There are a lot of buzzwords that have been thrown around in the past year or so: gaslighting, problematic, boundary setting, toxic, normalize, red flags, green flags … and the list goes on. In many ways, I’m glad we’re finally able to express in words the actions or behaviors of others. But in other ways, I sometimes think these words are overused, and the meaning in each situation gets diluted from its original.
Today, I’d like to focus on red flags. What is a red flag in dating? According to scienceofpeople.com, a dating red flag is “a warning sign that appears during a date that could indicate a problem, miscommunication, or challenge in the future.”
Common examples are:
1. Love bombing, which is when your partner becomes very invested early on, generally as a form of manipulation. The love bomber will talk all about your future, shower you with affection and declarations of love, and get you to fall for them — only to pull away and leave you broken-hearted.
2. Inconsistent communication, perhaps texting a lot for a week and then becoming very cold and leaving texts unanswered for days. Or just simply not listening or communicating at all.
3. Gaslighting, which is when someone turns the blame on you for something they did or hold you responsible for the way they reacted to a situation. Gaslighting is a form of manipulation meant to leave you feeling insecure and questioning your sanity.
Note that in these examples, there is some objective bad behavior going on. These are true red flags. But how about things that are in the gray area? I got the following texts from three clients the other day:
“His profile references astrology … which I’m concerned about for a 40-year-old man.”
“This will sound crazy, but I have a terrible history with guys named John!”
“A career as management in the beverage industry is unlikely to produce the level of political/social/intellectual engagement I want.”
First of all, let’s stop making assumptions about people based on one little thing in their profile. (And the third example is quite judgmental.)
Second, all of these comments came to me as “red flags,” according to my clients. Being into astrology, being named John and being in the beverage industry are not bad things at all. But, to my clients, for whatever reason, it gave them pause. These are what I call “perceived flaws.”
A perceived flaw is something that might bother you but isn’t objectively bad. For example, I hate text speak (like “u” for “you” or “fav” for “favorite”). If I did not want to pursue someone because of this, that’s my prerogative. But, to say it’s a red flag would be a misnomer. It’s a perceived flaw because, while I might not like it, someone else wouldn’t give it a second — or 2nd or 2 — thought.
Keep in mind when dating that perceived flaws are different from red flags. And if someone has one, it’s likely still worth exploring until, if or when you decide to shut the door.
Erika Ettin is the founder of A Little Nudge, where she helps others navigate the often intimidating world of online dating.