Dating deal breakers

"Would you like to hear some of my poetry?" And other things you shouldn't say if you want to score.

Published October 1, 2003 4:27PM (EDT)

I went out on a date in Taipei, Taiwan, with a young woman who had been a student of mine. It was our only date -- I was 28 at the time and she was just entering graduate school at the age of 23. She was (still is, I assume) a Chinese woman and I remain Caucasian. We went for a drink at the Taipei Hilton, then on to dinner at one of the upscale Italian restaurants in the city.

During drinks while we were talking, I noticed for the first time that she had the unusual habit of pinching the outer edges of her nostrils every couple of minutes with her thumb and forefinger, as though she had an itch (or a monkey on her back telling her to go to the toilet and break out the Bolivian marching powder). She always used her left hand and treated both nostrils with equal zeal.

We went to dinner and the tic seemed to get worse. Every sentence or question I uttered would cause her to respond with a smile followed by a rapid descent into the nasal mines. I thought about saying something but didn't, because I feared she would assume I just wanted to have a word with that monkey. What finally broke the deal, however, was her looking at her thumb and forefinger after their forays into her schnoz jungle, then wiping them on the clean white table linen. All the while she looked at me, smiling.

-- Charlie

I've demonstrated "deal breaker" behavior myself. I was miserably alone in my mid-30s and, giving what I considered to be my last hurrah, placed an ad. For anyone who has put themselves through a technologically enhanced dating process, creating artificial and somewhat random deal breakers is the only way to weed out the thousands of responses from guys who spend hours replying to any ad from any woman, any age, in the hope of striking it lucky. So I halfheartedly reviewed the responses. Bad speller, begone! Roommates over the age of 30? Sorry! But one gentleman held out the promise of intelligent conversation, so we met for drinks at a local bodega. A painter (yes!), a couple of years older than me (getting better!), he had a somewhat frightening tattoo of a dragon on his arm that gave me pause, but it certainly wasn't a deal breaker.

The date was going extremely well, the lighting was flattering, and I could see myself at least going out to a movie with this person at some point in the future. The conversation wandered around to the subject of children, as it often does when one is lurching toward middle age. No, I said, I wasn't particularly interested in having children. In fact, I thought it was extremely unlikely and giving a crooked smile, changed the subject. My stock response when asked, this seems like a comforting message to give men who are terrified of being looked upon as last-chance sperm banks for desperate, childless women. I don't go into the details of my bum ovaries and low fertility on the first date.

We finished our drinks and said goodbye on the curb, sharing a restrained yet deeply sensual kiss, promising to talk soon. I waited anxiously by the phone for days, left one slightly self-deprecating and, I hoped, witty message on his machine and wondered what went wrong. About a month later, sitting in a window seat in a restaurant, I spotted him again, holding the hand of the most stunningly gorgeous 5-year-old, bending down to whisper to her and watching her laugh and clutch his hand tighter. As he got closer he noticed me, gave a rueful smile, and passed on. Later, it all became clear: My fervent declaration of ambivalence toward kids, which merely masked my own self-doubt and deficiencies, broke the deal for the single father of a beautiful little girl.

-- Linda Q.

During the height of America's war on terror, I met a terribly cute graduate student. We had known each other in passing but never had a substantial conversation. When I did start talking to her, we got on quite well, and I found myself deeply attracted to her. We made a date, and as the sole car owner, she promised to pick me up outside my department the next evening.

A few minutes before she was to arrive, I was talking with a colleague of mine about the then proliferation of American flags on people's cars, windows, doors, persons and so forth. I began a tirade on the level of ostentation of the flag displays, remarking how I thought that it was in poor taste and more about showiness than the content of what was being shown. Right on cue, she pulled into the parking lot, flying proudly what had to have been a 4-by-6-foot flag from her car antenna. Throughout the night, her pleasantness and extreme cuteness were smothered by the massive Old Glory image that I could not get out of my head. Our date went up the flagpole, but I just couldn't bring myself to salute.

-- Christy Mag Uidhir

My deal breaker? Inviting a man over for a nice gourmet dinner, including an elaborate Martha Stewart dessert, and having him tell me throughout the meal how brokenhearted he was that his ex-wife left him for a woman.

-- Kathi M.

Last winter, I went on a date with a man who referred to himself as "we" -- as in "We'll give you a call later" or "We'll take care of that dinner bill." To my knowledge I was only on a date with one person -- him.

Immediately after dinner I called my best friend and said, "Is it horribly Chandler Bing of me that I refuse to date someone who refers to himself in the plural? What is he, a split personality? Is he incorporated?"

This man also had cats. Men who use the royal "we" and men with cats -- independent of each other, those are deal breakers. Together, well, let's just say I never returned his calls.

-- Jennifer

Deal breaker No. 1: He complimented my manners at dinner.

Deal breaker No. 2: He had Playboys in the bathroom and posters of women strung across muscle cars in his bedroom.

The clincher: "Would you like to hear some of my poetry?"

-- Amy in Austin

She was an artist; I was -- am -- a writer. We liked a lot of the same things; we were the same age, young, attractive, hip, literate. She was exactly the type of woman I'd wanted to date since high school: edgy, artistic, sarcastic, dark-haired, pale, with Buddy Holly glasses and a spectacular figure under her thrift-store dress. What could go wrong?

Well, everything. On our first date, she shrugged her shoulders at every "Well, what do you want to do?" suggestion I made. Our conversation moved like a turtle through a tar pit. I figured I was boring her and became sure of it when she cut the date short to go grocery shopping.

Crushed, I drove home swearing I wouldn't call her again. But she was a hipster porch light to my geeky moth: I kept thinking of the black slip I'd glimpsed under the dress, the Pixies tape in her car, the adorably crooked front tooth.

I called her again, and our conversation was much smoother, but in no way better. We stayed on the phone for hours, but she did all the talking, focusing on her favorite topic: her. I felt like she was auditioning for the role of "quirky urban artist chick" in a movie I had no interest in making.

This went on for a few days: I kept telling myself I wouldn't call, and then (black slip, "Here Comes Your Man") something would pop into my mind and I'd be on the phone.

In the end, I guess I needed to fight shallowness with shallowness. Radiohead's "Kid A" had just come out, and I started to tell her how much I liked "Morning Bell."

"Which song is that?" she asked.

"It's, um, the eighth track," I told her. (The one that begins with Thom Yorke singing "Morning bell, morning bell...")

"Oh," she said, disdainfully. "See, I'm not one of those people that needs to sit there with the CD and keep track of what song is playing. I just like to, you know, experience the music."

See, I'm not one of those people that need to torture themselves to get into someone's bed. A few months after I hung up the phone with her for the last time, I met my current girlfriend.

She doesn't wear Buddy Holly glasses, lives in the suburbs, and reads celebrity tabloids. She also knows exactly who she is and has never said anything to me that I wasn't sure was the truth. I love her, and not because she can sit there with the CD and still, you know, experience the music.

-- Tom C.

He was very pretty, very well-dressed, moneyed and educated, and he had that devilish look in his eyes that matched mine. Though he never qualified for the Olympics, he trained for a number of years and on more than one occasion has run a four-minute mile, not to mention all the races and triathalons he's competed in. I was gaga for him almost instantly, which continued as he bought me drinks, and we talked and talked into the night.

Charming, hilarious, irresistibly sexy -- a fantastic kisser. I left his apartment several hours later when I discovered he was wearing fairly skimpy bikini underwear. It was the color of salmon. Deal breaker.

-- Anonymous

In college in the early 1990s I met a guy online through our primitive campus bulletin board system. I had seen him around, thought he was cute enough, so I agreed to go out for coffee with him. Our first date was something of a disaster, ending in the most passionless kiss I've ever received; but I was lonely and tired of watching my more outgoing friends get laid every weekend. Despite our complete lack of chemistry, I was determined to give him another try.

For our next date we got some pizza and then ended up at his off-campus apartment. Instead of hanging out in the living room watching a video like he'd suggested, he led me to his bedroom. It was a typical college student's room, with crate-and-board bookcases and the like. But instead of a bed, he had a camping mattress and a sleeping bag on the floor.

After I perused his sad CD collection (lots of crappy New Age stuff and soft-rock hits), I said I needed to go to the bathroom. Inside, hanging from some hooks, was the deal breaker -- really, the two deal breakers: a pair of acid-washed Jordache jeans and a brand-new Brut soap-on-a-rope.

At first I considered that he had these items for ironic effect, but there was nothing to support that theory. I'm not the kind of girl who cares about what type of car a guy drives or how expensive his clothes are or how much money he makes. But come on -- we were both students at a very hip college. How could he not know how uncool Jordache jeans (who knew they even made them for men?) and Brut soap were? He was clearly out of touch with reality.

I peed and then returned to the guy, who was now half-inside his sleeping bag, motioning for me to join him (how would I even fit in there?). Hoping my face wasn't betraying my revulsion, I asked him to drive me home, making up something about not feeling well. I never saw him again.

-- Erin

I once met and dated this guy who was nice, fun, well-dressed, funny, patient, handsome and employed. Plus, he actually invited me places. I thought I'd won the love lottery. On our fifth date he invited me to his place after we popped into a happy hour with some of his friends. Well, there I was, trapped in the middle of a Lil' Kim video. There was an overstuffed turquoise pleather sofa and matching chair in front of drapes with an iridescent pink weave. He had recently broken up with his longtime boyfriend, so I tried to hide my shock and thought, "Well, I should give him a break, someone probably loaned him this furniture until he gets on his feet." Then I notice the arrangement of fake magenta magnolia flowers (similar to ones I'd seen once in a Taco Bell in the mid-'90s.)

Flustered, I said I had to use the bathroom. I took a deep breath and collected myself before turning on the light. There, perched on the wall above the toilet, was an Grecian urn with a fake, plastic ivy plant tumbling out of it. Then, there on a little wooden shelf above the toilet, was a matching -- smaller -- Grecian urn gingerly turned on its side so a bunch of plastic red grapes could spill forth. Next to the grapes was a sand dollar airbrushed with a sunset and my date's name. I tried to focus on what I liked about the guy, but those scary home interior images continued to haunt me until I had to stop seeing him. Especially after he said he thought his sofa was nice without a hint of sarcasm. I felt completely shallow, but then there was the matter of his liberal application of talcum powder to his crotch. I guess that was the real deal breaker.

-- Lucas

By Salon Staff

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