The early days of a new relationship are fragile — even if you both agree you like each other and want to date, there’s a long list of things that could end things before they’ve even really gotten started. It could be your first big fight, or finding out things aren’t really gelling in bed — or it could be that you’re suddenly confronted with one of your biggest turnoffs and can’t get past it.
How much weight should we give to the idea of our turn-offs? Are they a helpful set of instincts, or a preconceived set of beliefs that are holding us back? I think it’s more complex than either of those things — here’s what I’d keep in mind about turnoffs early in a relationship.
What do I mean by “turnoff”?
If a green flag is something you’re looking for, and a red flag is a sign that you’re in danger and should run in the opposite direction, a turnoff is something in between — something that rubs you the wrong way and could arguably be a sign that someone isn’t right for you or just something that gets under your skin personally but is ultimately harmless, like nails on a chalkboard.
Some common turnoffs include:
- Bad hygiene
- Being rude to waitstaff
- Lack of communication, or being “bad at texting”
- Differences over pets
- Personal style
- Being too needy
- Being late or unreliable
- Annoying personal habits — a laugh or vocal tic
It’s normal to find things like this unappealing — no one is perfect. Some are personal preferences; some, like hygiene, are part of how we experience attraction; some may cue us to reasons why we may not be a good fit with someone.
However, turnoffs can also be counterproductive in some ways while we’re dating. We all know someone who complains about being single, but also finds a reason to reject everyone they meet: this person is too short, this person has the wrong astrological sign, this person likes cats instead of dogs. In my matchmaking practice, I meet similar people: they want a relationship, but any small turnoff, no matter how inconsequential, is a reason to dismiss a potential connection. In these cases, a turnoff becomes something else: a defense mechanism, or a way to self-sabotage.
Is it wrong to reconsider a relationship because of a turnoff?
This doesn’t mean you aren’t allowed to have turnoffs; there is a real phenomenon of our instincts telling us someone is on a different page than us. Here are some examples of turnoffs you should consider paying attention to:
Demonstrates genuine relationship incompatibility or lifestyle
Some things aren’t morally wrong or bad but are still incompatible with the kind of relationship we want to have or the life we want to live. If you want a partner you can have on your arm while you hit the town every weekend and your new date prefers staying in and playing board games and needs to leave every party by 9 pm, it may be genuinely difficult for the two of you to build something happy together.
Speaks to a disconnect in your values
Having a dinner date who’s rude to the whole staff of the restaurant is embarrassing, it can also indicate that you experience the world very differently in ways that will be incompatible. What do you believe about how we should all show up for each other and our communities, and how do your date’s actions map onto that? If there are differences, are they opposing paradigms, or a more minor ideological difference you could talk through?
You have reason to believe it will trigger attachment issues
Some factors may be, again, completely morally neutral, but represent a challenge to our attachment wounds that we know would make it difficult for a relationship to flourish. For instance, if you know you have an anxious attachment style and perceive a lot of threats to your relationship or your partner’s affection for you, dating someone who runs a business with their ex may be a big ask to make of yourself (and them). While we can and should work on our attachment issues and triggers, there’s a difference between doing the work and setting ourselves up to fail.
When might you want to wait out or push through a turnoff?
On the other hand, some turnoffs aren’t protecting us from incompatibility or harm — some are the results of received ideas about what we should want or be attracted to, some are built by force of habit, and some are about our own instincts to protect ourselves gone too far afield. Here are some turnoffs you may want to consider taking with a grain of salt — they shouldn’t necessarily be the reason you write someone off entirely.
The turnoff is based on a set of “rules,” either stated or unstated
If we think about why we’ve decided we don’t want to keep seeing someone, we may find ourselves speaking in generalisms: “It could never work with her, she watches reality TV.” “I can’t date someone who’s shorter than me.” If you think through why these make sense to you, is there a factual basis to any of these, or are you drawing from an internal list of “rules,” expectations, or assumptions? If so, these don’t necessarily hold water — it may be worth sticking around to see what happens.
It’s about your “type”
One of the most persistent sets of rules we tend to hold internally is that of our “type” — we may write someone off as soon as we think they diverge from it. We know we like dating artsy types, and so when we meet someone who’s more into sustainable farming, we write them off. Don’t be so hasty; instead of focusing on the specific details of your “type,” think about why you find it attractive and what it means. If what you like about dating artists is that it’s attractive to watch someone lose themselves in a practice that they’re passionate about, the sustainable farmer may actually be a perfect match.
It’s based on an instinctive reaction linked to your attachment style
While some relationship configurations can be too taxing for our attachment style, some might actually be the perfect challenge we need to grow and work on moving closer to a secure attachment — but we may push them away because, at the moment, they make us feel uncomfortable. The turnoff of finding someone “too needy” might actually just be a sign of your own avoidant attachment leanings, and you could benefit from thinking about ways you could work on becoming more tolerant of a desire for attachment from your partner.