Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Red Light, Yellow Light, Green Light - Go!

The beautiful thing about getting older is life experience (despite some people’s argument to the contrary, in my opinion it’s definitely not the wrinkles, balding and cellulite).[1] Most people I know would never switch their lives now to be their 18-year-old-self again. Indeed, you never hear of the wise young man doling out advice on a mountain top.

So if you’ve lived long enough and dated long enough, then you’ve likely experienced and seen enough to say under certain circumstances – “I’ve been here before.” And, hopefully, you are able to recognize the familiar landscape early on so that you can get out of terrain that you didn’t care for the first time around.

When seasoned singles go on a first date (and in particular ones generated on-line) they tend to be like a detective solving a whodunit - looking for every clue as to whether this person is normal, worthy of a second date and potentially good partner material.
[2] We are not necessarily talking about assessing traits and qualities such as whether a person has good table manners or is dressed in outdated tapered light blue jeans – that is a different level of assessment which goes to whether a searching single wants to work with a diamond in the rough.

Rather, we are talking about red flags. And orange, yellow, blue and green flags too. Yes, for those paying attention, the Homeland Security Advisory System works quite well as a point of reference here (the levels of security alerts being as follows: red = severe condition, orange = high condition, yellow = elevated condition, blue = guarded condition, green = low condition). Ok, here I will take a little poetic license and make green = highly favorable condition.

A red flag is one that should make a smart single stop in his or her tracks and say – I’ve seen this behavior before and it ain’t good. The last person who did this, said this, had this "story" was “x, y and z” (none of “x, y, z” being positive). The presence of a red flag (on par with the “severe” condition indication) should be met with a similar reaction – get the hell outta there and don’t look back.

What is a “red” flag? Sometimes they’re gender neutral (e.g. virtually every male and female client tells me that a date being rude to waitstaff is a no-go), while other times the flag is obviously gender specific.

A red flag indicating that a guy has a violent temper (i.e. getting into a physical or verbal fight with another guy while you’re on a date) is a clear red flag to a woman (one day that out of control temper could be directed towards her). Among other red flags that most women I know look for (or should notice) are flags that would indicate that her date is just in it for sex, that her date has zero interest in settling down any time soon (if settling down is what she’s looking for) or that her date has zero career ambition.

When someone chooses to show you a red flag early on it is a blessing. Take, for example, my friend “Lisa” who told me about a guy who took her to a very nice dinner on their first date, acted like a perfect gentleman but then afterwards asked her multiple times to go back to his apartment to “listen to music” (by the way, the he chose a restaurant conveniently located a block away from his apartment). Lisa made it clear several times that she had no interest in doing that and suggested continuing the date at a nearby wine bar. Her suggestions were apparently met with dissatisfaction and continued insistence on the night cap at his place. Lisa proudly recounted her response as she ended the date and hopped in a cab: Thanks for the red flag – very much appreciated. Sorry, no music, no nightcap, no second date. Good guys – guys with the right intentions - just don’t act like that.

Of course, men tend to have their own red flags. Typically, on a first date they are looking for any flags indicating that their date is emotionally unstable, a gold digger or potentially non-discriminating sexually.
[3] The difference between men’s red flags and women’s red flags is that the man won’t necessary follows Lisa’s quick exit strategy even if he perceives enough red flags to adorn a fort. Thus, he might see what he can make of the date but he isn’t sticking around long after. So, if a woman asks what kind of car the guy drives or whether he owns or rents his place (it’s hard to believe, but apparently there are women out there asking these questions over their first sip of Chardonnay), the "gold digger alert" siren has gone off but it still might not be a death knell. A sign of mental instability on the other hand, now that is usually an effective one - “Joe” has been there before and it isn’t worth going down that path again no matter how hot his date is.

Ok, here are just a few examples of flags to consider based upon my own experiences and the constant input I have received from both men and women:

· A guy even talking about anything sexual on a first date if unprovoked by the woman = RED FLAG.

For example, if the guy is asking you very personal questions about sex and you haven’t even kissed yet. Most women who have dated enough realize that the guys who have done this in the past have turned out to be creeps. Sure, to some women it might be a green flag – I guess, it depends what you’re looking for…

· A woman who gets hammered on the first date … by herself = RED FLAG

More than women realize, serious men are looking at the women they are meeting as potential mothers of their kids. So if a woman gets wasted on a first date it usually makes the man think that she exercises poor judgment and is not responsible. My guess is that every woman who drinks has had at least one instance where she drank too much on a first date with a guy she liked and regretted the impression she made. That can happen when you’re younger, but if the woman is over 35 it is probably going to be perceived as a deal breaker. The guy is now thinking she may do something similar at a family wedding/party with his friends…

If both parties get drunk on the date, however, then she’s likely in the clear – or only waving a yellow or blue flag. If they are many dates into their relationship when she has one cosmopolitan too many, it’s probably a non-issue.

· A man who has no relationship with his mother = ORANGE FLAG

If a man has cut his mother out of his life it is typically a given that he has issues establishing close relationships with women. This is very dark orange flag to the point where you are scratching your head – “is it orange? maybe it’s red, no maybe it’s orange …”). Do you really want to take on this person’s issues?[4]

· A woman revealing intensely personal stories on the first date = ORANGE FLAG

One of my guy friends told me about a first date where the woman shared with him the fact that she hasn't had her period in seven months. She assured him she wasn’t pregnant and she was just having some health issues, but he could only conclude the girl had an eating disorder. A woman who shares intensely personal information on a first date typically sends a flag to a man that she is unstable and has issues. What’s the Homeland Security translation again … oh right, “heightened condition.”

· A man or woman who is over 45 and never married and claims that he or she wants to be = YELLOW FLAG

Ok, I know I am going to hear it from my readers on this one. But it is a flag – notice I didn’t say “red” flag requiring immediate withdrawal. Maybe this person has just been incredibly focused on his or her career, maybe he or she wasn’t really ready or interested in marriage until the past couple of years (obviously, you can’t just snap your fingers and make it happen once you’re ready), maybe he or she lived with a significant other for several years and lost valuable time with someone who turned out not to be the “One.” All legitimate reasons.

Or maybe the guy hasn’t really grown up, doesn’t in fact want to get married, or maybe the woman has unreasonably high expectations which can never be met, or maybe … you get the picture. The presence of this yellow flag calls for “elevated” sleuthing.

· A guy who makes up a totally unbelievable job when you ask him what he does for a living (e.g. ice cream truck driver) = BLUE FLAG

Such a ridiculous response is typically a sign of immaturity. Even though some guys will say they do this to deflect gold-digging women who just want to figure out how much money they make, one would hope they have other capable sensors. A mature man just answers this question in a straightforward manner (e.g. “I am a lawyer, doctor, professor, etc."). This guy may be a fine guy, but proceed with slight caution.

· A woman who orders the most expensive thing on the menu = BLUE FLAG

Women, just so you know, when a man sees you doing this he may start to wonder if you are out with him just for the money and/or if you are extremely high maintenance (usually a turn off for men). Or maybe he thinks "she just loves lobster crepes adorned with caviar and sauted with truffles …"

· Someone who shows genuine interest in you on a date with the clear intent of getting to know what you’re really about = GREEN FLAG

No explanation needed here.

Unfortunately, when we really like someone we often develop a strange and temporary affliction of colorblindness. We’ll talk ourselves into believing red flags are orange, orange flags are yellow and so on until we ultimately realize they were always crimson ...

Ok, it’s audience participation time – men, women, your (relevant) thoughts are always welcome!

[1] It is my experience since writing this blog that no matter what you say (or how basic or well-founded), you will always find someone who will argue the contrary. That being said, there’s no question that differences of opinion keep it interesting!

[2] Mind you, even if people do not go on a date consciously “looking” for red flags (perhaps an optimist would respond that is just too cynical of a way to approach a date), they should certainly be paying attention when one of those flags comes waving in front of their smiling visage (a fun word for my language people out there).

[3] Yes, the unjustified double standard exists – as no man would consider himself a slut in any negative sense of the word for sleeping with a woman “too soon” (does that concept even exist in regard to man?) but they are happy to pass this judgment on any girl who actually thinks they are worthy of sleeping with without strategic game playing. I’m the messenger here – disagree with it all you want but it’s a reality (a reality that’s changing, however. More on this in another blog).

[4] If he has severed a relationship with one of his children, please see red flag protocol.


  1. "“Joe” has been there before and it isn’t worth going down that path again no matter how hot his date is." Very true, Marni. I agree that men who are looking for something longlasting will see past the hotness and determine that a woman with lewd manners, foul language, or way too many issues is just not worth the hassle. Excellent appearance is never a bad thing in and of itself, but it's hardly compensatory for glaring and alarming character or personality flaws. Sadly, too many operate by "as long as she's hot, I can forgive all else."

    - Ex-Syosset Brave, Class of '91

  2. Good comment as always, Ex-Syosset Brave. :)
    I think the difference is that the older, more mature Joes will run at the first signs of alarming personality traits - it's just not worth it. But if Joe is in his 20s he may very well operate under the "as long as she's hot" mindset.