The Curse Of The Red Flag

She's got a huge red flag. Why are you ignoring it?

I just went to a friend’s wedding. Instead of jumping for joy that someone else was joining the club, though, my husband and I found ourselves thinking, “oh, no. They have no idea what they are in for.”

I shouldn’t be such a pessimist. This particular couple is incredibly compatible. But, there have been a string of divorces in my circle recently, and I think it comes down to one issue:

Ignoring the red flags.

All three of the girls I know whose marriages are ending have said the same thing: “I always felt like I was having sex with my brother.”

Ouch! If that’s not a red flag, I don’t know what is. So, why did they all ignore the flag and get married, anyway?

Perhaps it’s the need for stability. For some reason, we as a society think that if we are married, life can begin (those who think that life ends when you get married notwithstanding). Most agree that getting married means we won’t be alone ever again. And I mean ever. Like, if we need just one moment to ourselves, we are probably not going to get it. Ever.

But, we think we need to be with someone. And so, we get married… even though we know that we really want children, while he has made it clear that having kids is off the table.

Perhaps we ignore the red flag because we are getting older and thinking, “well, we want the same things, have the same goals, and it’s high time I get married before my window of opportunity closes.” So, we rush to have the wedding and start having children… only to discover that our atheism doesn’t fit with his desire to raise our children in a church.

Or maybe some of us just aren’t any good at being single. So, we look the other way at what we think isn’t that important. We tell ourselves that relationships are all about compromise.

The problem is, the red flags don’t go away. And if we don’t stand for what is truly important to us (and perhaps we didn’t even know just how important it was at the time), we lose not only ourselves in the marriage, but potentially the marriage, itself.

Sure, we can distract ourselves from the red flags–the distraction of the wedding, the distraction of being newlyweds in a new home, or the ultimate distraction, children. Once those settle down, though, we are left with only our partner. And while we as human beings can change, we don’t change that much. The person we marry is the same person who likes sex more than we do. Or less. Or isn’t as clean as we want them to be. Or they are OCD and can’t handle the way we squeeze the toothpaste from the middle.

You see, marriage–like life–doesn’t get easier. Surprise! It requires constant love and nurturing. The courtship may be over, but without it, our lover and best friend turns into our best friend and roommate. Well, we put up with far less from roommates than lovers.

Our spouse is the person we lean on, the person who has our back. But the more time we spend dwelling on those red flags we once ignored, the less time we spend nurturing our relationship. Once our spouse becomes not our right hand, but a right pain, we are no longer willing to compromise over the flags we once thought were no big deal.

The man who brings flowers gets a pass on never paying the bills. But even then, she’d still rather be with someone who’s fiscally responsible!

The woman who never wants to have sex at least keeps the house in immaculate order. But even then, he’d still rather have sex!

So how does our generation stop the divorce rate? The simple solution? We stop getting married. But that works as well as preventing teen pregnancy by advocating for abstinence: it’s simply not practical. So, if we insist on getting married, then we need to know that we are a) happy with all aspects of our future life partner, and b) willing to work at the marriage no matter what.

Because here’s the truth about living with a spouse: we have to put up with a lot of someone else’s crap. And that’s really what we are agreeing to when we stand up there in front of everyone and say, ’til death do us part.

We shouldn’t get married if we aren’t 100% sure that we will work on our marriage no matter how pissed we may get at some point. Or how bored. Or how much we change in one direction, while they change in another.

So, as I sit and watch my two friends tie the knot, I think to myself:

Happily ever after is possible, but only if they realize that the “ever after” isn’t here just yet…

And if sex with him doesn’t feel like sex with her brother!

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  • But what if she’s just so damned hot??? 😉

  • Dennis- I am sorry to say, looks fade. Being crazy good in bed is also tempting…as long as she’s not crazy outside of the bedroom too!

  • I think one of the problems is, people are very self centered. When you’re getting married it isn’t all about you and what YOU like anymore. It’s about being a team, something a lot of people aren’t used to in this catering society. Parents pamper their kids well into their 20s and people are expecting that from their significant others. When really, they should be learning a little about self sacrifice.

    I’m not saying you should be on your hands and knees scrubbing the floors, or cooking dinner like a happy slave – but realizing that it’s not just YOU in the picture is huge. But that nurturing aspect of the relationship tends to get one-sided, when it needs to be a team sport. If it’s just one person giving, then resentment is going to build on the other side. That’s where the sacrifice comes in. I mentioned this in an earlier thread, where it’s easier to play the game when you are both reciprocating (except this time I did it without being redundant).

    And, dammit, I am so damned hot.

  • I can’t believe you would have so many friends making the same mistake. Major ewww on the whole “like having sex with my brother” relationships. I’m definitely more likely to err on the side of the above mentioned marrying someone who is crazy hot in bed and annoying out of it.

  • But when is a red flag a real red flag and not just a “quirk” or “something we have to work on…?”

  • @Jaberkaty- see, if you are with someone who is self-centered…well, that’s a red flag. You know you are with the right person when you find you are meeting in the middle.
    @Meg- I was surprised too! But I think it comes from “our sex life will get better” but when the relationship doesn’t work out, neither does the sex, so it ends up “our sex life was never good”
    @Kat- Aye, there’s the rub! I think it depends on what’s really important to you, but stance on religion and children, having the same financial goals and, of course, good sexual chemistry are all biggies. Sometimes caution tape (they seem overly emotional, or jealous, etc) can end up being no big deal- or a total deal breaker!

  • I completely agree with the points in this posting. I do wonder though how much thought, in the moment some people give to the red flags and if anyone took them aside and simply asked, “Are you sure about this decision?” To me, that is being a good friend or parent.

  • @firecracker3:

    I agree that that’s what a good friend/parent should do. At the same time, I think it’s also a lot more difficult in practice than in theory. I’ve found that some people get kinda defensive and may not actually take that kind of comment too well.

    I dunno… I think it’s a pretty fine line you walk if you choose to question the “happy” couple’s decision. It’s much easier to just sit and whisper behind their backs. 😉

  • @Dennis and @firecracker3: I agree with both of your points here.

    Fun fact: when I was 12 my mom announced that she was getting married. I didn’t think he was right for her, or for us, and I wrote her a letter telling her so. Now, I admit that I probably didn’t word my concerns in a selfless manner, and my mom was not pleased with my input. There was a bit of yelling, and she did get married. 6 months later when she was getting divorced, she said to me, “I should have listened to you.” Even though I ended up being right, I still have some hang ups about voicing my opinion about other peoples relationships.

    At least my mom no longer ignores my advice!

  • I realized long ago that it’s all in the delivery. As the cliche goes, it’s not what you say. It’s how you say it.

  • I think I’m just going to have to side with Jerry Seinfeld – 98% percent of the population is undate-able.

  • @Jasmine: GREAT article/column/post! Excellent points throughout. I’m with @Kat in the “really, 3 friends who all said “its like having sex with my brother?”” – wow!

    @Kat: if YOU think its “something he has to work on” then its a Red Flag and you need to address it. Because he may not think that it needs to be worked on and there is no way you can make him work on it. YOU CAN NOT MAKE HIM CHANGE!!!!!

    @Dennis: “No matter how hot she is, someone, somewhere is tired of her shit!” I don’t recall who/where that quote comes from, but that’s the girl you date, not the girl you marry.

  • Haha, thanks, Andy. Yeah, I actually forgot that Jasmine was talking about marriage, not just… well, you know. 😉

  • I totally agree with this post. I was a professional at ignoring red flags, but now I am an expert on spotting them and taking heed. so true! check out “jonathan 40, is really 47”. all about my ignoring red flags. Or “believe them the first time”, one of my favorite quotes. When people show you who they really are, believe them the first time! Great post!

  • Er….how would one actually know that having sex with one’s spouse is akin to having sex with one’s brother….Maybe a different analogy would be better…..:0)

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