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Red Flags Have Lost All Meaning

When everything is a red flag, nothing is a red flag

Earlier this week, a friend on Twitter became the subject of an uproar when she suggested that it’s a red flag to be 35 or older and have never been in a relationship lasting at least 18 months. The statement was clearly upsetting to people: “This is the dumbest thing I’ve read all week,” one person remarked; “This is absolutely unhinged,” another replied

The actual merits of the argument are beside the point. Instead, what seems notable is how much issue people took with being accused of having a red flag, as though it would suggest that they’re completely undateable and ought to be institutionalized. Elsewhere on Twitter, red flags have been known to include things like having a name that starts with the letter D and disliking cats. In other words, “red flags” have become both so banal and ubiquitous as to have lost all meaning.

By its most basic definition, a red flag is a warning. In literal applications, red flags are used to halt auto races, signal imminent battle and warn of bad weather. On an interpersonal level, red flags should mean obvious, intuitive signs that a relationship needs to be questioned, as Psychology Today has indicated was the original intent. But culturally, we’ve begun using the term to embody anything from being on good terms with an ex to owning a copy of Infinite Jest

We treat the concept of green flags the same way. As Madeleine Holden wrote for MEL a couple of years ago, the range of traits people consider to be signs that someone is worth dating includes everything from having a solid relationship with their sibling to playing Sims. Without a proper understanding of how seriously we’re supposed to interpret green and red flags, it seems impossible to know what exactly they mean. Neither someone having a good connection to their family nor playing a certain video game are reasons alone to date them, just as owning a specific book or having been single for a long time aren’t reasons alone not to date them.

Instead, I’d look at green flags and red flags as pros and cons — a collection of data points, not the be-all, end-all. Either way, being told you have a red flag by a stranger on the internet shouldn’t be cause for concern, and allowing the opinion of a stranger on the internet to dictate your dating habits is probably more of a warning about your own character than anything else. 

We all have red and green flags from someone’s perspective. Let’s not take it so personally.