We dread the “non-negotiables” in our dating partners, but we use them to protect ourselves. The non-negotiable in relationships and dating is also known as the dealbreaker.
What are Non-Negotiables in a Relationship?
The “non-negotiable” is a dating, love, or sex boundary, drawn up by an individual or couple, throuple, family, or any other unit of individuals bonded by a relationship. A non-negotiable boundary is not flexible, not open to discussion, and not open to modification. Whatever this boundary or these boundaries are, they are not subject to debate or adjustment.
Most people have non-negotiable boundaries for the purpose of protection and welfare in addition to a personal taste or preference. A non-negotiable may also exist because the topic in question is a huge turn off, so it is not flexible.
How Are Non-Negotiables Communicated?
A non-negotiable can be unspoken, implied, assumed, or definitive. In other words, most rational among us have non-negotiables like “I don’t date folks involved in crime and murder.” We probably don’t have that written in stone—it is implied.
Common non-negotiables include not dating people who smoke, no drug addicts or alcoholics, dating only people with jobs, dating only people who share your kink, not dating after cheating (common dealbreaker for monogamous lovers), dating only those who vote your way, and no abuse.
Preferences vs Non-Negotiables
A preference is not the same as a dealbreaker or non-negotiable in dating.
For example, you may have a preference for slender Asian women with gorgeous dark straight hair, but you find yourself in love with a chubby buxom redhead. You might have a preference for dominant women, but you usually date vanilla women. You might be strongly inclined to date and marry from your culture, but you went with someone else entirely. You may have wanted to date a vegetarian, but you fell for a keto girl.
Making compromises for surprises in life and being open to variety and diversity gives us flexibility and tolerance to have a rich love life. We can expand our range of experiences to be truly open to others. Plus, there are always exceptions to a rule. Strong preferences and even rules—I will only date Democrats, for example—might be common sense guides for our lives, but then we meet a considerate, caring, gorgeous Libertarian. Maybe we want to date another vegan, but fall hard for a celebrity BBQ chef! Such experiences expand our understanding of each other and ourselves.
We may also find that someone we love isn’t perfect. We might have an obvious non-negotiable like “I don’t date racists.” But a couple of years in, our lover’s mom says something offensive and our partner stands up for their mom, excusing her for being from “another time.” We aren’t going to leave our for this complication. We may also disagree on the definition of the offense with our lover—you may both define anything from “racist” to “kinky” to “alcoholic” in different ways!
To complicate things further, lots of non-negotiables apply to “getting serious” but not to affairs or hookups. For example, “no unemployed guys” may only apply to a relationship but be irrelevant for a woman looking for just sex. Ditto for voting or cultural background—someone’s values may matter deeply for a relationship but not be all that relevant when it comes to a fun frolic.
So, our preferences and non-negotiables are part of a complex array of boundaries and signals we have in place to help us navigate sex and relationships in the best way possible.
Ever wonder what other people’s dating non-negotiables look like? Here are a few!
Poly Stories: What Are Your Non-Negotiables?
Physical fitness is important to me. I basically only date women who are athletes or at least daily runners. If you don’t care about your own body, and prefer fast food and Netflix marathons to insane sex marathons, you’ve made your choice. – Jayden, 25
I only date Black women. I am a Black man and love all women and would date any women in a perfect and peaceful world. But I need to support, love, and uplift women in my community first. – Samuel, 38
This may seem obvious, but I only date polyamorous people. I don’t casually date anyone with unknown status. I have no interest in “popping the news” or explaining my other boyfriends and girlfriends. I don’t date first-time poly either. Just actively polyamorous people. It saves me a lot of hurt feelings, explanations, and headaches. – Katja, 28
Zero tolerance. I have lots of compassion for people who struggle with addiction, but I won’t date them. I’m not into the roller coaster. My brother has addiction problems, and I love and support him. But I don’t care to bring that hurricane home. In my younger days I dated two different women who had overcome drug problems. There was always a fear of going back down, and then it happened. The lies, the deterioration, the gaslighting—I can’t put myself through that. Relationships for me have to be about joy, not fear. – Sid, 35
I don’t date men who are late. I’m serious. I have a three-strike policy. It’s fine obviously if your car actually broke down or there was a traffic accident or your phone was stolen. It’s not fine if you are a last-minute guy always scrambling to be on schedule. My time is the most valuable thing there is. Respect it, period. – Karen, 24
It might sound strange but you have to understand that sex is important and it is a priority. It’s not just about having a high sex drive—you might have a lower libido than me but still see it’s important. I don’t want to be shamed for my desires or date a woman who places her own desires below everything else. I don’t want to be around anyone who thinks sexual people are perverts or have a “one track mind.” Sex is essential to health and happiness and I don’t like the negative attitudes that surround it. People who think “there are more important things” can date someone else. – Jeffrey, 31
What are your relationship non-negotiables?