What the Red Flags We Ignore Can Teach Us About Love

#6 “I didn’t actually like him.”

Shaking my head over the red flags I have ignored over the years, I decided to do some quantitative research. Okay, I mean I asked three of my best friends a few questions. I knew from our chats that we were all guilty of overlooking some pretty gigantic signs that this was not True Love. What I didn’t know was why we did it.

I wanted to write something that showed how dumb we can all be when it comes to relationships, and also to share a bit of research that might help us love better in the future. So here are the 6 red flags that my female friends most regret ignoring, and some thoughts about how to confront them.

1. “He slagged off his ex-girlfriend.”

Calling down your previous partner always makes you look bad to a healthy person. Relationships don’t always end amicably, but nobody deserves their name dragged through the mud. Ideally, we would like our new partners to be neutral and vaguely loving towards their exes. Respectful but distant.

Meeting somebody who gives their ex the honor and dignity of privacy and kindness is heartwarming and sexy. Take note past me.

2. “He said I loved you way too soon.”

This one was a red flag we had all ignored. Perhaps you have too. We want love and we want it now, goddamnit!

Besides, love can be instant, right? I mean, it worked for Bella and Edward in Twilight, didn’t it? I mean, she’s a vampire now and her daughter is older than her probably, and dating her ex-boyfriend. But, YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN. Love at first sight is a real thing. STOP TRYING TO RUIN THE WORLD.

The problem with the too-quick ‘I love you’ is that it’s liable to disappear as suddenly as it arrived. Also, it can be evidence of narcissistic love-bombing. Some people drop an ‘I love you’ just to hook a fresh human.

Real love is about building trust, gradually, by seeing how your person behaves. By watching how a partner treats you, and how they treat other people. This is why mature, sane people are suspicious when others say I love you too quickly.

3. “Avoidance, whether to texts or tough conversations.”

Obviously, somebody who doesn’t dare call or text you to tell you that they aren’t interested in pursuing a relationship is not ready to be a good partner. Again, this seems so obvious as to not need saying. But I can’t be the only one who has waited around phone-watching, without realizing what the silence meant. (Maybe he likes me too much?)

If you really want the relationship to last, make sure you show up for the tough parts. Show that you are willing to do the work of communicating what you want as well as listening to her desires and needs. When both of you are willing to put effort into building something that makes you both happy, you’re onto a winner.

4. “Drugs, drinking. Vices…”

Mostly, women ignored this one because they were mired in addiction themselves. As soon as they were able to deal with their own problem, they stopped putting up with their partner’s.

If you can’t control your drinking or drug use, then you aren’t ready to be in a relationship with anybody. This is a pretty hard line to take, but I’ve used up all my fucks on this one.

These are habits are hard to break. Seek help. I promise it will be worth it.

5. “He was a terrible kisser!”

This one makes no sense, as my friend was all too aware, confessing this truth from behind her hands. But it just goes to show how low human expectations can get during the long hinterland of waiting for love.

6. “I didn’t actually like him.”

This is the red flag that I hadn’t expected. It seems absurd, but three of the friends I asked admitted to this one. And thinking more deeply about it, I realized I was guilty of it too.

“I ignored that for two years!” X said, and we all laughed because it is such a ridiculous thing to admit. What a waste of everyone’s time! What’s going on here? Why do people do this?

Dating a person that doesn’t tick this compatibility 101 box is so common that researchers have done social experiments to understand what’s behind it. It turns out that the reason we do it is that we don’t want to hurt other people’s feelings.

And so we waste each other’s time, hoping that the person will grow on us rather than admitting the disappointing truth: that we don’t like them enough.

The takeaway?

Humans are full of contradictions. We want our relationships to be exhilarating and safe, challenging and comfortable! We pursue the same sort of person again and again and again, in spite of the fact that this sort of person seems to be a total disaster for us. We are innately social, filled with hormones that make bonding feel beautiful and we have a deep and ancient fear of being alone.

So it’s not exactly surprising that we can fool each other and be fooled so often. The good news is we are capable of learning. We can change our destructive patterns, heal past trauma, improve our communication skills and create something better next time. Hurray!

Waiting for someone wonderful to love you as you deserve to be loved can be agonizing. So when somebody comes along who seems like they could be perfect, it’s tempting to build them into a dream person. Equally, when someone nice enough comes along we can find ourselves trudging along in something that doesn’t entirely fit.

So if you’re broken-hearted again, don’t lose hope. Learn from what went wrong, and look to the future. Make a promise to stop wasting time on people you don’t actually like or who that you are afraid don’t properly like you. I mean, sure, give people a chance, but don’t fool yourself (or them) in the process.

Resist the urge to bust out ‘I love you’ in a too early attempt to try and seal the deal. It might work, but not for long. Or you might just regret it. Commit to having the tough conversations. And remember, it’s okay not to want a relationship with someone. Just remember to let them know! Preferably before you take their clothes off.

Chelsey Flood is the author of Infinite Sky and Nightwanderers, and a lecturer in creative writing at Falmouth University. She writes about freedom, addiction, nature and love, and is working on a non-fiction book about getting sober.

Author, educator, truth-seeker. Writing my way to freedom or thereabouts. Talk to me @cjflood_author. www.chelseyflood.com/beautiful-hangover She/her/they.

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