When you start dating someone, everyone always warns you about red flags. Watch out for the red flags, they say, in that condescendingly cautionary tone. So what are red flags? Red flags are those little things someone does that signal huge problems lurking just under the surface or behind that closet door. He is a bad tipper? He’s going to be stingy with you. He makes you take your shoes off at the door? He’s OCD. He won’t spend the night? He’s got intimacy issues. He won’t hold your friend’s baby at the party? He’ll never have kids with you.
Oh, those friends of yours mean well, to be sure. They just want to protect you, to prevent you from future heartbreak (or financial loss or sexually transmitted disease or abuse or wherever it is that red flags end up). And this is awesome and totally sweet and kind and supportive, but the thing is that everyone’s red flags are different.
(Which is not to say that sexually transmitted diseases are ever good, but sometimes if both people have the same one, then, hey, maybe it’s okay. And while abuse is generally a bad thing, some people do like being kicked around in the bedroom. It’s called S&M, and I hear it’s a popular thing even among Republican politicians.)
Dan Savage has a great talk where he goes on a total tangent about this concept that he calls the “price of admission.” You should listen to the talk, because Dan Savage is awesome, but in brief, the idea is that you’ve got to pay for the show. Nothing is free. No one is perfect. But it’s up to you what you are willing to pay. In other words, what you are willing to compromise over might be non-negotiable for someone else. What might be a red flag for someone else might be no big deal for you — and vice versa.
The older I get, the more my ideas of red flags shift. Things that used to be important to me are no longer quite so, and things I was less adamant about are now the things that I will not compromise.
It’s still important to pay attention to red flags, because they can save you a lot of time (and psychic soul destruction) in the future, but what are your red flags? What are the things you are keyed in to pay attention to, as if they were in large blinking neon letters? And what are the things that everyone else cautions you against but you ignore?
Because taking shoes off at the door could just mean he’s tidy. I take my shoes off at the door. And I take my time spending the night with someone because I’m not a very good sleeper, and I’ve got to get comfortable with someone before I can even contemplate falling asleep beside them. Maybe he’s a bad tipper, or maybe he was just bad at math that one time.
But the crucial thing is — what’s your price of admission? Maybe he is a bad tipper, but that doesn’t have to mean that he’s going to be stingy with you. Maybe he’s not good with other people’s kids because he isn’t comfortable with babies because he’s never had one — or maybe he doesn’t want kids, and maybe that’s okay with you because you don’t want them either. So that’s a negligible price of admission.
Another thing to remember is that we’ve all got baggage — and we’ve all got bad habits. I’m sure half the things I do would drive someone else crazy. So some things fall into that whole price of admission thing (if you’re going to date me, you’re going to have to take your shoes off at the door), but other things are changeable. While I strongly caution against seeing a prospective mate as a fixer-upper, because core fundamental things don’t change, a lot of other things can. If someone is a douchebag, no, sorry, that’s never going to change. But if someone smokes? That could change. Maybe someone doesn’t have quite the bank balance that you envisioned in a future mate, but if they’re smart and kind and ambitious, they still might be worth snatching up — and maybe that bank balance will grow. Are they bad in the bedroom? You can train them. Are they lazy and shallow and self-absorbed? Then training might not work. But if they’re merely inexperienced, then, honey, just grab the reins and teach them a thing or two.
The important thing is to figure out what is important for you. What are your red flags? What’s your cost of admission? Because you might be surprised by the things that really matter — and the things that actually don’t. Remember, no one is perfect, least of all you — but you can’t change a douchebag.