Last summer, I was at a large camp in the foothills of the Sierras. A woman came up to me and asked what I was doing. Seeing as it was night and I had my head thrown back staring at the sky, I thought it was obvious—I was looking at the stars. But I let the comment pass.
I explained that about a month before I had seen high desert stars for the first time and was in awe. But before I could get another word out, the woman was telling me how the best stars actually are in the Mojave. On and on she went. My experience was unimportant.
In dating parlance, this is what’s known as a red flag. In modern history, red flags have been used to signal a coming battle, a flood, and communism. Today we refer to a red flag as a signal to stay away from a person, especially a date.
Some red flags are obvious: your date would invite you in for coffee, but he doesn’t want to wake his mother. Your date would be happy to go to the movies if she could just find a sitter for her octuplets. Other red flags are more subtle, like a woman sharing her story of looking at the stars, but not letting you get a word in edgewise.
There are a few dating red flags that, if spotted, can save you a lot of wasted time.
1. “But enough about me, let’s talk about your experience of me.”
I don’t care how fascinating your date’s life story is. I don’t care if Brad Pitt taught him to fly fish and Antonio Banderas taught him to play flamenco guitar, if he’s not asking you questions about you, that’s a red flag.
Here’s why: if you’re on your very first date and he’s not asking about you, that’s never going to change, not in one year, not in ten years.
If you don’t recognize this flag and you go out on a second and a third date, he’s going to think you’re okay with that dynamic. He’s going to think you’re agreeing that this relationship is all about him.
It should be added that if your date refuses to talk about himself at all, then that’s a red flag on its own.
Caveat: if someone is sharing a recent experience with you, one that deeply affected him, and he is leaving space for you to comment, this is actually him just using himself as a topic of dialogue. The key is that it is a dialogue and not a monologue.
2. He’s rude to waiters.
If your date is willing to be rude to your waiter by either snapping his fingers or dismissing the waiter with a wave of his hand, he either has an issue with power or simply doesn’t understand that we’re all on this planet together.
Decent, common courtesy is a harbinger of good things when looking for a mate. The lack of it is a big red flag. If your date is willing to treat a waiter with such little respect, then someday, he’ll be willing to treat you like that.
Caveat: if your date had a particularly difficult day and acknowledges that and apologizes for his behavior, then he’s actually quite evolved and is possibly a keeper.
3. She mentions her “crazy past.”
Whenever people make reference to “my crazy past” it always makes me wonder—what about your crazy future? “My crazy past” seems to be a catchphrase for all the things someone will never do again. It’s a phrase that seems to denote a time filled with spontaneous fun that’s now in the past.
Did you know that couples that have new experiences together rekindle the early experience of being in love? The new experiences form new pathways in the brain just like falling in love does. Doing something different, fun, and maybe even a bit crazy is a key to reigniting love in a long-term relationship. But what kind of new things will you do with someone who has put all that behind her in her “crazy past.”
Caveat: if “my crazy past” is referring to drug-filled days of irresponsible behavior, perhaps the phrase is actually a sign of maturity.
4. He commits an unforgivable fashion faux pas.
This is not to be confused with having your own style. If a woman likes to dress like a fairy or a man like a nineteenth-century banker, that’s a choice—one you may like or dislike. But when your date arrives wearing tennis socks with yellow pom-poms on the heel slipped inside Birkenstocks, there’s an issue.
This person is either incapable of reading or doesn’t care about social cues. Whether he’s clueless or willfully defiant doesn’t matter—either is a thumbs-down as far as a future mate goes. In fact, it’s a full-on red flag. Both attitudes can lead to you on your metaphorical hands and knees doing social cleanup.
Caveat: if your date is aware his look is off, but he’s consciously trying to ride the line between acceptable and ridiculous and just missed this time, that’s alright.
5. She talks about her ex.
No matter how you cut it, this is a red flag. If you’re on a date and the ex is spoken of fondly, she’s not over her ex. If you’re on a date she speaks of her ex with vitriol, your date has no class, and she’s not over her ex. In both instances, your date lacks respect for you because it’s your date.
Caveat: if you both end up talking about your exes in calm, thoughtful ways as a means to discuss what you’re not looking for, then it can be a positive, healthy vehicle for open communication about what you do want. And those discussions could lead to something truly great.