inevitably doom your search for Mr. or Ms. Perfect. In reality, no one is perfect, so it’s important to know what you can bend on.
Being an online dating consultant and dating coach, I hear them all: I don’t want a guy under 5’11. She must weigh less than 120 pounds. If he owns a cat, forget about it. If she likes to play board games, she must be a nerd. He puts Splenda in his coffee – that’s so girly. She’s never been outside the US, so she must not have any idea about other cultures. I can’t go out with him if he has the dry cleaner crease in his shirt. She’s older than I am – it’s just a month, but I can’t date an older woman. He does this weird thing where he wiggles one ear when he’s nervous. The list goes on and on.
What’s really important in life? When I did online dating to try to meet the man of my dreams, I had two main non-negotiables: intelligence and religion. I knew that I wanted someone to be smart – really smart. Not that I’m Einstein or anything, but I’d dated people who weren’t as intellectually stimulating as I had wanted, and it bothered me. As for religion, I am Jewish. I’m not terribly religious, and I’m more culturally Jewish than anything else (I make a heck of a matzah ball soup), but it was the common background that I craved. Again, I’d dated someone who was not Jewish, and I learned that it was something I couldn’t compromise on again. Nothing else seemed as important except for some age boundaries and physical attraction. And the latter one is so hard to tell until you meet in person.
Once you get into a relationship, people seem to have a whole other list of deal-breakers. Sure, this person has passed the non-negotiable test, but now he or she does something that drives you so crazy that you’re not sure you can live with it. A common one is when guys leave the toilet seat up. Is it gross? Yes. Is it annoying? Double yes. But is it a deal-breaker? I had to laugh when a friend of mine, who just moved in with her boyfriend, wrote to me recently, “Oh, and get used to having the toilet seat left up (lol!). I know many girls complain about it, but it really doesn’t bug me. I think guys are just programmed to do it without even thinking.” She got over this so-called deal-breaker, and so can you. (Plus, this is one that can be fixed, given enough time.) With the right person, even a simple, “Sweetie, it bothers me a little when you [insert annoying habit here],” might do the trick.
In the end, what’s most important is how someone treats you. Is he or she kind, generous, and giving? How about trustworthy and honest? That’s what matters in life. So, take your laundry list of deal-breakers and put it in the spin-cycle to disintegrate. Think about the few things that really matter to you and stick to those. Beyond that, throw caution to the wind, and date lots of people until you find that one who makes you happy, whether he leaves the toilet seat up or not.
Erika Ettin is the Founder of A Little Nudge, where she offers services from online dating profile-writing to e-mailing potential matches to planning dates. An archive of all of Erika’s columns is also available. Want to connect with Erika? Join her newsletter for updates and tips.
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