Deal in red circle with line through itEver since I signed up to the be the curator for the Odyssey Storytelling “Deal Breaker” show (this November 1), I’ve been focusing on what is and is not a deal breaker for me. I’ve stepped back and looked at really uncomfortable situations and wondered, “Could this be a deal breaker?”

First stop: my online dictionary. “Deal breaker. Noun: a factor or issue that, if unresolved during negotiations, would cause one party to withdraw from a deal.”

In reality the deal breaker does not have to be a “good reason” by society’s standards, it’s a very personal thing. What’s the bottom line? Or more to the point, what’s YOUR bottom line?


Ready for some light introspection? What’s that one thing that you can’t overlook or tolerate in business, in entertainment, in personal relationships, in your home, in eating/drinking/dancing/traveling/clothing habits? The list can go on and on.

What’s the catch that can sometimes be a wakeup call? Who is the person whose presence removes you from attending an event? Do you sometimes ask, “So who’s going?” when gathering information for a decision?

In answer to “What’s a relationship deal breaker?” my friend stated flatly and without hesitation, “Infidelity.” Now that’s one of those very personal decisions, but it made me think, Just what is Infidelity? Lusting in your heart? Physical contact? Daily texting of a very personal nature? A sexual relationship?  Flirting- and how do you define flirting? Here we go down the rabbit hole.

Deal breakers are fluid. Sometimes red flags are no longer red flags. Then, do you forgive or is it a deal breaker? What might have been a deal breaker ten years ago or a year ago and now is a mere shoulder shrug? Or vice versa?

Here’s one:

Then: “Come to Sam’s party. But you know, they don’t serve any alcohol.”– Deal breaker for me.

Now: “Hey look, all you can drink- free. Doesn’t that sound great?!!” Deal breaker for me.

There are dating deal breakers, petty deal breakers – (the most unusual I heard was dimples), relationship deal breakers – ranging from and including living at home after age thirty, a long and continued history of unemployment, debt, drug abuse.

There are job deal breakers – racial prejudice, sexism, no workplace harassment policy, no a/c.

Romantic deal breakers are as varied as the number of varieties of lilies or roses  (lilies-110, and 150 species of roses). A small digression here of a personal nature: If your relationships have a shelf life of 2-3 years with harsh and seemingly abrupt endings, take a listen to some great songs: Try a Little Tenderness. Sure Thing, The Wind Beneath My Wings, Ain’t No Mountain High Enough, Your Love is King, You’re the Best Thing, Tonight I Celebrate My Love.

There are sometimes the edge-of-deal breaker-remarks or situations that can be solved with “Let it go.” “Move on.” (Verbally, emotionally, or physically).


But sometimes…it’s a deal breaker. Three random samples from my life:

  1. When I was in my early 30’s I went for an interview as an assistant dance instructor at a New York City dance studio. It was very posh, lovely décor, full wood floor with non-slip foam backing, and wall-to-wall mirrors. Clean, very welcoming. Very “in.” The director asked some basic questions. We danced. He had me give pointers to three students as a practice class. He was pleased. At our closing talk he confided proudly that I need have not concerns about being uncomfortable in any way with the clientele.  “We screen all our prospective students.”

“What do you mean?”

He smiled disarmingly. He turned me to the mirror. “Well, my dear,  look at us. Not everyone looks like us. There are certain types we don’t want. We don’t want their kind.”

Without a word I knew what he meant. Looking in the mirror, I couldn’t see any clue of compassion, intelligence, or verbal, much less dance ability. I saw only Size – average, Shape – young and fit, and Color – white. And that was a deal breaker.

2. Glass half-empty perspective. If someone has that “yeah, but” tone in more than 30% of their responses to suggestions, invitations, ideas, it can be like a dark cloud moving in on a picnic. After a while, isn’t that pretty tiring?

3. The tone of voice can be a deal breaker in deepening a relationship. When I said I’d pass on watching 2Broke Girls on TV I got “What?!! You don’t like it?!! It’s so funny.” Add on that this was said in an incredulous tone. Sometimes an incredulous tone is like a red flag invitation to heated debate.

“Well, it’s a sexist show and that’s not funny to me.”

“Aw, come on. I can’t believe you don’t think it’s funny.” Deal breaker.

One-liner deal breaker responses from my random sample survey: “He calls me beautiful like it’s my name.”  “Don’t call me ‘hon’ unless you are the waitress in a New Jersey diner who does it with attitude and love.”  “Aw, come on. I was only kidding. Can’t you take a joke?”


What are other deal breakers? Send me a one-liner or an anecdote. Come to Odyssey- at intermission there’s a chance for an audience member to share their deal breaker.

What did I leave out on those relationship love songs?

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships.