12 Men & Women Share Their Dating 'Deal-Breakers'

photographed by Refinery29.

Some rather clever, funny women I know, who happen to be clever and funny for a day job, have just released their first music video. The comedy trio, Plunge, have written a song called "Shallow" all about women’s perilous journey through dating…men with terrible footwear.

I know, I know. It’s no laughing matter.

Calling out men for their lazy choice of shoes is what Plunge are calling "the ninth wave of feminism." After all, when we spend hours waxing, plucking, scrubbing and tonging – the least they could do is not put on a pair of winkle-pickers.

Bad footwear is just one of the items on a groaning list of deal-breakers that I am surprised to find my friends have when it comes to dating. Though many were understandable – hates children, fear of commitment, voted for Trump – others were bordering on, yes, shallow.

“Weird calves, weak chin, bad skin tone” said one friend, whose list of deal-breakers also included: “If he smells his food before he eats it.”

My recently married friend’s main complaint was: “Owning an Xbox or games console and expecting you to watch him play it.” I could only assume that her husband does not do this, or else this was a superb display of marital passive-aggression.

My friend Paul is woke enough to cite climate change denial as a deal-breaker when he’s looking for a guy, though he was quick to point out that bad footwear is high on the list, too.

My friend Nadia tells me she cannot date women who are “too into their looks” and, by extension, girls who wear fake nails which, she informs me, “is for obvious reasons.”

"The Longform Bore" was one type of man abhorred by a former colleague of mine, who said any whiff of an “I just read this in The Atlantic’” or a “Have you checked out the latest New Yorker” and he’s out. “Too pretentious, too try-hard,” he says. “Find your own opinion, for starters…”

While many friends provided lengthy diatribes on the qualities they cannot abide in a partner, some offered only one.

“Doesn’t ski” was the response from a friend I lose to the mountains for half the year. “Only a bottom” was the sole deal-breaker of my friend Charles, while “short” was the aptly diminutive response I got from my (not even that tall) friend.

Most of my straight male friends can offer me no further elucidation beyond “hot” or (thankfully) “not stupid” although one did make an alarmingly specific suggestion that she should be able to “ski, sail and ride” – as if she were a pentathlon candidate, not a girlfriend.

Dating expert Lydia Davies, of matchmaking service MutualAttraction, talks me through the nuances of male and female expectations when looking for a partner. While women have far lengthier and excruciatingly detailed requirements, men (particularly straight men) have deal-breakers that are more skin-deep.

“Age and looks” she announces. That is literally it. What, no earth-shattering disgust at women who like the Kardashians, slurp soup or hate Star Wars?

I ask if she finds these men shallow for their brief but blunt deal-breakers. “Much more shallow,” she agrees. “But then again, age does tend to relate to wanting children. Or so they say…”

Deal-breakers are a tricky beast. While many may seem superficial and trivial, they often pertain to important lifestyle choices. Davies’ observation about age as a factor for men who want children is echoed by dating and relationship expert Jo Barnett, who is quick to point out that, through her work, she has seen straight women still choosing men based on their income.

“Women are sadly conditioned from very early on that a man must be able to provide, to have his own home and to take care of her,” she says. “Of course, times are changing, but the perception that the man 'should' be able to provide is still in place.”

Perception is key here, with both Barnett and Davies repeatedly telling me the impact that social media is having on our relationship expectations: #couplegoals are informing our dating lives IRL. How a relationship looks from the outside is becoming a more salient factor in choosing a partner, thanks to the fact that we are increasingly living our lives through the lens of Instagram.

“We live in a world that is obsessed by looks, success and advertising it on social media,” says Davies. “People now want perfection or all the boxes ticked rather than someone that they’re going to grow with, learn from and learn to compromise with.”

That search for the gleam of perfection is only further fostered by dating-app culture where, as Davies notes: “Single people think they’ve got an endless supply of people to date so they believe it’s a good idea to be really judgemental.”

But what about the deal-breakers that matter? I think about my own: books. A man who reads for pleasure, who reads widely and voraciously and with an insatiable curiosity. I once ended a date with a man who told me he hated reading and, within minutes of meeting my current boyfriend, I had already asked him what book he had last read. So am I an intellectual snob? Shallow? Page-deep? Perhaps, but these are signifiers of compatibility. And isn’t that something that will stick a relationship together?

Barnett agrees. “Deal-breakers matter. When you know what works for you and what doesn't, based on experience, you can be clear about your choices and what will make the relationship work for you,” she says. “The key values have to be aligned to make a relationship successful, otherwise you are in for years of struggle, so my advice is to look for someone with a similar outlook on life and shared values.”

So maybe don’t dump someone for wearing Birkenstocks – but do check where they see themselves in five years. If it’s still wearing Birkenstocks, then…yeah, maybe.

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