The Red Flag of Nuh-Uh

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When you’re dating, your goal is to find someone who’s right for you, whether that means you’re compatible for a night of carefree grinding, a few weeks of hanging out, or a lifetime of spooning and taking turns feeding the cat. You also have to keep an eye out for signs that someone is definitely not right for you, or what we in the advice-giving trade call “red flags.” This term comes to us from the golden age of piracy, when ships would fly red flags to indicate that they had nothing on board worth plundering. (I made that up; I think it’s actually from sports, but I like pirates more than sports.)

Even if you really dig someone, you should seriously consider bailing when you notice any of these classic bad signs. Anyone who displays them is usually miserable to be with in a serious relationship–no matter how good her cleavage looks in that top. There are always other tits in the sea. Err on the side of shaking her off before she has the chance to become your Nightmare Ex from Hell.

One of the biggest things to watch out for is a girl who hates all her exes. This doesn’t mean she needs to be BFFs with everyone she’s dated (although, in the lesbian world, it’s a distinct possibility), but she should be able to get through a dinner date or two without chronicling all of their myriad character flaws. Someone who describes every girl she’s ever kissed as “manipulative” or “psycho” or “clingy” is either pathologically unwilling to accept her share of blame or attracted to unhealthy relationships because she has some unresolved shit. Either way, she is a maelstrom of conflict and misery, and you want to avoid getting pulled under.

Run far away, too, from anyone your friends loathe. When you’re attracted to someone, the sex hormones make your brain all weird (yes, this is highly technical terminology) and can convince you to overlook issues that would be a deal breaker if you were in a more settled frame of mind. But if your friends tell you they hate her, or if they say things like “She seems really… I can tell that you’re super into her!,” you need to start developing an exit strategy. No one has ever shared a long and happy life with someone her friends couldn’t stand. Your friends are smart and have great taste in people. That’s why you’re friends with them. Let their wisdom guide you.

Anyone who tries to persuade you to do something you don’t want to do, especially early in the relationship, goes into the reject pile without delay. Yes, every relationship involves a certain amount of compromise, and you can’t build lasting love by being completely inflexible, but neither can you build anything of value with someone who doesn’t respect your boundaries. If your date tries to cajole you into sex or commitment after you say you’re not interested, pump the brakes. No one who treats your comfort and safety like they’re negotiable belongs in your bedroom or your life.

Hit the eject button on anyone with a scary temper. Violence and screaming are an automatic no-go, and even if she’s not directing her overreactions your way, eventually she will. Don’t date people who start bar fights, throw plates, or punch walls, and don’t date people who yell at customer service workers for things that aren’t their fault. Contrary to what pop culture sometimes tells you, none of those things make someone passionate or sexy. This also applies to anyone with an alcohol or substance abuse problem they’re not seeking treatment for. You might think you’re climbing on board a roller-coaster ride, but it’s really more like a Tilt-A-Whirl that goes on for months or years until you’re miserable and want to vomit but it never slows down enough for you to get off.

Oh, and don’t date anyone who still lives with her ex. This one seems pretty self-explanatory.

Then there are the perfectly nice people–non-abusers, non-sociopaths–whom, for reasons that are neither their fault nor yours, you just shouldn’t date. Don’t date your boss or anyone who could be construed as your superior at your place of employment. Also, don’t date anyone who is subordinate to you at work. It might be best to err on the side of never dating anyone whose paycheck comes from the same place as yours. A power imbalance in the workplace might seem totally irrelevant when the relationship is shiny and new, but if you fight or break up, working together can become nightmarish really quickly. It’s all too easy for the higher-up person to make their subordinate ex’s life hell without even meaning to.

Don’t date anyone who’s closeted or cheating. I don’t care how gorgeous she is—if she has a boyfriend and he doesn’t know about your standing weekly date to fuck each other silly in the backseat of your Prius, she is a bad investment. I understand that being closeted is really hard and deciding when to come out is a deeply personal decision, and I will never think less of anyone for waiting until later in life to do it, but getting into a relationship with someone who’s going to hide your existence–not to mention a fundamental component of her identity–from her loved ones is signing up for a lot of unhappiness. And anyone who will cheat with you will also cheat on you. Fidelity is a character trait, not a prize you can earn by being the best girlfriend ever.

And don’t date anyone who had a terrible breakup with your friend. In the queer community, “don’t date exes” is not a hard-and-fast rule–honestly, it’s barely a gentle suggestion. There aren’t a lot of us to go around, and when you filter by age, geography, being able to do that thing you like with the ice cube, etc., the pool gets a lot smaller. You’re definitely going to date a friend’s ex at some point. (Hell, I married a friend’s ex and the friend in question gave a reading at our wedding.) It’s cool. What’s not cool is dating someone who genuinely made your friend miserable or broke her heart. When you do that, you’re telling your friend, “My need to get laid is more important to me than your feelings!” If someone represents a major scar on your friend’s soul, consider her out of bounds.

From ASK A QUEER CHICK by Lindsay King-Miller. Published by arrangement with Plume, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2016 by Lindsay King-Miller.

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