The Art of the Deal Breaker

Mr Enigma asked if my car was a stick shift and I proudly answered yes because I believe driving such a vehicle is a dying, if somewhat inconvenient, art. Not that I wouldn't happily give it up for an automatic, which would allow me to delegate more attention to other pressing driving matters like not running into stuff, but it wasn't a Deal Breaker.

"That would be a deal breaker for me," he said. You see, he recently abandoned his stick shift Honda Accord for a fancy pants silver automatic Y2K Honda Accord. "You know what else?" he continued. "A girl in a pick up." Pause. "Moustaches, blech."

Clearly we had moved into new territory...the frightening terrain of Mr Enigma's personal preferences. He has shared a number of these with me over the months, tidbits such as how he (like most men) really prefers blondes, finds curly hair repulsive, and is ill at ease with tall women. In short, every moment with him is a miracle of affirmation for me. Somehow he intends this sort of candor as complimentary, like the creepy men in cars that would shout "WHORE" at me on my evening constitutionals.

"They're saying they would pay to sleep with you," he volunteers. "That's got to make you feel pretty good."

I've tried to explain the difference between a shout of "WHORE" and one of, say, "PARDON--HIGH PRICED CALL GIRL!" because if I must be taken for a prostitute I'd prefer it be the kind that would have to be saved for, but the distinction is lost on him. But I'll admit, sometimes compliments are tricky and the verbal space around them infested with psychic landmines.

I'll give you a famous family example. Soon after my mother and dad married, he told her she would look really good when she got old. Forever after he would protest that his meaning was, "Good as you look now--and that's very good by the way--you have the kind of face and bone structure that will endure and even improve over time so that later in life you will truly be an exquisite creature." But since the immediate impression was, "Well...maybe you'll pull it off eventually," the would be compliment was chained to him like a dead albatross for decades.

Or to cite a recent near miss, I was telling a regular customer of Partick's at Cafe Nikos that my brother tries to regulate the amount of cream and sugar I use in my coffee. Before I could explain that he does so because he believes coffee that is any paler than a Hershey Bar is an abomination, the customer (whose name is Tiger just in case you want to find him and give him a hard time) leaned forward and in a conspiratorial whisper asked,"Is it because he thinks you're too fat?" I'm guessing I seemed surprised at the query because he immediately shrank back and stammered, "Because I don't think you are."

"Too late, pal," I told him, "You are so in The Nose."

Which is not to say every compliment should be of the "all that's best of dark and bright/ Meet in her aspect and in her eyes" variety, but it seems to me that compliment giving may be going the way of the stick shift.

Which reminds me that this article is about relationship Deal Breakers.

Apparently, notions of what constitutes a Deal Breaker began to flit around Tech Support, and later King James the Almighty Product Manager Amen took the question on the road with an informal poll. I was present when he returned with some initial results which he presented in Mr E's cube before Mr E, The Man, myself, and for all intents and purposes everybody else in Tech Support, including Mr. Flintstone's protegees Barney and Bam-Bam, as they all have ears like bats and gossip like old women.

Up to this point my own reflections on relationship Deal Breakers had resulted in a single item, that any demonstrable interest in me by any male was evidence of a fatal flaw that would lead to the eventual termination of the relationship. This is known as the Groucho Marx Principle, and embroidering upon it strikes me as baroque. But others have a ready list of picayune demands.

"Long fingernails were mentioned a couple of times as a deal breaker," King James began.
"Oh, yeah, I hate that," murmured The Man. The Man is very low key.

"Murmured" for him is like "declared" for anybody else, so I guess this fingernail thing really hit a nerve. King James concurred in this sentiment, but Mr Enigma entered in a strongly worded descent. "Oh I love long nails," he opined. "Stubby nails are almost a Deal Breaker for me."

And so it went--too religious, too bulky, too timid. And with each entry to the list I found myself becoming more erotic. I mean, neurotic. Here's the thing: every time I heard I Deal Breaker, I personally felt broken by it. And the applicability of the Deal Breaker mattered not a whit. If someone uttered a prejudice against a gay Haitian military strongman, I would have felt slighted. Bad enough sitting with my hands folded into fists thinking, "Are my fingernails too long? Are they long enough? Was 'Summer Lovin' a suitable choice for a color and will the fact that the paint has nearly chipped away put me in better stead with the anti-manicure set?" So although as a former student of Anthropology, I was edified and enlightened by King James's data (and would be interested in hearing any exotic deal breakers from you readers [please don't offer the likes of "wife beater," "pedophile," or "crack whore" as they are a huge bummer; we're willing to just go ahead and take them and any other really super illegal thing as a given]), the non-former student of Anthropology parts of my psyche were running for cover like ants in a rainstorm. All these parts were chanting, "You're fat fat fat."

On reflection, I've decided that Deal Breakers are not as much about judging others as a path to self knowledge. Length of fingernails, for instance, can indicate a person's aptitude for physical activity; hence the formula Long Fingernails=Less Activity. One looks at hands then not for aesthetic purposes, but as a gauge of lifestyle compatibility. "Am I the sort of person that could deal with a potential mate's circumscribed activity due to fingernail length," one would have to ask oneself in interviewing candidates for the job. Well not me necessarily. Less Activity would be fine, but Long Fingernails on a guy is icky. Anyway, you get the idea.

So I crossed the Groucho Principle off of my list (telling though it is) and began a new list of Deal Breakers for myself. It has two items so far: Long fingernails, and Babbles incessantly during movies.

It's a start.

(Written by Sharon C. McGovern)

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