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A list of all the red and green flags I’ve encountered in the last year of dating

PHOTOGRAPHY BY CLAUDIA FISCHER
WORDS BY GENEVIEVE PHELAN

The green, the red, the ugly.

Did you know that bulls are colourblind to the red ‘muletas’, or red flags they run through in Spain? But they get angsty and riled up when the bullfighter brandies about his cape or his flag, so charge full-throttle through that beguiling curtain until they come out the other side hoodwinked.

They say love is blind. And like easily excitable livestock, I’ve lunged through enough red flags (thinking they could be green) to last a lifetime. My girlfriends have kindly shared their encounters, too, and there seems to be universal confusion throughout your twenties, thirties, or really any time thereafter in discerning yay from nay.


Interested to hear how others navigate the world? Head to our Life section.


When you’re ‘in it’, you can’t really see ‘it’ from an outside perspective, but as the Italians say, c’est la vie. It makes sense that some green and red flags can be hard to differentiate, especially in the dimly lit depths of a decrepit bar or in the camerawork behind a Hinge profile.

The green flags were described in a recent article I read as ‘things we want in a partner’, so while it’s deeply subjective, being kind and considerate and having a bottom sheet on your bed are pretty widely shared desires. The article went on to suggest that while noticing red flags is important, being overly aware of them can create a lot of premature negativity.

So true. It can feel oddly comforting to reign ourselves back in with the many hypothetical hiccups and pitfalls ahead of us and a prospective paramour — an emotional contingency plan of sorts. When things are bucolic and calm and overly evergreen, I’m immediately searching for the proverbial skeleton in the closet or some literal demons while raiding a bedside drawer. Admit me.

I’m no arbiter of what makes a deal-breaker and a dreamboat, but in the last year, I’ve encountered enough of the Melbourne dating pool to differentiate between generalised good and bad traits in the infancy of a relationship/entanglement/situationship. I’ve divulged it all on here before, too, if you haven’t been playing along.

If I had written this piece last October in the nadir of my dating doldrums, I’d have had a disproportionately large red to green flag ratio. But after the general male mass exodus that a lockdown-induced 5km radius and busy work period brought on, I – at risk of ending my journalistic career – have recently met someone very kind, quite literally plastered in the greens.

There’s a difference between a turn-off and a red flag. Red flags (in this article) are defined as the icky, cautionary, concerning and occasionally distressing qualities, behaviours or incidents displayed or expressed by your person of interest. They’re for people that should come with an asterisk, denoting a long list of caveats and catches – all the things that trigger your flight response.

And to get the red flag identification straight before delving into my highly stylised (and a bit silly) list. If a friend leant over the bar to tell you, “Ugh, his shirt is soooo cheugy”, on a double date night, is that a red flag? No. That is a bit of an ick and a superficial pass of judgement.

But if a girlfriend describing a fledgling relationship told you she’s “Heard he has no interest in meeting any of her mates…”, SOUND.THE.ALARM. Some – no, all – of the following flags are coloured by my own lived experiences and tragic or triumphant anecdotes.

I’ve lived like a bull in that Spanish festival, making a beeline towards enough lurid, flapping red banners with my eyes closed. But I’ve been lucky to finally collect a little garland of gorgeous, green ones. And those make it all worthwhile. If I hadn’t experienced the worst, I don’t think I’d be basking in the best.

If your current partner exhibits any of the qualities on the red flags list, I’m sorry (both to you and for you). As per, this is all subjective nonsense and a cathartic experience for me, so I’m indulging. Oh and if you couldn’t tell, this is a male-specific flags log… unfortunately. 

The red flags

  • Stubbornly determined to have ‘the boys’ over for Satdee night drinks in the peak of the Panny D 
  • A disturbing ‘male living space’: i.e. no bedhead, zero artistic integrity, no shred of organisation, unwashed-for-months sheets laden with old boxer briefs, excessive empty glasses
  • Shames you for cooking inabilities, but never cooks for you
  • Expresses anti-vax sentiments
  • Isn’t vaxxed
  • Ever contemplated or joked about going to a 2020 to 2021 COVID-related protest rally 
  • Questions your desire to work hard and strive for a meaningful, purpose-driven career, because “men should be the breadwinners”, obviously 
  • Yet ironically ensures you pay for 80 per cent of the dinners, coffees and alcoholic beverages consumed together
  • Expresses any misogynistic beliefs that equate you with a fifties housewife, for that matter
  • Gets distressed about anything pertaining to the natural bodily process that is a period, i.e. freaking out in sheer disgust that your last-day-of-bleed spotting made its way onto the aforementioned bedsheets 
  • Refuses to introduce or mention you to their friends and family despite being well into the relationship piece 
  • Asks if they can “catch your UTI?”
  • Hasn’t read a book or some piece of substantial literature in the last 12 months (sorry, not sorry) 
  • Cares more about the gym than your feelings 
  • This one has been mentioned in an article before, but it’s important, so: orders a meal at a pub (namely a parma) for dinner but does not ask if you would like anything to eat, or even a consolation chip 
  • Excessively calls you darling or darls, and not in a cute way
  • Takes you on a first date to Pawn & Co (a specifically Melbourne red flag, but IYKYK)
  • You’re and your consistently incorrect over text, despite knowing it perturbs you
  • Says EXpresso Martini 
  • Is rude or disrespectful by any means to wait staff 
  • Doesn’t make concrete plans of when to see you next
  • Flakes on plans, or runs late 
  • Gaslights you into feeling needy, demanding or delusional when you finally catch on to all of the above!


And the green flags

  • Genuinely cares about (and is invested in) your work, your interests and the things that make you happy, despite having no prior understanding of them 
  • Asks important questions about you, your life, your family, your friends, and any of the things that matter to you
  • Thanks you for things (like having them over or cooking for them or helping out with something), plus all underrated displays of good manners
  • Public displays of affection that are tempered but tender (i.e., a handhold or an arm-over-shoulder linger)
  • Listens, like really listens… no monkey-clapping-cymbals look of vacancy behind their eyes
  • Bats your debit card away in Coles
  • Wears RM Williams and an ironed shirt on a first official date night. But not in a floggy way, just an ‘I made an effort’ way
  • Aligns with your integral values, political beliefs and morals, maybe even if you’re ‘different’ on a surface level
  • Random, often archaic acts of kindness, like a surprise bunch of flowers. Really, it’s any of the little gestures with a big impact
  • Forehead kisses before work, even if it’s 5am
  • Sleeping on the most murderer-accessible side of the bed so you don’t have to
  • Doorstep-delivering you a coffee on the day of covering the Met Gala as a stressed and languishing journalist in 2021’s lockdown
  • Desires to meet your friends, get to know them and acknowledge how important they are to you
  • Waits to finish the last three episodes of a nail-biting Netflix series with you 
  • Reassures you everything is okay when you are frantically searching for red flags and they have none to hoist 
  • Quite simply gives you occasional compliments 
  • You don’t send your girlfriends screenshots from a conversation with them followed by a “What do I say?” message
  • Talks about future plans, be it next week or over Christmas
  • Can sit with you in silence and be content 
  • Has female friends, cares about them
  • Calls their mum just to say hi 
  • Calls you just to say hi

Genevieve Phelan is Fashion Journal’s Lifestyle & Careers Columnist. Her writing fuses introspection with investigation, calling on her own personal anecdotes and the advice of admired experts in the realms of intimacy, money, friendship, careers and love. You can find her here and here.

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