About a decade ago, I was enjoying a goat cheese omelet with my good friend Lisa, when she suddenly blurted something I’ll remember forever.
“Your ex always reminded me of the U.N.,” Lisa said.
I wasn't sure where she was going with this.
“You know how the U.N. has all those flags?" Lisa said. "When I think of your ex, I see lots of red flags waving in the wind!”
I laughed. “Yes, but why didn’t I see those red flags? I guess love is colorblind.”
“You saw them,” Lisa insisted. “You just didn’t run when you did. Or rather you ran — but toward your ex — like a bull toward a red cape!"
When I returned home from brunch, I immediately headed to my underwear drawer, in search of old journals I’d stashed there. My goal: carefully review the journal I’d kept during my time with this ex to see just how many red flags had been warning me to get the heck out of this relationship.
Carefully I re-read each entry. Then, for every warning sign I found, I drew a red flag with a red marker. When I was done, I flipped through. The red flags appeared slowly at first, making brief flashes of appearance. Then they got closer together. By journal’s end, there was a flurry of non-stop red flags.
It was a powerful wake-up call.
Shortly after, I made a list of all the lessons I’d learned from this experience to motivate myself to never ignore red flags a-waving ever again!
I wound up publishing all the insights in a relationship book called Prince Harming Syndrome. Below are some key points from that book, as well as some never-before published notes, which I’m sharing now for the first time.
1. True love should not be based on a wish list (sexy, smart, funny, etc) but a “wish feeling.”
The Number One feeling you should be seeking — even before the feeling of love — is the feeling of safety! Without this, you'll never feel true love, because you'll never feel comfy being vulnerable enough to reveal your true self, which is a vital component of intimacy.
2. In a good relationship, your partner should WANT to make you feel safe.
He or she should even feel happy to do what they can to make sure you feel secure.
3. The goal of a relationship is to improve your life, not create consistent chaos and conflict.
It’s called a love life, not a stressed-out-all-the-time life!
4. If you’ve been lured into toxic relationships in the past, you can develop “red flag hypochondria.”
For this reason, at the beginning of a relationship, it’s helpful to start what I call an “Isn’t This Interesting Folder.” You can keep this folder metaphorically in your mind. Or you can write down the clues you gather.
It's simple: Make sure you don’t rush to “Paranoic Red Flag Conclusions,” while still remaining alert to all the information you’re receiving. Indeed, a lot of dating is about getting to know someone, and discovering who they are from bits of unfolding moments. Sometimes you need to gather more information before you can clearly determine if a flag is red or simply an orange-ish yellow.
5. Be alert if you keep finding yourself constantly asking friends: “Is this normal”?
That’s a red flag a-waving.
6. Be very alert if you ever need to play detective.
That’s a big red flag in your face.
7. An essential quality to seek in a partner: he or she must value personal growth!
If your partner values growing, then he or she will be open to discussing the problems you see unfolding when a red flag event occurs. He or she will also be open to meeting your needs to ensure these issues don’t keep repeating.
If your partner doesn’t value growing, then your relationship won’t survive troubles along the way, because a relationship is only as strong as its weakest moments — how you each handle stress and conflict. Basically, toxic people are not open to listening, empathizing and growing. Healthy, thriving people are!
8. If you spot a red flag, talk about it with your partner ASAP.
I’m a big believer that it’s easier to squash a little monster than a big monster. Meaning? Don't wait for a red flag the size of a handkerchief to grow into a “Huge Banner-Sized Red Flag” before you address it. Have that difficult small conversation sooner, rather than try to deal with a massively difficult problem later.
9. Be mindful of your insecurities! If you have an “Achilles-something” you will be more colorblind to red flags.
Some examples: You might have an “Achilles uterus” and feel insecure about your age given your urgent desire to start a family. You might have an “Achilles bank account” and feel insecure about your finances. You might have an “Achilles tush” and worry you’re not thin enough for love.
If you have an “Achilles-something," work on loving and accepting yourself, imperfections and all.
The love you have for yourself is in a way the only love you have in your life, because all love is a mirror of it. If you want to improve your love life, improve how you love yourself.
With this in mind, I often tell my clients to create what I jokingly refer to as a “They Should Be So Lucky As To Be With Me List” in which they write down all they have to offer a partner. It's not meant to create cockiness; it's meant to be a fun way to take focus off the neediness their insecurities inspire.