A survey of American college students revealed that being apathetic and gross are the most repelling factors when people are evaluated as potential long-term mates. In the context of short-term mating, the most repelling factors were being gross and clingy. The new study was published in Personality and Individual Differences.
People consider many different characteristics when choosing a sexual or romantic partner. Some of these factors are more important than others, but some are also dealbreakers, factors that completely disqualify someone as a potential mate. The authors of this study identified 49 such dealbreakers mentioned in studies and tried to classify them into categories.
These categories were unattractiveness, unhealthy lifestyle, undesirable personality traits, differing religious beliefs, limited social status, divergent mating psychologies, and differing relationship goals. However, they realized that other studies also tried to create classifications of relationship dealbreakers and produced different results.
The researchers reasoned that a good classification of relationship dealbreakers must group dealbreakers into a smaller number of categories, but also focus on features that impose costs on people, such as producing threats to their sexual health (e.g. sexually transmitted diseases), relationship (e.g. infidelity) or that create personality problems (e.g. insecurity).
They also expected the dealbreakers to be different depending on whether a person is looking for a long-term or a short-term mate, to be dependent on the value of the mate, but also on gender and age.
The researchers reanalyzed data from a sample of 285 undergraduates from a university in Southwestern United States, collected for a previous study. Out of the entire sample, 115 of participants were men, 95% were heterosexual and one half of participants reported being in a committed relationship. 61% were European Americans.
Participants completed assessments of their value as a mate (the Mate Value Inventory, MVI) and their sexual strategies (the Sociosexual Orientation Index, SOI). Participants were than provided with a list of 49 traits of potential mates that were identified as dealbreakers in previous studies. They were asked to rate each trait on a 1-5 scale based on how much it would be a dealbreaker in a short-term and in a long-term relationship. They were instructed that dealbreakers are “bits of information you learn about a person that might make you lose interest in this potential partner.”
Analysis of participants’ responses showed that, based on statistical criteria, relationship dealbreakers can be grouped into six categories: Gross, Addicted, Clingy, Promiscuous, Apathetic and Unmotivated.
In the long-term mating context, both men and women rated Apathetic as the greatest dealbreaker, follow by Gross, then Clingy, Addicted, Unmotivated and Promiscuous. Men rated all groups of dealbreakers except Gross as greater dealbreakers in the long-term than in the short-term mating context. The difference in ratings for the two mating contexts was on Apathetic and Unmotivated. Gross was seen as equally repelling for both short- and long-term mating. Women gave similar ratings, with the exception of Promiscuity, which they found equally repelling in both dating contexts.
Older women saw Gross and Unmotivated as a bit greater dealbreakers than younger women. Women with higher mate value were more repelled by grossness in the short-term mating context and this association was more intensive than in men. In the long-term context, women with higher mating value were more repelled by characteristics from the Clingy and Apathetic categories.
“Our re-analysis yielded six dealbreaker factors (i.e., Gross, Addicted, Clingy, Promiscuous, Apathetic, and Unmotivated) with excellent fit and invariant measurement across sex and relationship context,” the researchers concluded. “Consistent with existing research in other cultures the greatest dealbreakers were apathy (i.e., lacking parenting ability) and being gross (i.e., posing pathogen threats) in the long-term and being gross and clingy (i.e., inhibiting a partner’s nonparental reproductive efforts) in the short-term.”
“As expected, age was in a weak and positive relationship with the dealbreakers, but only in women and not in men. Also as expected, openness to uncommitted sex was associated with lower ratings of the dealbreakers, an effect that was more pronounced in short-term than long-term contexts (except for Clingy) and mate value was positively correlated with dealbreakers in both mating contexts.”
The study contributes to the body of knowledge on sexual behavior. However, it has limitations that need to be taken into account. Notably, the results are based on responses of a relatively small sample of students. Age differences between participants were limited and results on other populations might not be the same. Additionally, the study was based on self-reports. It is possible participants differed in their interpretations of dealbreakers or were unable to accurately assess how much a dealbreaker would affect them in a real-life situation.
The study, “Six “red flags” in relationships: From being dangerous to gross and being apathetic to unmotivated”, was authored by Zsofia Csajbok, Kaitlyn P. White, and Peter K. Jonason.