This week, I wanted to talk about Red Flags. What red flags to look out for before and during your relationship, and how to spot them. I wanted to focus on red flags that are pretty common, because while there will always be red flags that are specific to your wants and needs, there are many that should be universal red flags.
Here’s what you can expect in this episode:
- 7 Red flags and how to spot them
- Why I won’t date non-readers
- A Scottie Pippen trivia factoid
Good Luck Out There.
Intro song: Override Function by Artofescapism
One of my personal red flags is when someone abhors reading. I don’t think it reflects poorly on someone’s character in general, but I know that I have a hard time dating someone who doesn’t enjoy reading. I’m a voracious reader and consumer of literature of all sorts, and dating someone who doesn’t have the same sort of curiosity about the written word has often not worked for me.
Now, do I think that this very specific red flag is something you should look out for? Of course not! I want to focus on red flags that reflect more on a person’s character and long-term viability as a romantic partner, whatever your partnership looks like. Then again, I do agree with the famous John Waters quote that you shouldn’t sleep with someone if you get to their place and they don’t have books, so I might reconsider if that should be a universal red flag.
Kidding aside, there are character traits that are red flags that transcend preferences, well into “you should be concerned about this” territory. While you might have a preference for an introverted partner, what should be a red flag to you is having a partner who has no interest in engaging in your life.
Before I start, I want to be clear about something. Hindsight is always 20/20. While it’s easy to say “I should have recognized these red flags in hindsight”, don’t beat yourself up too much for your past failures to recognize red flags in a relationship. Some people are good at hiding who they are. Sometimes the situations where you’d encounter specific red flags in a person don’t present themselves until well after you’ve started dating them. How will you know your partner lacks remorse if they have nothing to be remorseful about until a year after you start dating them?
Don’t be too hard on yourself when you look back on your dating past if you weren’t able to recognize red flags. Just think of those past experiences as chances for you to get better at recognizing red flags if you can. The human brain can do a lot of wonderful things, but it’s not infallible. Shit happens. Live and learn.
With all that said, I want to focus on some pretty common red flags to look out for:
- Lack of communication
- A lack guilt, remorse, or a willingness to empathize
- How they talk about their past relationships
- Your social circles don’t like them
- Abusive behavior
- The need to be needed, not needed by you
Let’s start with a lack of communication. I’ll use the term broadly to mean a deficit when it comes to communication, a lack of meaningful conversation, and an unwillingness to communicate. If your partner wont communicate their feelings, that’s a lack of communication. If your partner only communicates with you about superficial things and you never get deeper than discussions about current events, the weather, and anything else you could talk about with a stranger, that’s a lack of communication as well. If your partner shuts down and wont get deeper into what they want romantically, where they see things going, or discuss their feelings toward you, that’s a lack of communication.
Lack of communication is easy to spot, generally, because it’s something that’s missing. Often times, it’s an open resistance to talking about bigger issues disguised as being carefree. Avoiding big discussions might be a behavior that is permissible after a few dates, but if you’re dating someone for a significant amount of time and they can’t or wont open up to you about how they feel about you, that’s a pretty big red flag. If you ask someone “what are we?” and it turns into an argument, that’s a red flag too. Not sure it needs to be said, but why it’s a red flag is important. Communication, no matter what sort of relationship you have, is highly important. If you can’t effectively communicate with a partner, your relationship will fail. Period. If it’s difficult to communicate with your partner because of your differing communication styles, you can work through just about any problem with time and patience. But, if you’re seeing someone who pushes back on communicating with you, that’s a pretty big warning sign.
Selfishness is a pretty big red flag. Think of selfishness in a broad sense. A selfishness with affection, praise, attention, and so on. A selfish partner, whatever they might be selfish about, is a red flag. Relationships that work take a bit of flexibility, a bit of give and take, and most importantly, selflessness. You don’t have to be with someone who is entirely selfless, but if you’re dating someone who only ever cares about their own wants and needs, that should be a big warning sign for you.
There isn’t anything wrong with occasionally doing things that are self-serving. I like to think of myself as primarily selfless in a relationship but every once in a while, I take a little time to do something that is primarily self-serving, like say, gaming for hours. In relationships, it’s okay to do things for your own sake, in fact, I highly encourage the idea of occasional “ME” time. That said, you shouldn’t be with someone who is always doing things for themselves, or only considerate of themselves. Whether that’s refusing to pay for dates with you, but lavishing themselves with gifts. Someone who never praises you but constantly seeks your praise and affirmations. Someone unwilling to express their affection toward you who in turn, demands constant affection from you. Hell, it even extends to the bedroom. If someone is only looking out for their own sexual pleasure and doesn’t care about yours, that’s a red flag. Yes, ladies who sleep with men, that one is primarily directed at you, but it goes for everyone. I’ve often found that a selfishness in bed usually indicates that they’re selfish in general. So pay attention to any imbalances like that.
A lack of guilt, remorse, or a willingness to empathize may be harder to recognize early on, but if you do see it, be wary. I think that someone lacking guilt or remorseis a major red flag, even if the way you notice this is fairly small. Let’s say you argue with a partner about something, and later, they come to realize they were wrong. Once they do however, they don’t seem to display any sort of contrition about being wrong, they merely move on like they weren’t wrong. If you’re arguing about say, whether or not Scottie Pippen is the first player in the history of NBA to win a gold medal and an NBA championship in the same year twice, you might think that they’re lack of contrition is no big deal. I think that it shows something more, an unwillingness to acknowledge guilt. Saying “I was wrong, I’m sorry” is a powerful thing, and if you’re dating someone who can’t say that over trivia, it’s a bad sign. If they won’t acknowledge they’re wrong over trivial matters, what happens when something that actually is worth apologizing for happens?
Empathy, or a lack of it, is another part of this. Now, to be fair, many people have a hard time empathizing with others, which is why I want to be clear that a willingness to empathize is what is important. Empathizing is hard for some people, and impossible for others, so a willingness to try speaks volumes. A lack of willingness to put in efforts speaks volumes too. “I was wrong, I understand why you’re upset, and I’m sorry” should be in your partner’s vocabulary. But, nobody is perfect, so “I was wrong, I’m trying to understand why you’re upset, and I’m sorry” can sometimes be good enough. If none of those things is in your partner’s vocabulary, that’s a bad sign.
How your partner talks about their past relationships can be a red flag, but this one is more subjective. Some people genuinely do have toxic former partners, while most people don’t. Some men do have “crazy ex-girlfriends”, but most don’t. There is a lot you can learn about how someone speaks about their previous relationships, and it’s often more than just “their ex seems like a jerk”. How they still feel about them is one thing. How often they’re on their mind, another. None of these things are inherently good or bad though, so you have to look at the content and frequency of their discussions about their romantic past to really be able to tell if there are red flags there.
Are all of their exes crazy? Do they bring up their ex, or multiple exes, on a consistent basis? Do they seem to express longing for them? Those all sound like red flags to me. That said, if they bring up their past in natural, situationally appropriate ways, that’s probably not a red flag. Someone telling you about an ex because the context calls for it is fine. Someone going out of their way to bring up their past relationships is a pretty big warning flag.
Not everyone will like your partner, but there is something to be said for a majority of people you know not liking your partner. But, again, red flags can be subjective. It’s entirely possible your friends and family are all poor judges of character. If you’re in a situation where your social circles don’t like your partner, you really should look at why that is. Some people have social circles that are, for lack of a better term, pretty close minded, so don’t take everyone disliking your partner at face value. That said, if people have valid opinions about why they’re not a good fit for you, take it to heart. Don’t let it be THE deciding factor as to whether you have long-term potential together, but consider it.
Ask people why they don’t like your partner, and pay attention to the answers. Is your partner a bad fit for you? Did they see bad behavior? Or is it just that you’re spending less time with them and they blame your partner? Was it a bad first impression, or does your partner genuinely come off poorly? Context is key here, but there is a certain amount of concern you should have if most of your social circles dislike your partner. One or two people should give you concern, but dozens of people should make you give it some thought. It’s always possible that everyone you know is a poor judge of character and compatibility, but those odds decrease the larger the number of people who dislike your partner grows.
Abusive behavior is one of those red flags that doesn’t need context. Are they verbally abusive? Are they physically abusive? Not just to you, but to others. Does your partner have a short fuse and is prone to berating wait staff to the point of verbal abuse? Are they willing to escalate to physical violence at the drop of a hat? Those are pretty clear signs of abusive behavior, even if it hasn’t been directed toward you yet. Love and affection aren’t a shield for abusive behavior. If you’re with someone who shows patterns of abusive behavior to their peers, family, friends, or even strangers, don’t assume that their regard for you will one day stop them from abusing you. How people treat others, stranger or not, clues you into how they’ll treat you once you’ve become familiar with each other. The person who will yell at wait staff for not bringing them the right beer will yell at you for the very same thing eventually.
There isn’t anything wrong with wanting to be needed, but do they want to be needed by you, or just anyone? I think that many people are willing to date and commit to anyone who will have them. Why they do this, I can’t say for sure, but I do know that it’s a pretty big red flag when someone’s primary drive for companionship is seeking out the feeling of being wanted. I can’t speak for you, but I know that I want to be wanted by someone who wants to be with me. Not wanting to be wanted by someone, me. Many people seek commitments because they don’t know how, or refuse to be alone. To me, that’s a red flag. The person who can’t or wont be alone, is often the person who doesn’t know how to be alone. Or worse, they don’t want to be alone with themselves. I’m at the point in my life where I don’t want to be with someone who doesn’t want to be with themselves, and I think you should be too.
There are countless other red flags, but those are some that I think are easy to recognize. A red flag doesn’t have to mean end a relationship or situationship immediately, but it is a sign to be wary. Except abuse, I have zero tolerance for that. I hope if nothing else, that this helps you figure out what to do next in your current romantic situations, or helps you recognize when the next pairing you’re in is bound to fail.
But let’s not end on a dark note. Being able to recognize red flags means that it’ll make finding the right person for you all the easier. If you have a hard time finding a red flag, that’s a very good sign.
Good Luck Out There.
Also published on Medium.