Six Traits That Can Make Someone 'Undateable'

Thinking like an evolutionary psychologist can help you pick the right romantic partners, and avoid the wrong ones.

By Mark Travers, Ph.D. | February 8, 2023

A new study published in Personality and Individual Differences reveals six personality traits that most people consider to be dealbreakers in romantic relationships. According to the lead author of the study, psychologist Zsófia Csajbók of Charles University in the Czech Republic, considering red flags over 'ideal characteristics' in your romantic partner can be a better way to select a mate.

"For the last four decades, mate choice research was focusing on the positive, dealmaker characteristics of mate preferences," Csajbók explains. "However, we were also selected to avoid costly mating mistakes. So, in the last couple of years, we just started to realize how influential red flags are in the dating scene."

Csajbók's study re-analyzed previously published data that produced 49 dealbreaker characteristics and categorized them based on a dimension reduction methodology to reveal the following six broad red flags:

  1. Gross
  2. Addicted
  3. Clingy
  4. Promiscuous
  5. Apathetic
  6. Unmotivated

When looked at this from an evolutionary perspective, these six qualities can look like or allude to glaring personality flaws. Csajbók breaks down the evolutionary roots of these dealbreakers in the following ways:

  1. Being gross, unhygienic, or unattractive register as pathogen threats to our minds. 'Gross' individuals pose a threat to our health and good physical health is an indicator of youth and fertility, which confers an evolutionary advantage.
  2. Addicted, apathetic, and unmotivated individuals are either unable or unwilling to invest the resources and effort necessary to cultivate a healthy relationship and family.
  3. Clingy partners may prohibit you from building relationships outside of your primary relationships, dampering on your social life.
  4. Promiscuity suggests an inclination towards infidelity, having extra-marital children, and an increased risk of transmitting sexual diseases.

"Women were more picky, having higher standards overall, which is consistent with evolutionary theories," Csajbók adds. "This is understandable because the potential cost of a bad relationship for women is considerably higher than for men. Women may end up with children who they have to bring up alone, and potentially also having to deal with the burden of reputation management."

Csajbók highlights two big reasons why considering what you do not want in a partner can be an effective dating strategy:

  1. You can prevent a great deal of heartache if you consciously consider what you need and cannot tolerate in a potential partner. It will also help you avoid slipping into a relationship because of non-essential reasons like loneliness.
  2. It will help you pick more suitable partners. Breakups are psychologically costly situations. Not learning from our breakups is an evolutionary cost we cannot afford.

Overall, Csajbók emphasizes good hygiene as the bedrock of all favorable traits you can possess as a romantic partner:

"By now, it is clearly shown and replicated in three historically different cultures (the U.S., Hungary, and Cyprus) that maintaining good hygiene is among the most important traits of a potential partner," she says. "It is probably worth investing in a good dentist, maintaining good oral hygiene, buying clothes made of natural fiber to maintain good body odor, and regularly showing up for STD screenings."

Importantly, Csajbók warns against nit-picking every little personality quirk or annoying quality your partner exhibits. She says that expecting perfection in a partner or yourself is a road to loneliness and dissatisfaction. According to her, a good relationship is not about finding someone perfect, it is about finding someone willing to put in the effort to make it work.

"Being able to make up when frictions inevitably come up – because that is just natural to life – is perhaps a good indicator that the relationship can last even if the persons in it are imperfect," she concludes. "This can't be achieved by looking for the perfect person who probably doesn't exist anyway."

A full interview with psychologist Zsófia Csajbók discussing her research can be found here: Most people view these six qualities as dealbreakers in relationships