Dealbreakers and Gamechangers

Quite some time ago, I went to a dance club. At some point, I got off the dance floor and took a break and sat on some couches.  These couches just happened to be near the ladies’ room. There were a group of women near the entrance and I couldn’t help but overhear a young woman explaining the possibility of dating a possible suitor.  Here is how her conversation went. (I’m condensing and filtering lot of details.)

“You guys. I’m seeing this guy, and I don’t know…I mean, he lives in his mom’s basement, he plays video games all day, and he’s not much into animals.  But then, I found out he makes really good poached eggs, he teaches yoga, and put his hair up in a manbun. Oh my god you guys, gamechanger!”

I’m sure I’m reducing a lot of the features of what this woman liked and disliked about the guy. The content isn’t really important.  What I want to focus on is the first set of things she found intolerable (living in his mom’s basement, playing video games all day, and not being in to animals). This set is what I will call “dealbreakers.”

Dealbreakers, at least the way I’m thinking about them, are various character traits where if a potential intimate partner has those traits, one will immediately not want to have any further contact with that person much longer, perhaps at all.

I think when it comes to potential partners, everyone has dealbreakers.  Yes, I know it depends on the context, but I’m sure there are few that you can think of that are more or less absolute.  They can be considered a big deal or superficial. To see what the biggest dealbreakers are, see here.

But what about gamechangers? Do they really exist, especially for long-term partners? I consider a gamechanger as some sort of characteristic, or perhaps some new information that changes that situation into either a positive or negative way. In a way, negative gamechangers are dealbreakers. Positive gamechangers are uplifting experiences where you feel a special closeness with the other person. Both dealbreakers and gamechangers are pivotal transformative moments in how you deal with your potential relationship.

In the context that I gave above, a gamechanger would have to be significant enough to overrule the dealbreaker. But are there such significant gamechangers? Well, according to the person in the story above, then yes. But how do these dealbreakers and gamechangers cash out?

Here’s a possible way to look at dealbreakers: a dealbreaker is enough of a negative feature so as to no longer invest or even start a relationship. It seems that the longer you’re in a relationship, the more tolerant one is with the dealbreakers. After all, maybe a dealbreaker is seeing a potential mate eating with their mouth open. But if you’ve already dated for a number of years, maybe that characteristic isn’t so bad. So dealbreakers can change quantitatively. Moreover, they seem to change qualitatively. The dealbreaker you have now may not be a dealbreaker in the future. Likewise, maybe you’ve gained some dealbreakers that you’ve never had before. So what’s the relationship between dealbreakers and a person? We could probably formulate it like this:

If a person has dealbreaker-1, dealbreaker-2, dealbreaker-3…dealbreaker-n, then we would very likely not want to continue with that relationship. Note: it’s hard to say whether these dealbreakers are conjunctive or disjunctive. It probably depends on the person, and how qualitative the dealbreaker is. If they are conjunctive, then there’s a certain threshold that someone meets in order for someone to leave to potential to continue the relationship.

Now gamechangers are positive features that overcomes the dealbreaker. The gamechanger, in many ways, are surprising elements where you least expect it. We may have a list of what dealbreakers are, but it’s hard to imagine a list of gamechangers because gamechangers are very much in the context. Gamechangers seem to have a quantitative and qualitative feature as well. If quantitative, they seem to work best in a conjunctive manner. Moreover, our gamechangers seem to change over time, meaning we could lose or gain gamechangers.

What’s the relationship between gamechangers and a person? The formula seems to be something like this:

For any dealbreaker (or conjunction thereof), a gamechanger (or a conjunction thereof) overrules the (conjunction of the) dealbreaker(s). Note: the gamechanger has to be more significant than the dealbreaker. Why? I think it’s because a dealbreaker is a such a negative situation that it needs tremendous positive info to overpower that negative info. In other words, the positive of the gamechanger has to be very positive to overpower the dealbreaker. It isn’t enough for the gamechanger to cancel out the dealbreaker. Since the dealbreaker was a transformative experience in the negative, the gamechanger is a positive transformative experience of the transformative experience in the negative.

Here we get to the psychology or even the metaphysics about pains and pleasures. I don’t want to get bogged into details here, but it seems that overcoming a negative is not just finding a positive to counterbalance the feelings, but the positive has to dramatically overrule the negative. Thus, the gamechanger has to be such a huge deal to overpower the dealbreaker. Maybe we have a formula:

potential relationship < dealbreaker(s) << gamechanger(s)

But there’s a time sequence here too. Suppose the gamechanger happened first. You may be so elated with this positive information, but then sometime after that, the dealbreaker happens. No matter how positive the gamechanger was, the dealbreaker after the gamechanger still overpowered the gamechanger.  Thus, for the gamechanger to really be a gamechanger, it has to happen after dealbreaker.

Of course, if you’re already in the relationship, the dealbreaker may lose it’s force over time. After all, you’ve developed a history with that person and that history, it seems, has more prominence than the dealbreakers you have. Of course, there may be absolute dealbreakers where no matter how long you’ve been with that person, the relationship ends if the other person broke one of your absolute dealbreakers.

This isn’t to say that looking at dealbreakers and gamechangers should only be thought about abstractly. Having dealbreakers and gamechangers are psychological, and it’s best to know what your dealbreakers are so that you know what your boundaries are in relationships.  This way, you will have healthy relationships. At the same time, also be aware that your dealbreakers can soften or change over time, and even with the same partner. Likewise, gamechangers are contextual in that they are not just new information that can overpower the dealbreaker, but they are also informed by the length of the relationship, how bad the dealbreaker was, the situation that you’re in, and the overall quality and quantity of the dealbreaker and gamechanger. Gamechangers are hard—if not impossible—to know what they are. But at the same time, gamechangers seem to be a cautious virtue in that it keeps yourself open to the possibility that an investment may still be worth it, and that worth can overpower the dealbreaker. This isn’t to say that if there’s a gamechanger, it should always overpower the dealbreaker. You must know your boundaries, expectations, needs, and desires. But it does suggest that gamechangers are possibly related to virtue ethics, at least related to the virtue of being open-minded or being open to possibilities of your relationship with others.

This is just a very brief sketch of the epistemology, psychology, and metaphysics of dealbreakers and gamechangers. With this, there is the possibility to have an ethics of dealbreakers and gamechangers, but that opportunity will be left to another time.

About shaunmiller

I have just completed a visiting position as an assistant professor at Dalhousie University. My ideas are not associated with my employer; they are expressions of my own thoughts and ideas. Some of them are just musings while others could be serious discussions that could turn into a bigger project. Besides philosophy, I enjoy martial arts (Kuk Sool Won), playing my violin, enjoying coffee around town, and experimenting with new food.
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