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Relationships, The Wise

Red Flags: How To Avoid Bad Relationships

They say that you never really know someone until you’ve dated them.

They also say that the best way to get to know somebody is to travel with them.

Both methods are effective. But what about those of us who don’t have the resources to survive yet another failed relationship; let alone the audacity to travel with a ‘semi-stranger’? Isn’t there a better way to gauge whether or not someone is a safe romantic ‘investment’?

Luckily, there is. It may not be 110% foolproof, but it’s at least 87.5% effective and it can potentially save you time, money (guys?), and heartache (and headache).

Warning Sign in Relationships

They’re called “red flags”. They exist everywhere within the wide spectrum of relationships – business, platonic, recreational, dating, familial, etc. Consider them as the ‘stop lights’ of relationships. They don’t turn green like traffic lights do. Instead, they just wave at you until you decide to stop and go in the opposite direction…that is, if you’re intuitive enough to notice them for what they are.

Let’s go a little deeper…

When you meet someone attractive for the first time, what is it that immediately catches your attention? Is it their face, smile, or physique? Maybe it’s something they’re wearing?


Perhaps the attraction sets in gradually, like after hanging around that person for a while. This could happen in the workplace, a public spot that you both happen to frequent, a string of social events, or the result of having mutual friends. The good news is that it doesn’t matter if the attraction is immediate or gradual because red flags will pop up in either scenario…and long before anybody ever has to meet the parents!

By now you should be wondering about how to notice these red flags. If not, I’ll give you a moment…


Okay, there’s really only two main ways to notice red flags – by listening and observing.

*sarcastic gasp from the studio audience*

Most people tend to do this on a superficial level. They’re merely sold on cute faces and gorgeous bodies clad in trendy clothes while ignoring the true person. It’s not until they’ve become much too involved with someone when they begin to notice what was actually pretty obvious from the start. Here’s a short list of questions to ask yourself as you listen and observe that can help you foresee and avoid much of that ‘wonderful’ relationship stress.

      1. How Do They Dress?

        There is a reason why people choose to wear what they wear, including the choice as to where they wear it. The most common motive is as simple as ‘I want attention’. Sometimes they’re actually trying not to draw attention. Either way, you need to take notice and ask yourself ‘why’. Are they insecure? Arrogant? …or perhaps they’re conservative or modest? You may not always arrive at an airtight conclusion, but you can uncover some surprisingly accurate clues about someone’s character just by observing their dress code.

        Here’s an example… Have you ever seen a woman wearing a tight mini-skirt with her cleavage in full glory while strutting around in 6 inch stilettos? Such an outfit already raises a few questions, yes? Now let’s consider the environment. Is this at the office? A nightlife venue? …Church? Is their choice of fashion generally considered appropriate in this setting? At a nightclub, perhaps. In the church, not so much. Now it’s time to do some observational homework. What kind of message does revealing and provocative clothing generally communicate? How revealing and provocative is the outfit, and does it suggest how desperate the communicated message is? Where they choose to wear such an outfit often reveals their level of inhibition to communicate that message. Red flags love to pop up in scenarios like these. Pay attention, because there are some serious clues of immaturity and insecurity that you need to consider before moving any further.

      2. What Do They Talk About?

        Are you really listening to what people are talking about? Or are you just intoxicated by the sweet sound of their voice? If you’re intoxicated, sober up and start paying attention. There is a correlation between what people talk about most and who they are as individuals.

        No… If a woman talks about shoes all the time, that doesn’t mean that she’s a shoe. The same goes for the guy who can’t stop talking about cars. However, you do still need to take notice. If your conversations with these people never elevate far beyond Christian Louboutins or 392 cubic-inch V-8 engines, then don’t expect to end up in relationship with much depth…unless you really like womens’ shoes or Dodge Chargers. If their conversations are often sexual, suggestive, or lewd in context (directly or indirectly), then you can bet that sex is definitely a priority to them. If they’re often bashing their ex, the opposite sex in general, or their co-workers, then don’t be surprised if you meet their bitter and angry alter ego once things get serious between you two.

        These are just a few quick examples for you to consider. If nothing else, though, just remember this one wise saying before jumping into your next convo with Mr/Miss Intoxicating Voice… “What you say flows from what is in your heart”.

      3. How Do They Drive?

        Our vehicles are an extension of our personalities, and the stress of everyday traffic has the uncanny ability of exposing just how mature we really aren’t.

        Grown men and women ‘inch’ forward in traffic just so the next person can’t ‘butt in line‘ (elementary school, anyone?). People get so impatient that they resort to the obnoxious use of their car horns as if it’ll change the situation. People throw McDonald’s cups out of their windows at others, shine high-beams into rearview mirrors, brandish middle fingers, swear…the list goes on. Interestingly enough, we overlook these characteristics when we see them in the people we date. Yet, these are the very characteristics that we should expect to have to deal with whenever we experience stressful situations with that person…on and off the road.

      4. What About Their Parents?

        Our parents, if we’re fortunate enough to have either, are our first and most important relationship in our lives. The quality of these parental relationships has a direct impact on any future relationships that we have – especially the romantic ones. This could be the utmost critical observation you can make of anyone you’re considering dating.

        Okay. I know what you’re thinking… “I thought you said I didn’t have to meet their parents?”.

        I did. And you still don’t. BUT, you can still find ways to bring them up in conversation. At some point, they’ll share something about their relationship with their parents. Pay attention to how well, or not-so-well, they speak of them when they come up in conversation. If any of their parents have died, tread carefully…but take notice of any memories they express about them.

        Fathers set the standard of what a man is and isn’t supposed to be, and they influence how their children interact with other men. Mothers set the standard of what a woman is and isn’t supposed to be, and they ultimately effect how their children interact with other women. Generally speaking, to have loving and upright parents is a good thing. Overbearing or absent parents ought to raise an eyebrow, especially if there are any ‘scars’ that haven’t been dealt with. It isn’t necessarily a deal breaker, but do proceed with caution.

Like I said, this list is short. It may be general, and perhaps even a little abstract, but it’s a good start and will work for you in almost any dating situation. It is important, however, to understand that your success is based upon your own level of maturity and how well you know yourself.  So while you’re out getting to know other people, it’s wise to take some time to get to know yourself as well – especially if you’re single. This is the time to really make some honest assessments of your own character and identify some areas that need growth. *ouch* If not, you won’t be able to recognize the warning signs from others if you’re still a ‘child’ in those same areas…

…and you definitely don’t want to throw up more red flags than your date, do you?


About The Motley Sage

...just the motley fool with a college degree, a few books read and a little life to share. *quietly rolling by on a unicycle wearing a harlequin spandex suit while reading 'The Art of War'*


One thought on “Red Flags: How To Avoid Bad Relationships

  1. The last paragraph is the most important thing you said throughout the entire post. Know yourself. That’s the best way to know what you want in someone else because you know what you are and are not willing to deal with. While the red flags you wrote about definitely should be considered that are several exceptions to those things. What I mean is that every man with mommy issues won’t be a man that can’t treat a woman well.

    Posted by Angel S. | December 19, 2011, 11:33 am

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