When is a red flag NOT a red flag?

Apr 12, 2024
Red Flag

During calls with my clients we regularly talk about exchanges they’ve had with men online or things they’ve noticed about a guy on a first date, and it seems that many are very ready to write a man off because of a “red flag”.

Of course I absolutely agree that it’s important to notice things that could indicate a problem guy – and we definitely need to have our radar switched on for scammers or guys scoring high for Dark Triad personality traits.

But often what we might call “red flags” could be better treated as indicators to “proceed with caution” rather than outright dealbreakers.

For instance, if you’re on a first date with a guy and he spends a lot of time talking himself up, how great he is, his accomplishments and things he’s won – you might be thinking “uh-oh this man’s a narcissist!”

But it could be that the guy is simply trying his best to impress you - and probably going about it in the wrong way. He might be a bit nervous and he’ll settle down, especially if you suggest, light-heartedly, that you’d like to get a word in edgeways!

However if this boasting behaviour carries on, and is combined with controlling behaviour – calling or texting to see “how you are” when you’re out without him, without any good reason to – or if he keeps putting others down, talking about colleagues, friends or even family negatively – then there’s a much greater chance you’re with someone who’s got Dark Triad traits, and if this is the case then he’s going to be big trouble and should be avoided.

So look out for clusters of traits. If there’s an isolated issue that’s bothering you while everything else looks good, definitely take note, but you might want to gather more information before you reject him outright.

The point is, there are many cases where it’s worth giving a guy the benefit of the doubt, at least until you know more. If you set your red flag threshold too low, no-one’s going to get near you, ever!

One of my clients Jess* recounts her story here, elegantly illustrating a more nuanced approach to red flags:

“I message a man on a dating site.

He responds, getting my name wrong and clearly with a copy & paste message. I also think his photo looks a bit older than his stated age.

How would you have proceeded?

In this case, I responded back saying, “well, thank you for your kind message, but my name isn’t Sandra!”

From what this man had written in his profile, he had seemed to be very considerate, with all the values I was looking for. Instead of writing him off, I remembered how when I first signed up for internet dating, I had actually tried to respond to every single message I received just out of politeness. Maybe this man was doing that.
It turns out that is exactly what he had been doing but copying/pasting as he had received so many approaches. On our first call, I also challenged him on his age (how I didn’t come across as a bit difficult, I don’t know). The reason behind that, which I know to be true, was because a female friend had told him to pitch as under 60, as many women in their 50s set an upper age range of 60.

If you are thinking I ignored red flags, I did not. I registered them in my mind and addressed them. And I am SO glad I did as 18 months later, I am sitting working from his house and in the best relationship of my life. This is a very, very good man who just got a couple of things wrong as he navigated internet dating. I’m pretty certain I got plenty wrong.

So the take-home message here is: if a guy makes a mistake, as long as it’s not really serious, and he seems to be a good, considerate person otherwise, perhaps reserve judgement and cautiously give him a chance.

I’m not at all suggesting relaxing your boundaries or putting up with bullsh*t, just that if you’re going to nix a guy on the basis of a red flag – make sure it’s really a red flag!

What do you think? Do you see a red flag as a STOP sign or are there degrees of “redness” that attenuate your response?

*Name has been changed