Knowing When To Bail: Understanding Red Flags

While that thing we refer to as ‘dating’ is for having fun and getting to know each other, it’s also the key period (the discovery phase) where you need to notice red flags. If ignored, red flags catch up with you further down the road in your relationship and cause you much pain.

People have a nasty habit of wearing rose-tinted glasses when dating and witnessing red flags they fail to acknowledge and act upon. If we want to have more successful relationships and minimise some of the pain we suffer in pursuit of love, we must learn to be more aware. We must pay attention to red flags.

If there are red-flag issues, there are indicators in the early stages of dating. We just need to be listening and watching.  It’s important to note that we all make a massive effort when we first meet someone. That said, we can’t help but slip into our natural selves within the first few dates. We also can’t control situations and life. Various situations will put us to the test and we’ll inadvertently reveal our true selves.

What is a red flag?

This is something the other party does or represents that flags a potential problem either then or further down the line. Often ‘red flags’ are a character trait, for example, aggression. At other times it’s a fundamental core difference in values, indicating something that’s extremely important to you that you really shouldn’t and cannot ignore.

Red flags can and often will deal a fatal blow to the relationship. Why? Because they’re a sign of incompatibility and the unhealthiness of the relationship. Ignoring red flags gives the person a lifeline to expand upon these issues, and the damage that can be dealt with this lifeline may have long-lasting repercussions.

The key with a red flag is that whatever it is, it alerts you to other potential issues or something crucial that you would typically be wary or not accepting of. Red flags highlight something you don’t want to (and shouldn’t) compromise on.

We ignore red flags because:

  • We’ve already slept with them and are already in The Justifying Zone, that place we go to where we keep finding reasons to stay with the person to justify sleeping with them.
  • We want a relationship more than we want the right person.
  • We’re insecure.
  • We’re blinded by lust and desire.
  • We have I Can Change Him/Her syndrome.

In your mind, as part of the natural process of life and because you want to have a decent mate to have a relationship with, there need to be certain predefined things that you know that you will not accept, regardless of how fabulous this person is or that will cause you to pause and query the problem to resolve the red flag.

Our inability to ask the right questions or even ask any questions is the very thing that comes back to bite us further down the line when the person’s acting out these behaviours or we recognise incompatibilities and we feel bewildered.

Red flags

Anger and aggression

If they have trouble keeping it in check, they’re irrational, violent, and a bit too handy with their fists, be careful that you don’t end up being a human punchbag or being emotionally abused.

Emotionally unavailable

This is someone who is incapable of sharing anything of themselves emotionally because they’re all about limiting their exposure to vulnerability and doing things on their terms, making them rather self-absorbed. If they’re emotionally unavailable, they cannot be truly intimate, which means that they cannot commit, which means your relationship is going to halt, or go in fits and starts. And ultimately your relationship isn’t really going to go anywhere because it will always have a cap on it.

Dodgy attitude towards sex

Pay attention to people who don’t know what to do with themselves if they don’t get their ‘medicine’. Some of these will never be satisfied. Also, unhealthy attitudes in the bedroom spill over into other areas of your life and leave you feeling very insecure.


Are they incapable of doing much for themselves because they haven’t grown up? Is this person irresponsible with life in general? e.g. Their attitude to bills, rent, job, borrowing money. Are they reckless?

Addicted to something

If you meet someone and they’re addicted to something and not aware and doing something about it, this will impact your life greatly if you continue on. Also, you pursuing an involvement with them when they’re in the early stages of, for instance, sobriety and their healing journey, can derail that process. See more on code amber and red issues.

The Controller

Run like the wind from anyone that wants to control you. It won’t let up, and the longer you’re with them, the more entrenched they become in your life, is the worse they’ll get. They’ll often use criticism, emotional blackmail and gaslighting as a chief way of getting and chopping at you. Watch your self-esteem walk out the door. See more on the Chopper and Unpleasables.

They play the victim

Be careful of anyone that refuses to take any responsibility for their life and blames it on others. You will eventually become one of those ‘others’. For them to always be in the role of victim, you have to be in the role of persecutor or rescuer. It makes it super tricky for them to see their part in situations. Note that victimising one’s self and so adopting it as a role and identity is different from being a victim of something.

Not over the ex

Not over their ex, not ready for you. Plain and simple.

Problems with past/childhood

Unfortunately, things happen in life and it can be difficult to get over and deal with. Some things have a very lasting effect on people and can impact hugely on future relationships. They, of course, can be overcome, but failure to acknowledge these issues in the first place and openly deal with them will cause big problems. And keep in mind that we all have a past and problems, and plenty of us, myself included, have childhood trauma. These in and of themselves don’t render us unsuitable for intimate relationships. Our availability for relationships and love of ourselves and others ultimately comes down to whether we process our emotional baggage.

Nasty and spiteful

I am always wary of people who don’t have a good thing to say about anyone, begrudging people their successes and revelling in their failures. I don’t think it’s the fabric of a good strong character and is something to keep an eye on. Mean-spirited people don’t stop being so in a relationship and may attack your self-esteem by latching on to what they decide are your ‘flaws’. Check out The Chopper.

Now, how much of a blow these red flags deal to your relationship is down to you. You must decide on what is and isn’t acceptable and stick to it. Listen to yourself, instead of ignoring, dismissing and overriding your intuition.

Something that allows people with these red flags to ‘prosper’ and continue as normal is acceptance of the behaviour as is, with rarely any questions asked. If you have someone with any of the above, raise the issue with them. Or, if it’s serious enough, bail and don’t look back.

For more insight into red flags, please check out my post on code amber and red behaviour and problems.

Are you ready to stop silencing and hiding yourself in an attempt to ‘please’ or protect yourself from others? My book, The Joy of Saying No: A Simple Plan to Stop People Pleasing, Reclaim Boundaries, and Say Yes to the Life You Want (Harper Horizon), is out now.

The Joy of Saying No by Natalie Lue book cover. Subtitle: A simple plan to stop people pleasing, reclaim boundaries, and say yes to the life you want.
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