I’ve never been a fan of “deal breakers.”
They always felt like an ultimatum, black-and-white thinking, like you weren’t giving the other person a chance to prove themselves, to make a mistake, and forgive them for it.
But the thing about deal breakers is that they exist because we’ve learned from our past mistakes. We’ve learned that there are certain things we absolutely refuse to accept in love because we know it does not work for us.
They are nonnegotiables for what we need from a partnership.
For some, it could be “the other person doesn’t want children.” That makes sense. Their opinion on kids will likely never change, and you deserve to be with someone who wants the same thing as you.
For others, it could be something as simple as, “smoker.” You cannot love them into changing a bad habit, either accept them as they are, or walk away.
Whatever our boundary or deal breaker is, it’s important to be clear on it with the person we’re dating from the start and more importantly, with ourselves.
Recently, I started dipping my toes into the dating world again. And I quickly realized how messy and difficult and complicated it can be when we’re not sure what we really want from someone. I realized I didn’t know my own boundaries, what I actually wanted from dating, and I didn’t know how to express my needs.
I was getting hurt and mixed up in unclear romantic situations and I didn’t like it.
I came across a post in a Facebook group I’m part of where one woman was asking for advice about her relationship with a “hot and cold” partner who had out-of-the-blue cut things off via text, only to say he was sorry and didn’t mean it a few messages later. In the comments thread, one woman replied saying, “these are my two pieces of relationship advice that I always live by.”
As soon as I read it, I knew they were ones that I (and everyone) should live by too:
1. When people show/tell you who they are, believe them. (Original quote by Maya Angelou.)
2. When people refuse to respect your boundaries, leave. It is not your job to educate or reason with someone who is unreasonable.
I realized just how true these two statements were. I thought back to the countless relationships I’d been in where someone had warned me about their “negative” traits when we started dating, and it’s not to say I was so naive that I didn’t believe them, but I also strongly believed that “if they like me, they will act a certain way.”
Yes, if someone likes me, they will (or should) make it clear, but they still won’t conform to your standards and expectations. For example, if the person I meet tells me from the start that they do not like to communicate via text message, but I assume that once he starts liking me more, he’ll want to talk to me more, we’ll run into problems.
Maybe he does start to want to spend more time together, because he wants to see me, but his texting habits remain the same. For some, this won’t be a deal breaker. But if you need someone to communicate more frequently, then it’s important to recognize that from the start to save both parties time and heartache.
Second, I didn’t realize until entering the dating world again how important boundaries are and what it really means when someone doesn’t respect them.
If you tell someone you don’t want to hook up on the first date and then they spend the entire time trying to coerce you into going back to your place—that is a violation and that is a dangerous person to be involved with.
It’s difficult when we’re already invested in someone and a boundary is broken. But we have to respect ourselves and prioritize our mental well-being above the desire to be with another person.
There have been countless occasions where I’d try to explain why I had a particular boundary, or even felt guilty for having one, but the reasoning should not matter. What matters is that it is yours and it should be respected.
I used to think deal breakers were cliché and harsh and unfair, but it was only because I was so used to bending and changing myself in relationships to make them work. I didn’t know myself well enough to know what I wanted, and—more importantly—what I deserved.
Deal breakers and boundaries felt like something people did who were judgmental and not open to receiving love. But actually, by having these set in place, it stops me from wasting my time on the wrong people and allows for the right kind of love to arrive.
I’m keeping these two pieces of advice tucked away in my back pocket to return to on every first (or second, or third) date.