Don’t ignore the red flags. Graphic by Abby Hoehn.
ELLIOTT ROBINSON | OPINION COLUMNIST | firstname.lastname@example.org
Readers of my “To ghost or not to ghost” article are probably well-acquainted with the red flag-riddled minefield that is my romantic life. But even the uninitiated are no doubt aware of the dangers that modern dating poses for plenty of young adults, from run-of-the-mill cheaters to some truly horrific testimonies of closeted Nazi sympathizers, chronic oversharers and inappropriately sexual conversationalists, all of whom demonstrate an extremely depressing lack of social decorum.
So as yet another Valentine’s day fades into our rearview mirrors, there’s no better time to confront some of the most common — and most alarming — romantic red flags. With insight from my own experiences as well as stories from across Butler’s student body, I can only hope that readers will feel a little more prepared the next time they brave the hormonal hellscape that is modern dating.
Of course, no article about red flags would be complete without a lesson from my most recent ex-partner. Though short-lived, our relationship was certainly memorable — probably due to the fact that he was a habitual liar about everything from his age to his status as an apparently single man.
In the age of social media, it’s never been easier to lie. Airbrushed faces, posed photos and digital editing are all effective tools to sustain an image of someone that couldn’t be further from the truth. But this habit is a death sentence for relationships, which thrive on trust and communication. And as easy as it is to lie online, maintaining that facade in real life is almost impossible.
When I spoke to Ainsley Glenn, a sophomore strategic communications major, about her experiences with dating, she agreed that lying is an incredibly common red flag.
“A lot of people lie about their height, for instance,” Glenn said. “But I feel like that leads to lying about things that are actually really important, like your age, or what you want to do for a living. Why would you lie about that? Being in a relationship is about being vulnerable, and you’re not going to have that by lying to someone.”
Glenn also brought up another common red flag that she noticed during a date she went on over the summer.
“I’m not a person that’s been on a lot of dates,” Glenn said. “But he kept mocking me throughout the entire date, like when we held hands he would say, ‘Wow, your arms are so short.’ Or he’d say, ‘You’re walking really slow.’ And it’s hard, especially as someone who hasn’t dated a lot, to know if this is something I’m supposed to like. Do girls like to be made fun of?”
Glenn went on to say that she believes this particular red flag is rooted in our patriarchal society, which often teaches young girls that boys who make fun of them are interested in them romantically. As a result, girls aren’t able to learn how to establish boundaries and stand up for themselves, and boys’ bad behavior is ignored or even encouraged.
While I agree with Glenn, I believe that these patriarchal standards are replicated in many other ways as well throughout dating and relationship culture.
For example, sophomore English major Mya Tran shared an experience with dating where she felt her personal boundaries were not being respected.
“I matched with this guy from Tinder during my freshman year,” Tran said. “And halfway through the date, he was trying to get me to come back to his place. I told him no, and that I had plans. I was getting dinner with my friends later. And he kept saying things like, ‘I’ll buy you dinner,’ or, ‘I’ll drive you there.’ I had to fake a phone call to get him to finally leave.”
Unfortunately, Tran’s experience echoes a very common occurrence for women in the dating scene. Although harassment of this kind can happen to anyone regardless of gender, women are disproportionately affected by men’s refusal to accept “no” for an answer. In my opinion, this is one of the most dangerous red flags, since it often leads to physical consequences such as stalking or violence.
So the next time you’re screening potential romantic interests, pay close attention to how they handle even small-scale rejections. If someone is throwing a tantrum simply because their favorite restaurant is unexpectedly closed that night, it’s probably a good time to run.
But learning to keep an eye out for these red flags doesn’t have to be a solo endeavor. Both Tran and Glenn emphasized the importance of relying on communities, either online or in real life.
“A lot of my friends have been in a lot more relationships than me,” Glenn said. “And they tell me about what some of their red flags are, and I tell them about some of mine, and we just talk about it.”
“I definitely judge people a lot based on what their social media presence looks like,” Tran said. “It’s made red flags a lot easier for me to pick out.”
Unfortunately, though, experience is oftentimes the best teacher. For me, every relationship or dating experience — even the deeply regrettable ones — have ultimately been valuable learning opportunities.
Anna Buescher, a sophomore biology major, also talked about a high school relationship that helped open her eyes to red-flag behaviors in future partners.
“One year later, everything [bad about the relationship] just hit me,” Buescher said. “I was looking back at the relationship in my head and I saw all the warning signs that I should’ve seen then, like how he was a little too physical with me and just a lot of other things that didn’t stand out at the time. And I think because of that I’m a lot better now at looking at people and seeing things that are red flags.”
While articles like this one can certainly be informative, it’s often a lot harder to catch red flags in real life. Many of us are blinded by rose-tinted glasses that can make even the most toxic behaviors seem perfectly normal. Like Buescher, many of us often don’t recognize our partner’s flaws until well after the relationship ends.
But this is why community is so important for young adults navigating dating and relationships. Although we might not always want to listen to them, our close friends and family tend to be far more critical of our potential partners, and they can help us to identify questionable behaviors before any damage is done.
So the next time you’re mindlessly swiping through Tinder at 1 a.m., don’t be afraid to wake up your roommates and ask for their advice. Sure, they might vague-post about you on YikYak for a couple of days, but it’s more than worth it if you can avoid the deep psychological scars that first dates and long-term relationships alike are all too capable of leaving.