Do “Deal Breakers” Really Matter?

Photographed by Natalia Mantini.
Most people have a list of "deal breakers" when it comes to finding a partner. The lists are made up of the things you definitely do and do not want in a significant other. But how much does your list actually matter in finding a long-lasting relationship? A new study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology asked a group of newlyweds and longer-lasting married couples what they looked for in a partner to see if their desires lined up with the reality.
University of Texas psychologists Daniel Conroy-Beam and David M. Buss, who led the study, also asked the long-term couples to rate their "mate value," or how much of a catch they considered themselves and their partner to be. The newlyweds' mate value was rated by "independent researchers." Conroy-Beam and Buss then took these preferences and values and put them into a computer simulation that would see how the couples pair up. Turns out, there was “strong correspondence” between what the couples stated as their preferences and the mate they actually chose. Even better, the connection was strong in both the real-life data and simulations, which gives some weight to "associative sorting," a relationship theory that states desirable people will be able to find their most-desirable mates. As the authors of the study explained, “Our simulation provides the first theoretical evidence that this assortative mating effect emerges from the guiding effects of mate preferences among the full set of dynamics and constraints of realistic mating markets." In layman's terms, the data shows that having preferences can actually be helpful to the sorting process. But the study does warn against having too many deal breakers, explaining that doing so will force people to "select their mates from among restricted pools where ideal partners may not exist." The study advises single men and women remember that “each potential mate represents a collection of traits, and so fulfilling one preference often requires relaxing another.” Basically, no one is perfect, so don't let a good one get away because you're being a bit too picky.

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