I think a lot about the big aha moments I’ve had in individual relationships. Because people are often looking to me for relationship advice, I’ve tried very hard to find patterns in them, to find a way to communicate them to other people.
Because I’ve found that while my first impressions of people I’m dating isn’t always an accurate one, I inevitably am pretty good at heeding positive or negative signs when they inevitably show up.
Regrettably, this sometimes happens after you become emotionally invested in someone. It can’t be helped. It can take a while to get to know someone. (Part of why I prefer to date slowly and/or date friends.)
The best a person can usually do is to recognize those signs when they emerge. I haven’t boiled it down to universal advice, but I thought I’d share two examples of aha moments that gave me much-needed perspective on a relationship. One is a red flag (negative) situation, and the other is a green flag (positive) situation.
An Example of a Red Flag Aha Moment
I’d been living with a boyfriend for a few months. He was very controlling, but it had crept up in a way that I hadn’t really noticed, not with everything else going on in my life.
That is, I didn’t notice until the day of his best friend’s wedding.
My boyfriend didn’t like his friend’s soon-to-be wife. Mostly because he thought she was bossy and opinionated. (For context, this boyfriend was also awfully bossy and opinionated himself, much more than his friend’s fiancee.) She and the friend were actually quite interpersonally compatible and in love — and their relationship was healthy and non-abusive.
However, my boyfriend at the time decided that simply because he didn’t like the bride — on the day of the wedding — to go behind the scenes, where the bride and groom were getting ready and start lecturing everyone why they should call off the wedding.
I was mortified. I couldn’t believe he’d do this. It was unacceptable. I couldn’t imagine ever doing it to someone else. I’d missed a lot of warning signs with him and controlling behavior when it came to me, but when he subjected other people to it, the situation was clear.
I knew I couldn’t be with him anymore.
An Example of a Green Flag Aha Moment
Many years later when I was recovering from another bad breakup, I was shopping with my new partner at Target, of all places. It was such a small thing, this moment. Not nearly as dramatic as the red flag example I just gave you.
But it hit me super hard.
My partner was shopping for toys and supplies for their pets. And they were putting a tremendous amount of thought into it.
And as they did, it occurred to me that my new partner was so thoughtful that they put more effort into making their pets happy than my previous partner had ever put into getting gifts for me.
Sure enough, as we were heading towards the register, they stopped mid-aisle and spotted a gorgeous travel mug with a paisley pattern. I needed one, and it was exactly my style. They picked it up and bought it for me, along with the pet supplies.
I was bowled away. I’m not even a big Gifts person in the love languages framework, but the contrast was so stark. Giant green flag.