Singles sound off
Here's what local respondents on Facebook say they look for (or run away from) on a first date:
"I once went for coffee with a guy who, within the first 20 minutes, told me he wanted to direct adult movies. I was in college, and he was studying film. He wasn't joking. I'm not a prude, but it was too much."
- Laura Galbraith
"Hygiene... If you have bad hygiene, you can keep on going."
- David Casson
"They have to have some interest in 'Star Wars' or else we won't get along."
- Jessie Bailey
"Do they have all their teeth?"
- Mark Sexton
"Having dated someone once who had been convicted of attempted murder, I still think my No. 1 pet peeve is cleanliness."
- Tristen Vickery
"Morals and values are always No.1 with me. Someone who does not believe in premarital sex or bed hop from man to man."
- Bill Francisco
"[If he] lives with his mother still!"
- Deanna Jarrell
WHAT WE WANT
According to a 2012 survey funded by online dating site Match.com, here is what singles say they judge the most in a potential mate:
58 percent - Teeth
55 percent - Grammar
51 percent - Hair
45 percent - Clothing
40 percent - Tattoo
37 percent - Nails/hands
19 percent - Accent
18 percent - Shoes
13 percent - Car
9 percent - Electronic devices they carry
71 percent - Teeth
69 percent - Grammar
58 percent - Clothing
53 percent - Hair
52 percent - Nails/hands
34 percent - Tattoo
29 percent - Shoes
24 percent - Car
22 percent - Accent
10 percent - Electronic devices they carry
All Valerie Duke wants is a guy who will treat her right and hasn't completely abandoned chivalry.
Of course, it wouldn't hurt if his hands also sport a few calluses and his arms aren't flabby. And she wouldn't mind if he had kind eyes, a positive outlook and a take-charge attitude.
In short, she knows what she wants.
"When you sit down and a guy is making fun of people and being super-negative, I'm like, 'I'm done with you,' " says Duke, 25, a featured vocalist with Knoxville-based swing band The Brad Walker Orchestra.
"Nobody likes a Negative Nancy. I don't like people who, for fun, pick on other people. That doesn't make you funny; it makes you [a jerk]."
Duke is one of an estimated 100 million singles in America, according to 2011 U.S. Census estimates. Even though more than a year has gone by since those figures were taken, it's a fair guess that many are celebrating a significant-other-free Valentine's Day this year.
Earlier this month, online dating service Match.com released Singles In America 2012, a survey of about 5,500 singles, about 85 percent of whom are actively seeking or are open to being in a relationship. If a prospective match has the wrong qualities, however, the first date often can be the last one.
For the relationship-less, the quest to finding someone is as much about seeking out the right qualities as it is navigating a minefield of bad ones. What qualifies as a first-date deal-breaker is as varied as the people for whom it represents an insurmountable obstacle.
Travis Kilgore, 38, married about seven months ago, but when he was single, he says he preferred to avoid dates with people who held strongly opposing political or religious views. But even those paled in comparison to a real deal killer: bad grammar, especially in text messages.
"I'll talk to anybody, but when they use the letter 'u' for 'you' and 'ur' for 'you're' and can't use the proper forms for different forms of their/they're, I'm gone," says Kilgore, a book seller in Dalton, Ga.
According to the Singles In America survey, bad grammar is a turnoff for 55 percent of men and 69 percent of women.
A lack of communication skills is an issue for local singles, too.
Local blues musician Lon Eldridge, 26, says that, while physical attraction is important, if he can't connect with a girl intellectually, there's no point carrying on.
"I tend to be very extroverted, and I like to be able to carry on a conversation with someone," he says. "If you can't communicate with someone verbally and there's a problem in the relationship later on, it's going to be hard to work out."
Another bone of contention is someone who's still crashing at their parents' house. Both sexes say having some degree of ambition is a must, as is a strong personal identity.
"Having ambitions, goals and strong opinions is huge for me, even - perhaps especially - if I disagree with those opinions or have different ambitions," says social media and PR strategist Joda Thongnonua, 20.
Tara Viland, 27, has been married for seven years, but she says when she was single, she looked for guys whose lives hadn't stagnated.
"I have always loved people who release confidence and humor into the air," she says. "I think someone with those qualities, along with a job and not living with their parents, goes a long way."
Some women say they are turned off if a potential beau hasn't planned out their evening together. Once he picks her up, says financial adviser Ashley Hicks, 25, a prospective date better know what comes next.
"Not having a plan for the date is a huge turnoff. It does not bode well for the future," says Hicks, who has been in a relationship for two years. "It just makes me feel like I will have to make all of the decisions in the relationship."
And God help him if he shows up in sandals, she adds.
Mark Twain wrote that, "Clothes make the man," but according to the Singles in America study, the same sentiment applies to women, 58 percent of whom say taste in clothing is important, compared to 45 percent of men.
University of Tennessee at Chattanooga graduate Julia Hunter, 23, says being unemployed is a red flag when it comes to date choices, but if a guy has popped up his shirt collar, he might as well be waving her off.
"I get really turned off by the 'bro' look, which to me indicates that you're signing on to a group," she says. "If you're wearing a visor and a Polo shirt, that is not original."
Deal breakers aren't usually lone wolves. People often harbor a list of things they can't stand in a prospective partner.
Web developer Dave Castañeda, 25, says he won't date women who aren't intelligent or who have bad breath. Kilgore, who is well over 6 feet tall, was also looking for a statuesque woman he didn't have to bend over to kiss. Hunter says she is just as turned off by "stupid tattoos" that don't have meaningful significance to their bearer.
Maintaining a list of deal breakers isn't a universal practice. Some singles say they try to give the benefit of the doubt.
Yoga studio manager Hayley Graham, 26, says finding someone with a good sense of humor who treats others with respect would be ideal, but she tries to be as open-minded as possible.
"First dates really suck, so I don't let a first date make or break anything for me," she says. "I always try to have at least one more."