Molly, a 25-year-old writer in Mexico, finds a very specific action attractive in a man — namely, that he’ll take a clean plate from the drying rack rather than getting a new one out of the cabinet. “It shows that he doesn’t believe that the dishes just magically get put away,” she explains. “I find that it translates to the kind of tidiness, cooking ability and general self-sufficiency that I look for in a partner.” She says this particular gesture is more telling than the conspicuous tidiness of a clean apartment. “For me, this thing is like a level-up — it’s almost subconscious, so it’s harder to fake during the honeymoon period,” she continues. “I’ve even told friends to look out for it.”
It may seem a stretch to deduce from this small act that a person will be a tidy and self-sufficient lover, but in Molly’s opinion, it’s a relationship green flag — i.e., an indicator that a guy will be a decent partner worth pursuing. On social media, where the slogan “men are trash” prevails, discussion about relationship red flags tends to dominate, and less attention is paid to the more positive signs that a man is worth knowing. Green lights are potentially more useful and interesting, however, so I spoke to more than 50 men, women and non-binary people who date men about the small signs they interpret as a relationship go-ahead.
Several came up over and over, especially the following:
- He treats service workers with courtesy and respect.
- He has positive relationships with women.
- He owns pets or is kind to animals.
- He asks questions during dates and is aware of the need for balance in a conversation.
- He is in therapy, or is at least open to therapy.
- He helps with the housework and keeps his own apartment clean and well-furnished.
- He doesn’t shit-talk his exes and is perhaps even friends with them.
- He can apologize non-defensively and resolve conflict healthily.
- He takes care of you while you’re sick.
Of these, the green flag that was raised most consistently was a man having strong, positive relationships with the women in his life, especially his mother, sisters and friends. Many women, too, found it particularly appealing for a man to have platonic female friends. “I find that men who can sustain long, close friendships with women are more in tune with what women expect from one another and what we long for from our male friends and lovers,” says Maggie, a 35-year-old seamstress in New York. “Men sometimes think women’s emotional demands are unreasonable because they don’t realize that she’s asking for something she’d consider a bare minimum from a friend.” Maggie adds that it’s an “even greener flag if they’re lesbians,” indicating an ability to see women as independent and fully human rather than only as potential lovers.
As for female family members, they usually came with an asterisk. That is, women said it was actually a red flag when men seemed to only love their mothers because of how much she’d done for them or who are uncritical about the unfairness of the burden placed on female caregivers. It was, however, a green flag for men to notice that unfairness or praise their mother for other qualities like a good sense of humor or intellect. “When a man can acknowledge, in a situation where his mom was 99 percent the primary caregiver, how unfair that relationship imbalance is, I unfortunately gotta hand it to him,” says Kyrell, a 28-year-old writer in Toronto, “and I’m lightly optimistic that he wouldn’t want to recreate that in future relationships.”
But for Rachana, a 22-year-old business consultant in San Francisco, a strong relationship with a sister is much more interesting. “Because a mother materially provides for you and especially can dote on a son, loving your mother doesn’t necessarily mean you respect or see women outside of their utility to you,” she explains. “Whereas a sister is a companion — someone to make you laugh, play with and share things with who doesn’t clean up after you, cook for you or give you an allowance.”
She also thinks a close relationship with a sister potentially gives a man a better understanding of women’s bodies, minds and experiences. “They’re more likely to have knowledge about periods, the rituals of getting ready, pop culture and so on,” she continues. “Maybe he’s helped a sister through a breakup or a job rejection, and seen women sick, sad and angry — that full humanity up close can translate to a better, more communicative and empathetic partner who is less likely to see you as the maid or mother he gets to bang.”
People with marginalized identities often look for green flags that relate to those aspects of their personhood in particular. Maya, a 28-year-old writer in L.A., says that as a black woman who sometimes dates non-black men, she wants to avoid guys who exoticize blackness and “who think that black women are almost like another species that needs to be interacted with in a different way.” One specific green flag she’s picked up on in this regard is when men have played basketball all their lives. “Guys who play basketball I’m assuming hang out with more black people, which means they aren’t weirded out by blackness and don’t see it as ‘exotic,’” she explains. “Every time I hear a guy say that, it’s truly like a sigh of relief.”
Meanwhile, Tim, a 28-year-old trans man in Chicago, says that if he sees a man identify as “cis” in his online profile or dating app bio, that’s a big green flag for him. “Since the concept of ‘cisgender’ is still making its way into general usage, when somebody uses it to describe themselves, it signals to me that they have an above-average knowledge of trans issues,” he explains. “This means that if I decide to disclose that I’m trans to them, they won’t just be drawing from stereotypes about trans people and are likely to already have trans people in their lives. Plus, transphobes generally bristle at the cis descriptor, period.”
Others mention green flags that are almost comically specific. “It’s somehow a green flag to me when a guy played The Sims as a kid,” says Josh, a 28-year-old public servant from New Zealand. “I guess it’s something about a tendency toward care, cultivation and the domestic. The game also requires effort and persistence throughout the monotony, which I think are good character traits.” He adds, too, “There’s the quietly creative angle of house construction and decoration, which requires or helps develop an aesthetic appreciation.”
But men who played wholesome video games as children shouldn’t rest on their laurels, because most green flags are much more general indicators of basic decency, like tipping generously, caring for sick relatives and respecting the humanity of marginalized people. “It’s a green flag for me when a guy shows respect to women he’s not attracted to,” says Jade, a 29-year-old artist based in Berlin. “I know it’s an extremely low bar, but you’d be surprised how many men don’t clear it.”