Whenever I’m at brunch with a newly single girlfriend lamenting over a break-up, it’s always the same scenario: With tears falling in her huevos rancheros, she utters the words, “I should have seen the red flags.” Sorry, sister, that’s bullshit. When it comes to relationships, there’s no such thing as a red flag.
Merriam-Webster defines a red flag as as a “warning sign” or “a sign that there is a problem that should be noticed or dealt with.” I’d argue that most humans use the term in hindsight, attaching it to things that their partner did at the beginning of a relationship that ultimately led to the relationship’s downfall.
Break-ups are painful. I have been there. I go there often. I have a time share there. You snuggle up with your self-pity, replaying your entire relationship back in your head. You mourn the good times and analyze the bad. Your brain needs to make sense of your break-up and placing blame on your ex feels painful but good. You say to yourself, “he did bad things and I just didn’t know!”
Well, here’s the thing: You did know. You accepted his lack of communication, you didn’t push it when he showed up late all the time, you ignored it when he choose his friends over you. And that’s not bad; that’s human nature. It’s hard to know what’s a one-time issue and what’s an indicator of a larger problem, what things you pick a fight over and what you let slide (refusing to meet your parents or refusing to walk your dog with you — which is worse?). And we want to believe in our judgment of people. Once you’ve committed to someone, it can be hard to acknowledge that you might have been wrong about them. Claiming that there were red flags you just didn’t see makes you the victim, not someone who has equal responsibility for the dissolution of a relationship.
I experienced this firsthand: When I started dating my ex, he came on strong veryquickly — lots of compliments, “I miss yous,” and texts just to say “hi.” I know I’m awesome, and even though I kind of always crave attention and this was genuinely nice, it weirded me out and made me uncomfortable. We had been on a few dates; he hardly knew me! I thought. Why was he telling me how into me he was…and if he didn’t know me, how could he really miss me? I didn’t even know his middle name! Although so much interest so fast was a little alarming, I chose to start a relationship with him because he was cute! He was fun! I wanted to have plans for Thanksgiving! I had been single for a long, long, long time and figured I couldn’t fault a guy for being into me; I wanted to give him a chance.
Our relationship ended after five months. In the end, I felt like he was trying to fill a void. Sure, he said all the right things, but he wasn’t ready to put in the work our relationship needed. Actions speak louder words, no matter how sweet those words are.
My friends tried to sympathize with me, telling me that his slightly obsessive behavior was a red flag I didn’t see. And although it was tempting to accept that and place all of the blame on him, I knew it wasn’t the entire truth. It turns out, it was my fault, too. I was suspicious of how into me he was. I knew I should have slowed our speed a little, but I didn’t.