How many times has this happened to you? You’re dating someone you really like. You’ve been out a few times. You’re absolutely hitting it off. But there’s that one thing you just can’t quite get over.
Maybe they have bad breath? Or a messy apartment? Or a collection of tiny fiberglass unicorn figurines that’s just a little … too large?
Some dealbreakers are obvious, like if the person lives eight hours away and doesn’t own a phone and plays polka music constantly. No one would blame you for ending it over even one of those things.
Other dealbreakers, though? They might make you feel like maybe you’re being a little petty. I mean, you could learn to live with those unicorn figurines, couldn’t you? There are perfectly logical reasons why they might have so many. In the right light, they’re almost … classy.
And yet, deep in your heart, you know — the relationship ain’t goin’ anywhere. And it makes you feel like a hateful superficial love ogre.
Good news! You should stop worrying about being a bad person because of your weird or irrational dealbreakers.
Believe it or not, science is on your side!
And science wants you to know that not only are you far from alone, your dealbreakers are valuable tools for avoiding disaster.
When it comes to dating, “avoiding negative traits [in other words, dealbreakers] is probably more important than optimizing ideal traits,” University of Florida Professor Gregory Webster told Upworthy.
Webster recently published a study looking at the power of these dealbreakers, along with colleagues from America, Australia, and Singapore. The researchers conducted six different studies, mostly through anonymous surveys, to learn the dating preferences of 6,000 people.
What they found was that people tend to give more weight to negative qualities than positive ones. Think of dating like a game: If each good quality is worth two points, each bad one is worth … more like a whopping negative 17 points.
The game is unbalanced.
Webster and his colleagues found that dealbreakers were stronger for people looking for long-term relationships than short-term, for romantic relationships than for friendships, and a bit stronger for women than men in the short-term.
While it can feel bad to break-up with someone over one or two negative traits, studies suggest that our brain’s focus on those bad things might be designed to protect us.
Let’s say there’s a person you’re interested in, but they only eat processed cheese.
If you break up, sure, you might miss out on some good stuff. Fun romantic adventures. Potentially incredible sex. A lifetime of pure companionate bliss. But hey, they’re not the only person on Earth. Literally millions of other humans could give you those things.
On the other hand, if you decide to stay with Mr./Ms./Mx. Cheez Whiz, you might end up in a horrible, cheesy explosion while taking the Polly-O factory tour because that’s what you do for fun now. Or maybe, upon hitting puberty, your children will end up smelling vaguely, but relentlessly — tragically — like Velveeta.
Very specific bad things can happen.
So why does our brain work this way? It might be an evolutionary defense mechanism.
“The study’s findings support adaptive attentional biases in human social cognition, which suggests that focusing on the negative serves as a survival function,” the researchers wrote in a press release.
In other words, way back before we were modern humans, back when we were little more than apes, it was really important that we pay attention to bad stuff. Because bad stuff wasn’t just auto payments and not being invited to the office party or processed cheese. Bad stuff was sabertooth cats and giant eagles.
There’s always more fruit somewhere in the jungle, but the ape who didn’t pay attention to the sudden suspiciously-eagle-shaped shadow circling above doesn’t get to stay around a whole lot longer.
If you’re on the receiving end of a dealbreaker, don’t worry!
“A dealbreaker for one person may be a dealmaker for another,” Webster says.
In the report on the study, Webster cites impulsiveness, which can be a huge turn-off for some, as being a potentially huge turn-on for someone else who might be attracted to that kind of spontaneity.
The good news? That applies to dealbreakers big and small:
Being only 1% religiously compatible with one person just means you’re 99% religiously compatible with someone else. Living 800 miles away from one potential partner just means you live a few blocks away from another. Your significant other refusing to see “Carol” with you for the 37th time just means you have an extra ticket for the next person in your life.
And if it’s bad stuff like being too messy, well, there’s always Chore Wars.
If you’re the one finding the dealbreaker, that’s OK too. It’s just your monkey-brain trying to keep you safe. You’ll find someone else.
Your ex may take it hard — breakups are rarely easy. But in the end, they’ll find someone else too.
There are plenty of unicorns in the field, after all.