Why We Ignore Relationship Dealbreakers (Even When We Know Better): Sexual Healing

couple in love

ColumnWe tend to ignore relationship dealbreakers even when the red lights are flashing and the warning sirens are screaming DON’T GO THERE! Why do we do this to ourselves?

My own list of relationship dealbreakers is long and complex. Have I ignored my top five no-no’s? Oh yes. We tend to rejigger our dealbreaker lists as we refine our “most wanted” lists – generally after breakups, when we’ve been burned yet again. It’s easy to get idealistic when you’re a single person creating a dream man (or woman) out of thin air, like a tall, dark and handsome golem for whom cuddling is a second job. (But those ideals tend to fall away in the harsh light of reality – or the alcohol-infused dark of the bar where you just met someone that seems worth taking home.)

Sexual attraction is one of the obvious reasons we ignore our relationship dealbreakers – and sure, it plays a role. But a recent study suggests that we sometimes end up dating people because we don’t want to hurt their feelings by rejecting them. This study doesn’t seem to be obviously broken down by gender, but I am guessing that more women than men have this tendency, given our “nice girl” socialization. I’m not quite sure that we can even replicate real-life scenarios in a lab, but the findings are interesting.

Our relationship dealbreakers are built, in part, on our parental complexes. We’re often attracted to both the best and worst qualities that our potential partners embody – because they remind us of our parents. This is how we first learned to love, after all – it makes sense that these markers would magnetize us to objects of desire. Doing conscious work on your parental complexes from a relatively young age is an integral part of getting what you want out of your relationships. More importantly, it may help you to avoid throwing your self-identified relationship dealbreakers out the window for the sake of companionship.

My number one relationship dealbreaker is smoking; this one applies not just to committed relationships, but to casual dating. I have an official “smokers need not apply” policy that I fiercely and protectively wield. I’ve accidentally broken it for one date, on occasion, but never more than that. Smokers are instantly kicked to the curb.

But that’s easy – smoking is just a habit, one that cannot easily be hidden from view (I have a strong sense of smell). What about when it comes to more subtle relationship dealbreakers, ones that are no less dangerous than secondhand smoke?

There was that time that I ignored the sirens going off in my head and let an ex move in with me – one who clearly had narcissistic personality disorder. This was one of those scenarios where I just knew in my heart that I could save him from himself. (Also, the sex was great.) But the joke was on me, and I lost a few years of my life to that massive mistake.

Let’s get really brave and honest about why we do this to ourselves. Are these some possible reasons you’ve made exceptions in your relationships?

1)   Loneliness

2)   Low self-esteem

3)   Muted self-awareness

4)   Peer pressure

5)   Desire to “settle”

Lists are great – I believe list-making can help you clarify your desires. But lists are not everything – you must also hone (and listen to) your intuition, if you’re truly going to avoid that next relationship that never should have been. You must move toward consciousness about what you really want and need. And there is never, ever any reason to settle. Please do exactly the opposite of what this woman says, all the time, if you want to be happy. And while you’re at it, ignore every trope from every rom-com you’ve ever seen.

We naturally crave intimacy, but we often confuse our desire to be close to someone with cultural expectations about the roles we’re supposed to play.

In a culture where motherhood is valued above all other contributions to society, it’s easy to get caught up in the idea that Mr. Right is whomever you hook up with at just around the time you begin to notice your eggs dwindling. The early and mid-thirties are prime time for women to settle – breaking all their previously agreed-to relationship dealbreakers. This is not to say that if you really want to have babies, you should ignore those urges. There are other ways to go about it — you don’t have to settle for Mr. Kinda Okay just because you’re ready for the next stage of your life.

Life is short – we don’t want to waste it on people that we don’t belong with. A fifty-percent divorce rate is a fairly good indication that people are consistently ignoring what’s most important to them.

This is not to say that mistakes aren’t necessary – it’s the only way you learn. Through your twenties and early thirties, why not date terribly, terribly wrong? That’s how you figure out what you really want. You wade your way through the dating pool, take home lots of people, have some great (and probably awful) sex, and assess the landscape of your own desires. But when (and if) you want a life partner, you have to get down to the brass tacks.

I’m a major advocate for women to put sex before love, at least for a certain period of their life. I believe that all too often, we prioritize relationships and companionship and ignore our primal desires, because we’re taught that they’re not a primary for us. Dudes get the opposite message – they are taught that they have two brains, and that their genital brain can and should lead their way through life. That’s why women so often end up with long-term partners that they’re not attracted to — and suffer years (or a whole lifetime) of crappy or non-existent sex.

So come to your next relationship with your list at the ready. Know that you can and will continue to refine that list as you experience new people. Go into therapy to identify your parental complexes. And never, ever settle — because even though there’s no such thing as a perfect partner — you first objective is to be the ideal partner for yourself.

Got a question for Stefanie? Email stefanie at ecosalon dot com, and she’ll answer it in the next Sexual Healing column.

Keep in touch with Stefanie on Twitter: @ecosexuality

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Stefanie Iris Weiss

Stefanie Iris Weiss is the author of nine books, including her latest title–Eco-Sex: Go Green Between the Sheets and Make Your Love Life Sustainable (Crown Publishing/Ten Speed Press, 2010). She keeps her carbon footprint small in New York City, where she writes about sustainability, sexuality, reproductive rights, dating and relationships, politics, fashion, beauty, and more. Stefanie is a regular contributor to British Elle, and has written for Above Magazine, Nerve, The Daily Green, Marie Claire, EcoSalon and Teen Vogue, to name a few. Her HuffPost blog is sometimes controversial. Stefanie is an on-and-off adjunct professor when not busy writing and teaching about sustainable love. A vegetarian and eco-activist since her teen years, Stefanie has made her passion into her work, and she wouldn't want it any other way. She believes that life is always better when there's more pleasure, and sustainable satisfaction is the best kind. Learn more about her various projects at ecosex.net and follow her on Twitter: @ecosexuality.