Not inspired by anything in particular, other than that I noted I seemed to be building a collection of observations of behaviors that throw up a little red flag for me. Stuff people do, or say, that indicates trouble might be coming later down the line. Mostly centered on ways people act in intimate relationships because intimate relationships tend to be where we find ourselves most vulnerable, but certainly applies to family, friends, bosses… Most of them are relatively innocuous as a one-time thing just because people are human, but as patterns… flag.
– Makes fun of you in public. This doesn’t apply to good-natured ribbing or giving of shit, though goodness knows that can get fairly intense in some groups or dynamic. This is stuff actually designed to get under your skin, to make you a little (or a lot) angry or hurt or embarrassed. Justification, if called on it, is usually some variant of “just a joke”, or “lighten up”, or “you’re too sensitive”. Actual friendly jokes in an actually light atmosphere aren’t designed to wound, even a little bit; the correct response to saying something to give a friend/lover a good-natured ribbing that turns out to be hurtful is contrition, not demands to develop a sense of humor. In general, someone who finds you being upset intrinsically amusing is to be avoided.
– Tells you your experiences are wrong/mistaken. Often this is just the result of being young and inexperienced enough not to have grown out of I Am The World syndrome, but it’s still a flag, especially in someone old enough to know better. In its worst form this is the foundation of gaslighting. Normally when two people’s experiences of the same event don’t line up, the normal reaction is to find out why someone else saw it a different way- not to tell them their perceptions are simply wrong/mistaken/totally out of line. It’s possible to be wrong or to misread situations, but someone who constantly tells you you do, or that you’re incapable of reading situations because of (reason), is waving a flag.
– Hates your friends and family and doesn’t bother to hide it in front of them. Love and friendship aren’t transitive, but the polite thing to do when you can’t stand a friend or family member of your partner/BFF/whoever is to try and avoid being in situations with that person and to let your partner/whatever know your feelings and why, and grin and bear it when it’s simply not avoidable. Actively doing stuff to drive them off is an isolating move as well as just being rude. That, and one’s friends and family are part of what make us who we are; we can’t pick and choose all of them and they won’t all get along, but someone who can’t stand ANY of your friends and family is making a statement that all the people who like you for who you are are awful/unlikable. This also combines with the first point- someone who makes fun of your friends and family in front of them is showing that their own amusement trumps your anger/embarrassment over poor treatment of people you care about.
– Acts entitled to your time/space/movement. This is a fuzzy one as expecting a loved one to spend time with you isn’t unreasonable, but getting upset over any plans you make that don’t include them, or plans you made for yourself without their input, or going places without them/their say-so is a flag.
– Things get really intense, really fast. Being swept off your feet can be a lot of fun, but eventually you need your feet back on the floor. Someone who tries to keep you constantly swept off your feet or bowled over is often someone who’s trying to keep you off your balance, period.
– Values you for your “innocence” and “vulnerability”. Remember that innocence means being innocent of knowledge and experience. Again, it isn’t intrinsically awful to find a lack of cynicism and an enthusiasm for life as though it were new appealing- but someone who doesn’t want their partners/employees/whatever to know what the world is really like is also giving themselves the experiential upper hand. In order to recognize a manipulative asshole when you see one, you generally need to know something about bad things and the people who do them.
– This one really does only apply to lovers- tells you your preferences in bed are wrong/unacceptable. If your major turnon is something the rest of the world broadly agrees is an active turnoff (like poop, or vomit) except for a few fellow fetishists, this doesn’t apply, but someone who tells you all men/women like oral, or don’t like something else you want, or otherwise presents your desires and requirements to get off as you Doing It Wrong is waving a flag. If they’re willing to ignore your boundaries, wishes, and needs in an intimate, private setting and substitute their own preferences and ideas of how Others Work, odds are good that behavior won’t stay completely confined there.
– Constantly mixed messages. In fiction this is grist for the plot and fodder for comedy. In reality this is sometimes someone who likes you better when you are confused. Again, this can be innocuous and can come from someone who is maybe a little unskilled at communicating; as a pattern, and especially as a pattern that persists after you make efforts at establishing crystal clear communication, it’s a flag. Relationships that have “suspense” as a norm after the getting-to-know-you period are not fun.
– Tells you you’re not like other (category of people you belong to), with the implication that you are awesome and somehow all the rest are not. This is not a behavior that deserves a lot of benefit of the doubt; someone who holds your gender/race/class/salsa dancing hobby categorically against you (and they will, as soon as you displease them) has not just waved a flag, they’ve waved a starter’s flag for you to sprint over the horizon. This behavior can be the result of inexperience/some other flavor of recoverable dumbassery, but it’s not your job to recover it if so. If it happens it’s probably going to be their own gender/race/class/merengue dancing group that does the bulk of the work on the perspective change.
– Frequently creates cognitive dissonance in how you feel about/after spending time with them. If you find yourself frequently having to justify to yourself why X was actually being friendly/well-meaning/innocuous when you felt crappy or nervous in their presence? They’re not really friendly and well-meaning. It’s theoretically possible it’s you and not them, but unless you know you have a PTSD history strongly triggered by white-bearded men and they happen to be a white-bearded man, if you find yourself frequently rationalizing the way someone makes you feel, that’s a flag. People that like and support us and make us feel good with that generally don’t have to do it by code.
– Here’s a REALLY fuzzy one: seems to be in a relationship with a script and not with you. Some people run their interactions with other people through a script or template of How This Goes and pay more attention to it than to other people. Everyone plans to a certain extent how to deal with others based on their expectations and what they have previously experienced; but everyone healthy is ready to throw the script out the window when contact with the other person reveals a flawed assumption or guess. For the people that are REALLY attached to the script, there’s going to be confusion at best and punishment at worst when serious deviations occur. And they will.
– To paraphrase Maya Angelou: When someone tells you who they are, believe them. Someone says they’ll hurt you? They almost certainly will. Someone says they can’t handle a relationship/relationships in general and always sabotages them? They’re telling the truth. Feel sorry for them if you will, but from a distance, because this isn’t even a flag, it’s a hand-written signed and damn near notarized declaration. You’re not going to fix them; maybe a therapist, who is not you, can fix them if and when they decide they need it. Do take into intent context; someone sobbing they’re so stupid and they always screw everything up is definitely sad and upset and feeling helpless, but that’s qualitatively different from telling you that they are destructive to people close to them. This is also different coming from someone you’ve known for ages and know has depressive episodes, as opposed to someone you’re eight weeks into a relationship with who is not actively melting down. Especially if this is coming from a Mixed Message Master.
– In converse to the above: is on a mission to “fix” you. Everyone has flaws, and part of intimacy is dealing with your partner’s flaws and supporting them in their own efforts to deal with their flaws, but even a relationship between two completely normal flaw-having people will run into unhealthy waters when one partner sets themselves up as there to improve and repair the other. Taken to further extremes this is a well-trodden path for gaslighters and abusers- convince the other person they’re so broken they are nothing without their fixer.
– Turning the above around again: believes it is your job to fix THEM and makes it clear you are being interviewed/maintained as Chief Emotional Support. Everyone has problems, and friends do help with problems, but the job of fixing so and so is always primarily on so and so, even if they have to hire some trained staff to facilitate it. And not even a paid therapist can help someone who isn’t working at it.
– Everyone in their life they no longer have a relationship with is EVIL. You can be friends with exes, or not, and it’s okay to be friends with none of your exes, but someone who only has EVIL, CRAZY exes/ex-friends is waving a flag around. Taken literally it means they only associate with crazy evil people and that therefore you two are probably not compatible- but more likely, it means either they see people as all-good or all-bad, or that their own contributions to conflicts are absent in their own minds. Often both. This doesn’t apply as much to family, given crazy and evil tend to spread through family and it’s entirely rational to want to get away from a crazy/evil family, but you still might want to pay attention to *why* the family is described as evil and crazy.
– Tries to argue you into or out of entirely subjective feelings. Argues you should have had a good time when you didn’t; a bad time when you had a great time; tries to make a rational argument why you should date them or hang out with them. This is a pretty common phase of immaturity, especially with people whose interests or field largely rely on everything being objective, but again, it is not your job to help someone out of a destructive idea or phase unless you are a trained therapist and they are giving you money.
– Believes boundaries are unnecessary, cold, or mean in an intimate/family relationship or “true friendship”. This is another starter’s flag: RUN.
– Treats relationships as transactional. Obviously this does not apply to employers and employees, who explicitly ARE in a transactional relationship, but someone who extends this attitude outside of work is waving a flag. While it is true that relationships shouldn’t be all give or all take, keeping an accounting ledger in your head- this favor for that favor, this gift for this act, this uninvited gesture for this demand for quid pro quo- shouldn’t be a normal thing.
– All of your decisions need to be justified to them. If you are a minor child this is one thing, but otherwise? You can do things solely for the reason that you want to do them. Someone who constantly makes you prove that something is justified before you do it without taking a large ration of grief from them is waving a flag. This has some realms of the reasonable- a partner might have legitimate concerns about your health or losing you or whatever- but again, there are limits. “I don’t want you to ride a motor cycle without a helmet” is a different thing from “I don’t want you to eat that donut”. This is another flag that is defined more by the pattern than by the single incident; someone who is really hung up about one small thing has a hangup, someone who makes you justify your food, friends, drinks, career path, and choice in cars is a controlling asshole.
– You find yourself constantly in conflicts you were not actually aware of. It is at least polite to send a declaration of war before the siege starts. This is another pattern-makes-it flag; sometimes we think we’ve been really clear about a feeling or priority or whatever and we haven’t and the other person is oblivious nonetheless. However, someone who is constantly initiating the silent treatment or passive-aggressive note or whatever else based on slights you had NO IDEA about until they are, grudgingly and resentfully, explained later, is flagging.
– Conversely: someone who is constantly obtuse and treats your feelings like some sort of chaotic force of nature they have no relationship or influence over. Someone who will not acknowledge your needs, feelings, or opinions until you scream, then treats you as all VOLATILE, jeez, is likewise flagging. Sometimes there can be other issues behind that problem, like being on the less neurotypical side of the autistic spectrum, but reasons aren’t excuses, they’re reasons for additional measures to minimize problems. Like really clear communication.
– Deliberately tries to scare you. Punches the wall next to your head, throws things when angry with you, threatens your pets, makes self-harm gestures in front of you when upset with you. This is another starter’s flag- run away, run now, run as fast as you can.
– Nothing is EVER agree to disagree. It is very important that you hash out every single issue logically and with passionate argument. Bonus flag points if it has to be done RIGHT NOW, DON’T GO AWAY ANGRY, LISTEN TO ME WHEN I’M TALKING TO YOU. Everyone wants to be right and prefers winning arguments to losing them; normal people know not everything should be an argument and not every argument represents a hill that someone must die on, and also that sometimes differences of opinion or preference aren’t that important.
– You don’t do stuff independently, everything is done at each other somehow. Everything you wear is a message! Every choice you make somehow relates back to them! Why are you not receiving my food and clothing related messages! Is it OK if I wear the purple top today?