Where does this phrase come from?
October 6, 2017 7:15 AM   Subscribe

I've seen this phrase on many dating profiles of ladies in New York city and Brooklyn: "my dealbreakers are numerous and arbitrary." Where does it come from?

I've seen it dozens of times on at least 3 different dating apps, but Googling it turns up nothing. I kept thinking it was from a movie I should've seen or a song I haven't heard... Any ideas?
posted by critzer to Computers & Internet (22 answers total)
I first heard the term "dealbreaker" (in the deating/relationship context) from 30 Rock.
posted by JoeZydeco at 7:21 AM on October 6

I've heard dealbreaker for ages, but the exact phrase "numerous and arbitrary" is what keeps popping up.
posted by critzer at 7:43 AM on October 6 [7 favorites]

Doesn't answer the first question, but Google Books "dealbreaker" pulls up a 1974 usage in the context of a relationship from Cosmo: "Fooling around cannot be the dealbreaker. "
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 7:46 AM on October 6

The phrase "numerous and arbitrary" has been not-infrequently used in other more formal contexts having nothing to do with dating, such as legal, rule-related, and methodological contexts. People are probably re-contextualizing the more formal phrase into a dating site and putting it together with the less formal "dealbreaker" to sound mildly arch and witty.
posted by flourpot at 7:53 AM on October 6 [8 favorites]

Could these be fake profiles where someone just cut & pasted the same text multiple times?
posted by mattholomew at 8:03 AM on October 6 [1 favorite]

I don't think so... Nothing seemed unrealistic or overly sexy or weird syntax or any of the other giveaways that a profile might be fake.
posted by critzer at 8:16 AM on October 6

If I were in the dating app game and I read the phrase "my dealbreakers are numerous and arbitrary" I would be sore tempted to steal it for my profile immediately.

So my completely uneducated guess here is that it's the equivalent of a meme that's so specific it only flourishes in the small slice of the internet where it's applicable.
posted by komara at 8:20 AM on October 6 [20 favorites]

^ That makes sense. But are people really studying each other's (aka same sex's) profiles? I've been on these sites for 5 years and have honestly never seen another dude's profile. :shrug:
posted by critzer at 8:23 AM on October 6

Maybe more of them are bi or pansexual than you expected?
posted by Margalo Epps at 8:30 AM on October 6 [1 favorite]

I am not personally on the dating scene but I have definitely been on the subway in NYC/Brooklyn and sat next to people actively workshopping each other's dating app profiles. So it may be a thing.

It's also the sort of language that crosses disciplines (I feel like I've read it in academically-oriented texts before; it also sounds pretty legal-ish) and with the sheer number of people in professions where the phrasing might pop up who live in the city, I can imagine a few different people hitting on it independently, with added spread from people who are workshopping friends' profiles or are bi/pan themselves. Now I want to find some way to track the phrase's spread.
posted by halation at 8:31 AM on October 6 [1 favorite]

^ That makes sense. But are people really studying each other's (aka same sex's) profiles? I've been on these sites for 5 years and have honestly never seen another dude's profile. :shrug:

In that case you don't know if men are using it too. I have zero experience of online dating but I could imagine a phrase like that spreading easily as it isn't gender specific and hits a good note of not taking yourself too seriously. Even if no-one is bi or pansexual, Beverley sees it on Adam's profile, thinks it's clever and funny so copies it. Colin, Dick & Ed then look at Beverley's profile, Colin thinks it's nonsense but Dick & Ed think it's great and copy it. Frieda then sees Ed's profile... so on indefinitely.

Most daters are I assume looking at quite large numbers of profiles so something catchy and appealing can spread pretty quickly.
posted by *becca* at 8:43 AM on October 6 [3 favorites]

Yeah, I'm straight and have definitely borrowed phrasing I liked from opposite-gender dating profiles. I don't think you need to assume anything about users' sexuality as far as how these things spread across dating sites.
posted by AndrewInDC at 8:51 AM on October 6

I'm guessing it's just a profile meme like snapchat dog ear filters or ducklips or "If you can't handle me at my worst, you don't deserve me at my best", etc.
posted by TomFoolery at 9:07 AM on October 6 [1 favorite]

dating sites are absolutely perfect little petri dishes for meme-breeding, and people totally do check out the competition and/or share ideas with their friends, so if you can't find an ur-source for this with google it's probably just something somebody witty came up with that got borrowed a lot
posted by prize bull octorok at 9:16 AM on October 6 [2 favorites]

Oh yeah, I would 100% check out profiles of other women, especially if I was primarily dating men. It was super helpful to see where the bar was, in terms of how I ranked with my female peers in terms of demographic, looks, interests, education level, etc., and to get a sense for the dominant cliches of the moment so I could avoid them.

It's easy to imagine wanting to copy a witty phrase, too. This explanation makes a lot of sense to me.
posted by witchen at 9:41 AM on October 6

Interesting. Well, I'm now interested to study other mens' profiles - it honestly hadn't occurred to me before! FWIW, on OKCupid the women in question marked themselves Straight, but I get that doesn't mean they haven't seen other women's profiles.
posted by critzer at 10:40 AM on October 6

I know this isn't helpful but I do think it's from something and not just in the meme-ether. I feel like a somewhat bratty, silly, or high-maintenance character in a TV show of the last 5 years has said this with emphasis.
posted by kapers at 11:40 AM on October 6

Dating profiles often turn into giant localized echo chamber.

The last time I used a dating app (33 year old dude using OKCupid during Winter 2013 in Los Angeles) 30%-40% of the women's profile I looked at had extremely strong opinions about the Oxford comma. Some of the time is wasn't even a specific opinion, just something a long the lines of "I have strong opinions about the Oxford comma". My now fiancé told me that a large portion of the dudes hitting her up (also on OKCupid) had "rock climbing" as their hobby.
posted by sideshow at 2:11 PM on October 6 [4 favorites]

I feel like a somewhat bratty, silly, or high-maintenance character in a TV show of the last 5 years has said this with emphasis.

First thing that popped into my head was Futurama:
Richard Nixon's Head: How's the family, Morbo?

Morbo: Belligerent and numerous.
posted by quinndexter at 8:22 PM on October 6

The phrase “arbitrary and capricious” is often used in relation to Donald Trump's various plans to change legislation. I'm guessing someone paraphrased that, perhaps without even realising the source and then it caught on.
posted by Lanark at 6:29 AM on October 7

Wow - I just realized I'd read the line about Oxford Commas many many times. Good point about echo chambers, makes a little more sense.
posted by critzer at 10:09 AM on October 8

I doubt this is where this line came from but as soon as I read it it reminded my heavily of a line from Buffy when Anya says "My feelings are changeable but intense". I agree about the echo chamber and that the line just feels "common" in a meme-like way.
posted by liquorice at 4:01 PM on October 8

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