Decoding the Red Flags of Love

by Amanda Stern
Originally Published: 

When you are dating, which I am (to exhaustion), and unfurling your date’s character, there will come an inevitable point in the process when one of your friends points out a Red Flag. Sometimes your friend can see the Red Flag waving from the inlet of He didn’t ask me any questions; other times it is spotted fluttering along the coastline of He kept checking out other women. Hearing that someone’s behavior or a situation is red-flaggy feels like yet another disappointment in the miserable, generally unimaginative procedure we call dating. It’s quite easy to spot a Red Flag (at least for your friends), but let’s say you unrolled it and followed it to its natural end. Where would it take you?

Here are some common Red Flags and what might happen if you get tangled up in them…

The Always Lived-Aloner

This detail can signal a variety of things. Is this person a permanent dater? Does he or she know how to compromise? Usually, traits common to people who haven’t lived with anyone include living life only on their terms, which means you’ll be asked to live life on their terms also, and if you don’t—well—they’ve never lived with anyone, so losing you probably isn’t their highest stake, and ultimately they may use their terms, and your very adult need to compromise, as reasons not to live with you.

Should you manage to be the first person he or she ever lives with—congratulations. Sort of. This could be the real thing…OR, a year in, when your always-lived-aloner realizes you are humanly flawed and not the fantasy person he thought he’d moved in with, he might begin to tally all the reasons he never should have moved in with you. For one, you hog the sheets. Also, you never buy more hummus. You have this seriously annoying habit of wanting to go outside the apartment and do things as a couple. You sniffle too much; he can hear you from all the way down the hall. You never bring up the mail. You read tabloid magazines, yet you don’t want a television in the bedroom? And on and on…until your always-lived-aloner is sleeping in the living room on a bed made out of lined-up couch cushions, furiously emailing his old landlord, trying to get his apartment back.

The Stuckers

These folks are stuck on an ex. He or she mentions the ex at every turn because the relationship is unresolved. A person unresolved about an ex is someone who is actively in a relationship with the ex and unavailable for the relationship she is supposed to be in—with you. Even if she hasn’t seen or spoken to her ex in years, the person you are dating is keeping the connection alive. She hasn’t let go because she is undecided—not about you, she hasn’t even really taken you in—but about her ex, which is worse than being undecided about you.

Being enmeshed with someone else, long after breaking up, is just one of a variety of ways we actively stunt our own growth. When someone is overly invested in a time and place that has passed, which exists only in photos and reconstructed memories, not only can that person not be with you—she isn’t even with her present-day self. If you stay with a person like this, you will go through all the natural stages of relationship progression, but when you broach the topic of moving forward together, you will realize that you are the only one there, and that you have been alone the whole time. You will feel you’ve wasted your time, and you will be mostly right.

The Demon-Exers

A person who blames others for a relationship’s demise is someone who cannot take responsibility for his or her actions. The inability to admit imperfection presages a relationship in which you’ll shoulder all the blame for everything either one of you does. When a person can’t forgive, or accept his own participatory role in a relationship’s unraveling, he is harboring an anger that will one day be released.

A resolved person feels no compulsion to speak negatively about a situation with which he’s made his peace. In fact, when we’re clear, we’re often more compassionate. Tearing down an ex speaks to a person’s inability to accept the basic premise of a relationship, which is that two people equal one couple. People who speak badly of those they’ve claimed to love, had children with, married, or developed deep and meaningful connections with, are telling you exactly how they feel about themselves, while also giving you the longest preview in history of how they will speak about you in the future, if they’re not already doing it.

The Doth Protestors

I had a boyfriend who was a true champion of social justice and “doing the right thing.” He chastised people who did things dishonorably, constantly pointing it out. At first, I thought this meant he was a moral prince—which is what he wanted me to think—but ultimately, I discovered that he was participating in the very activities he claimed were morally corrupt.

The best lesson to learn in life is this: If someone has to state the kind of person she is, it’s a preemptive strike against the revelation of truth. The I’m-the-kind-of-person-who partner is banking on your blind trust, on the assumption that you too confuse words for action. This is taken straight from the “I did not have sexual relations with that woman” playbook. This person is a natural liar; she believes the truth is whatever she decides.

The Prince(ss) and the Pedestal

This is the mother of all Red Flags. This means the person has a crush on an idealized image of you—not the perfectly and awesomely flawed human that you really are. Once he gets to know the real you, he will begin saying he doesn’t feel what he did at the beginning. He wishes things could go back to how they were because “things have changed.” Nothing has changed. All that’s different is that he has begun to recognize you as a human being, equal to all other human beings and, therefore, not the fantasy version of you that never existed in the first place.

People who prefer the fantasy are developing false and shallow connections. This is why they rush to sweep you off your feet; they crave the falling-in-love phase, and they want to whip you up into their frenzy before you catch on and slow things down. The irony is that they’re not falling for you at all. They’re falling for a version of unrealistic perfection, projected right onto your adorable face. This fast-paced sweep-along is easy to identify when you’re not the one being swept up. Try to incorporate that awareness into your own relationship, and learn to slow the pace.

The need to advance at top speed speaks to a person’s grasp (or lack thereof) of real love. Love requires time; it’s a discovery, not a race. It’s been said many times before, but love is action; it is not a feeling. The sooner someone tells you he or she loves you, the more concerned you should be. You can’t love what you don’t know, and it takes a considerable amount of time to actually know someone.

Love is a choice. Falling in love is all feeling, but feelings do not last. Choices last. Do not let anyone convince you that you are perfect, no matter how much you want to feel that you are. If you are perfect to them, you can never be human to them. And if you aren’t human, how can you be who you truly are? Pretending to be someone else’s version of you is no way to spend your time, much less your life.

Photo: flickr/rutger van waveren

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