Decoding the Red Flags of Love: PART TWO

by Amanda Stern
Originally Published: 

(This is PART TWO of a two-part series on decoding Red Flags.)

We all know how to spot a red flag, but we don’t always know what it means. Because I am currently in the process of dating every daymare and night-terror in NYC, I’ve done the field research for you. I’ve gotten so good at spotting red flags that I can see the flares after just a cursory scan of OkCupid profiles. Some are obvious (“I work hard and play hard”), while others can only be recognized upon meeting the living version of the profile photo, when you discover the mop-haired baby-face is actually a hairless future cadaver. Here, then, are some more red flags, coupled with their not-always-obvious meanings. Bad behavior doesn’t discriminate; to reflect that, pronouns alternate from item to item.

The Michiko Kakutanis

A Michiko Kakutani is a critic. No restaurant is up to her standards, no movie or book or song is as good as one she could create. This means nothing you do (write a book) or make (that iMovie for your brother’s 40th that took you a week) or give her (a cool German camera you found on Ebay) will be impressive. All she sees are shortcomings, and she will point to each one, attempting to weaken what threatens her.

This woman is passive, and there are few things less sexy than a passive person. (A few things less sexy than a passive person: Trigger Finger; bed bugs on the subway; the subway; the irritant who passive-aggressively ignores social cues; racists; homophobes and people who collect spittle in the corners of their mouths.) A passive person lacks a spine and can’t stand up for herself, you, or your relationship. When you choose someone whose default choice is always to do nothing, she will do nothing about everything, and instead of sharing a life, you will be living one for you both.

The Grown-Downers

He lives his life like he’s still in college. He hangs out with people who use “party” as a verb. His bills get paid only when collection agencies intervene. He can’t have a pet because he’d forget to feed or walk it, and the names he’s chosen for his future babies include Gonorrhea and Syphilis. Fun is the only thing he wants, and he resents and feels betrayed when his friends get married and start having kids with real names, like Plum and Dashiell. His apartment is a wreck, a place he doesn’t see as an expression or extension of himself, but as a very large suitcase. He fist-pumps when he discovers milk crates discarded on the street, nonplussed that people don’t see their versatility and potential: bookshelves! tables! chairs! Any invitation to a formal event results in panicked phone calls and emails to friends asking to borrow a suit.

This whopper of a red flag simply means he has not yet grown up and is afraid that he’ll fail at responsibility. This person is neither stable nor reliable, and while the beginning will be a blast, his immaturity will wear on you, and you’ll start to feel like you’re dating your youngest brother’s youngest friend.

The Bright-Siders

She lives her life “on the positive.” Choosing to be in “a place of yes,” she signs her emails “love and light.” When you’re depressed, she’ll point out everything you have to be grateful for, in lieu of listening. Instead of dealing with her own feelings, she adopts world-views in the form of phrases that represent her feelings. She doesn’t trust her own experience, or manage her feelings, and is convinced she can override her core self by choosing a different core self. She believes in being positive and bright, but her aphorisms are surface scratches, whose traces can be wiped away by a damp washcloth. She goes to extreme efforts to customize her viewpoints without understanding any of her true feelings because she is in denial.

Life is the experience, and only when we understand our true feelings can we choose how to respond. If someone only sees the positive without ever having allowed herself to view its underbelly, then what she’s calling positive is something false. You cannot become a stronger, better person when you override who you are in order to embrace being who you are not. The bright-sider does not know who she is, which is why she adopts phrases like “living in light” and “being the positive.” Her adamant belief that adopting the customs and philosophies of other cultures will transform her identity is naïve, and also kind of scary.

The Terry Grosses

You know you’re out with a Terry Gross when you realize you’re being interviewed. He isn’t asking to know you, he just wants to know about you. Where did you go to college? How long was your most serious relationship? When did it end? Do you believe in marriage? How many children do you want? Will you be happy in a one-bedroom Murray Hill apartment or would you prefer a house in Chappaqua?

Like Terry Gross, your date has an agenda, which is to get as much information out of you as possible in a limited amount of time. Dates with a Terry Gross mean you’re being assessed, but you will not be graded, because there is no room for improvement here; there’s only pass or fail. You will either meet every random requirement, matching each inflexible notion exactly, or you will be who you are and be rejected. This guy isn’t interested in your life, he’s interested in his; all he’s doing is measuring your square footage to see if it’ll fit in his house.

The Misleaders

The misleader talks out of both sides of her mouth. She says one thing and does another. This is known as incongruence. We all know that actions are louder than words, but we’ve become so good at believing what we want to hear that we overlook what people are doing. A lot of misleaders are people pleasers, so they say what they think you want to hear instead of offering up a true piece of themselves. Just because you mean well doesn’t make you less dangerous.

It takes a bit of time to realize you’re with a misleader, because you need to know her long enough to witness her incongruence. This is why it’s good to let things unfold slowly; it allows you time to know someone, and you need to know someone before you choose to fall in love. This seems impossible, right? It’s not. Fall in love with someone’s actions and you are falling in love with her. Pay attention to her words and you are falling in love with her persona.

Parting Advice

The most important red flag is the one that raises inside you. If your response to someone is heightened or dampened, overblown or just off, pay attention. Your own behavior can be very informative. Are you drinking too much, acting out, being dramatic in ways that feel out of character? If you are working hard at trying to get someone’s attention, that’s a signal telling you you’re not getting the right kind of attention. Getting to know someone begins with how you feel about yourself when you’re with them. Pay attention to the tightness in your body. The waves of doubt, the tingling unreality of hearing something you wish you hadn’t. Your body is your intuition. Listen to it because it won’t misdirect you. Only you can misdirect you when you choose to ignore the red flags your body is picking up on.

Photo: flickr/rutger van waveren

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