• Jennifer Klesman, LCSW

Deal Breakers and Standards - and Where to Compromise

When asked about their ideal mate, most people have very few models of the type of partnership they want. Modern day mentalities around what we want in a relationship have created a standard so high that it is often outright unrealistic. “Even Prince Charming is going to come with holes in his socks” according to Marry Him, The Case for Mr. Good Enough by Lori Gottlieg; a reminder that no one and no relationship is going to be perfect.





Still, we say things like “I want what I want,” “not my type,” or “you know when you know.” Most women have a general idea of what they’re looking for; or at least an outline of what they will not settle for. Often these are called standards or deal breakers: an idea or list made to guide us to approve or dismiss prospective partners. In their book, It’s Just a F****** Date, Greg Behrendt and Amira Ruotola state that setting parameters to determine someone’s worth or viability as a romantic partner assumes that they don’t have other areas of value that could possibly be more appealing than the initial ideas or wants that you have. Behrendt and Ruotola look at standards as being about how you live your life and deal breakers as how the other person lives theirs.


Standards speak to the relationship you want to have and may have already envisioned, which can consist of someone having a job or not, making a particular income bracket, where they live, what sort of future they are interested in. A dealbreaker seems to outweigh many standards in dismissing a potential partner; if you love to travel, own a dog, or go to concerts and the other person hates it, that may be a deal breaker. Standards are how you operate and what you’re aiming to achieve but deal breakers tend to be primarily preferences; even if the preference is to be with someone of the same faith or political views.


Having standards and deal breakers are protective factors that we put in place to help find what we want in a partner. Yet, too many of both will create a list of expectations that no one will ever meet. Gottlieb spoke in her book about narrowing down your criteria, for example, how only dating someone 6’0” or taller can eliminate a large portion of eligible partners. Especially when height is a desirable trait to many women.


Deal breakers can greatly work against you according to Behrendt and Ruotola, because they often validate you but don’t have much to do with the other person. Dealbreakers like “I won’t date someone who makes less that $50k a year and doesn’t live in Chicago,” can work against you. Financial and living situations are temporary and neither may reflect compatibility or whether you should give someone a chance. If there is a spark, what does it matter how much they make, how tall they are, or if they love the same baseball team as you? If you’re looking for a lifetime companion, values are often a more important guide. Values like being generous, kind, attentive, ambitious; these are character traits that are part of who a person is and they aren’t temporary.


That said, standards and deal breakers are not bad things to have.


They are still there to guide us as long as we are conscious of if they are reasonable and realistic. Wanting someone college educated may communicate to you that a person values education and a career, came from a similar background as you did, or they have a particular income bracket. Yet, ruling out someone who doesn’t have a college degree may not mean any of those assumptions. At the same time, someone who does have one, might not represent any of that. Wanting someone well read, continually driven to learn, and responsible with their finances may speak more to you. These are all traits you discover from getting to know someone rather than what you may read on their online profile.


According to Esther Perel, LMFT and relationship therapist, you don’t have to lower your expectations but you can diversify them. “We don’t ask one person for what an entire village should give you,” Perel says, after elaborating on how we expect our partners to be our ideal lovers, intellectual equals, trusted confidants, co-parents and our best friends. Putting so much on one person in our lives is a big ask and also a large stressor. Whomever we choose to have a future with can only be so many things. Emotional needs in a relationship (someone making you feel validated and heard, understanding your stress and struggles, having empathy for you, and holding space for you) being met can truly outweigh everything else. So rather than writing out how tall someone is or what hair color or job they have, look at what you need from a partner to feel secure and optimistic for a future with them.






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