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Why Red Flags Are A Good Thing…

Updated: Apr 5

What a humungous year 2021 was for all of us. In addition to lockdowns and shifting friendships, it was the year I broke one of my most unhealthy relationship patterns.

It was painful but liberating.

The thing about breaking old patterns is that even when we know we're about to follow a new and right path it can still break us apart and feel sad.

My previous relationship pattern went something like this…

  1. Meet a guy

  2. Get swept away by his charm and good looks

  3. Listen to him tell stories about his past partner(s) and feel a bit unsure about his integrity

  4. Apply the Benefit of Doubt and stay in the game

  5. Begin to notice discrepancies between his words and actions

  6. Ask direct questions (feel really pleased with myself for being more bold than I have before)

  7. Accept his responses even when they include information about violence (his) and high levels of criticism of his ex … and/or

  8. Notice how he objectifies/leers at women and how my opinion of him disintegrates

  9. Apply Benefit of Doubt and question myself instead

I'm doing my best to showcase that despite describing the alleged discrepancies of men I've been attracted to, any problems in these relationships were aided and abetted by my over-willingness to apply a Benefit of Doubt principle.

In other words, I was a champion at stepping over Red Flags.

I'll try and explain…

Giving someone the benefit of the doubt is considered a righteous and accommodating trait. Without it, we might jump on everything our partner, family members or colleagues say, and come across as untrusting and/or highly critical.

And maybe we are. Hyper-criticism is a real problem.

But so is going against our values and not having the wherewithal to speak to that. Not knowing how to ask questions without believing I already knew the answer, or wasn't willing to hear an answer that would make me need to take action (like move on and face my loneliness), wasn't man-of-the-moment's problem. It was mine.

Even if I was doing those things unintentionally or without any awareness.

Human behaviour is so nuanced and applying black-or-white principles is risky at best. The dilemma, therefore, is how do we know when and where to draw the line.

Where is it them, and where is it us?

I realised last year that despite considering myself pretty self-aware, when it comes to romantic interactions I have been operating within a very naive framework.

My naïveté was what got blown wide open last year.

I was already privy to the notion that men can be violent. I've had relationships with two men who I knew had been violent with previous partners. One even had a criminal record.

I also already know that people, including men that I've been involved with, have the propensity to withhold information and/or outright lie to me.

My naïveté was not about the fact that men sometimes lie and can be violent. My awakening was realising that the way I was applying Benefit of Doubt was a problem.

For the longest time, I thought I was being kind and compassionate by applying the Benefit of Doubt.

The reality however was that I was ignoring what I felt to be true. Namely when I felt I was being lied to because I struggled to question it.

In the instance of being told a man had been violent with a previous partner I thought I was different and was therefore untouchable. I didn't need to question it, he'd just been honest by telling me, right? So he must be a good guy, yes?

Just for the record, the guy with the criminal record was violent towards me. But that's a story for another time.

The narrative of this blog is that there is a difference between giving the Benefit of Doubt and pole vaulting over Red Flags.

In my case, I was far too willing to ignore my better judgement.

And why would I do that?

Because I was lonely and naive.

And, I unconsciously felt it was my job to not shame the men I interacted with. Even if they were lying. Or violent.

You might think I would feel shame exposing such naïveté. But the realisation that I could choose inner harmony over putting others first was one of the most profoundly humbling and simultaneously empowering messages I've ever learnt.

Recognising that I was so willing to lead with the charm and good looks narrative, and lacked the awareness to question any red flags I saw, makes admitting my own flaws easy. Because awareness trumps everything in my books.

Calling ourselves out helps us integrate.

If we hide our insecurities, flaws or shame we are unconsciously cultivating it. Once we admit our truth, including the embarrassing and 'shameful' parts, we are on the path to freedom.

Too often we point the finger at 'the other' and criticise them for doing or saying the wrong thing. We accuse people of hurting us and we stay locked in a game of cat and mouse (often switching sides).

We blame them for not telling us the whole truth (while we are often lying to ourselves…).

We belittle people and campaign against them (the more people we can get to agree with our side of the story, the more righteous we feel which props up our side of the 'truth').

On and on we go.

It's just too easy to make our problems about how others are treating us.

When we're able to fully see how our behaviour has not only added to the problem but is the only issue we ever need to work on, we eradicate blame and are left sitting in a pigsty full of our own BS.

Which, I realise might not sound like fun – and isn't – but awakening to the Truth has its own texture, and when we wake up to it, something inside us changes.

It feels good.

Yes, it comes with a side salad of cringe and a buffet of I-can't-believe-I-did-that, but the truth, even when it's thinly coated in shame, is far easier to swallow than believing other people's incapacity to be honest with us is their fault and that they are the only thing standing in the way of our happiness.

Bam-bam. Not true.

Landing in a Greater Truth is paradoxical.

On the one hand, we realise it was Us and not Them. On the other hand we begin to see it was Us and Them.

It still takes two to tango.

What I came to see in 2021 was that rather than my relationship problems being due to the men I was choosing, I am now able to witness that I was choosing men that I didn't respect.

Different ball game all together.

I was choosing men I didn't really trust.

I was choosing men who I knew could be abusive and violent.

I was choosing men who criticised me and others – a lot.

I was choosing men who liked to party even after I had long discarded that as a favoured pastime.

I was choosing men who were choosing other women as well as me, even though I value fidelity.