Some Things Really Are Dating Red Flags


Some Things Really Are Dating Red Flags

I don’t write my own headlines.

This is important to point
out, because sometimes I find more wisdom in the headline that I didn’t
write than in the article that I did write. Last month was one of those

As you may recall, I wrote that article all about the little
voice in our dating brains that asks us “what if there’s someone even
better?” I said that, if it’s a promising relationship and there are no
real red flags present, we need to ignore that voice long enough to get
to know this person and discern whether we have a future together. All
true. Good advice, if I do say so myself.

Then I saw the headline, which was “Ignore the Voice: There’s
Always Someone Better.” And I thought, “That’s the point I didn’t
make!” I was headed there, but didn’t quite arrive. And dear Dan
Flaherty somehow knew that, and finished it off in a single sentence.

It’s important enough, however, that it needs more than a single sentence. And that’s my job.

true, isn’t it? There is always someone better, if you’re only looking
at a single trait at a time. If you’re looking at intelligence, there
will always be someone smarter. Beauty? It fades, and the next hottie
is always just around the corner. Holiness? Well, Mother Teresa is
gone, but there are still a whole lot of saints-in-the-making on this
earth, and I seriously doubt any of you are going to run across the
very holiest of them all in your limited dating lives.

The problem is that when we move into that “uncertain” place
in dating – the part where we see things going well and we get scared
and our protective instinct subtly encourages us to sabotage the
relationship – we start to pick apart those individual traits and
notice anyone and everyone who is “better” in any one area.

The basic truth is this: dating isn’t about looking for the
person who is the “best.” It’s about finding the person who is best for
us. The person God has in mind. Dating isn’t so much about shopping or
sampling or dabbling. It’s about discernment, and discernment takes
some effort, some prayer and some serious searching for God.

That person God has in mind for you, the person who is going
to help you get to Heaven – that person is going to have flaws. There
are going to be things that get on your nerves. There will be ways –
little and big — in which you will have to die to yourself. You’ll
probably have to give up your dreams, your “picture”, of what your
perfect marriage would be. God may not have the same picture. But He
has a much bigger screen with a much, much clearer, more complete image
than our puny little human imagination could ever comprehend.

Unfortunately, most of us in this day and age aren’t taught a
lot about discernment. We aren’t taught about how to go about seeking
and following the will of God. We tend, instead, to divinize our own
feelings. We assume that if we feel a certain way, it must be God
speaking infallibly to us. I find that many, many people talk about
something being “God’s will”, when it’s clearly only their own will
with holy water sprinkled on it.

When it comes to dating and discernment, the mistakes go in
two different directions. (Don’t they always?) In both cases they
involve divinizing our own feelings. The first happens when enter the
uncertainty phase and we start to feel uncomfortable because we see a
flaw in our intended, or we realize that continuing this relationship
will cost us something of our dream or our comfort or our current
lifestyle. We assume that discomfort must be God’s signal to us.

We covered that one pretty thoroughly last month, so let’s move on to the next mistake.

The other extreme is when we mistake our feelings of attraction
for God’s will. Don’t get me wrong – real attraction is a gift from
God. But because of the whole original sin situation, it can become
convoluted. And then it starts to mess with our minds.

The problem is when attraction co-exists with real red flags
in a relationship. The temptation then is to overlook the red flag and
to take the strong feelings of attraction as a sign from God. This is
where I see the most creative “holy-water sprinkling,” particularly
among women. Let me tell you, a Christian woman who knows the jargon
can make any troubled loser seem like a delivery straight from the
hands of the Almighty. “His brokenness has led him to turn to
pornography and random sexual encounters, but the Lord has led him to
me, to be filled with His Spirit in the sacraments of the Holy Church,
through my good example and constant, incessant nagging . . .”

Let me be clear here: nothing I have written over the past
several months about “ignoring the voice” should be construed to mean
that you should ignore actual red flags in a relationship. Dating is
not about remodeling someone into the image and likeness of your
perfect spouse. It is about discerning who this person actually is, and
whether that person “as-is” would be the kind of spouse who would help
you to Heaven, the kind of spouse God has in mind for you.

I have a saying with my friends. “Salute the big red flag.”
When someone comes to me all excited about a new relationship, and I
start to hear little rationalizations creep in, I pay attention. “He’s
got this ex-girlfriend who always hangs around, but they’re really just
friends.” “She’s sort of demanding, but that’s just because she’s had a
difficult life.” “He’s not as far advanced in the faith as I am, but
he’ll give up the porn once he starts going to Mass with me.” “She
drinks kind of a lot, but . . .” You get the idea. When you see a red
flag, you salute it. You pay attention to it. If it’s a big red flag
(abusive or difficult personality, blatant substance abuse, extreme
narcissism, serious mismatch in values, etc.) you leave. If it’s just a
little flash of red fabric (the ex who’s always hanging around, subtle
self-absorption, the consistent “a couple of drinks too many” at
parties) you can stick around for a while to see if you’re seeing a
tiny flag, or just the corner of a really huge flag. But don’t be
daydreaming or planning the weddings or choosing curtains for your
first home together just yet.

“But what if this is the person God has in mind for me?”
Probably not. More likely you’re just feeling your attraction and
furiously sprinkling holy water onto it in the hopes that God will
magically show up and make everything right. Maybe this person is
someone God would have had in mind for you, had this person not made
the choices or turned in the direction or hoisted whatever red flag
you’re seeing now. At any rate, dating is not the place for
evangelization, or rescue, or any other kind of drastic human

Those kinds of problems are central to discernment. They are, most likely, God’s way of telling you to look elsewhere.



  1. Alicia-481430 January 1, 2010 Reply

    Another great article. I like the part where you compared big red flags to a flash of red fabric and to find the person who will help you get to heaven.

  2. Philip-498211 January 1, 2010 Reply

    amen i dont carry a tool kit to fix my date thats between her and god red flags dont usually disapper!

  3. Essy-511199 January 2, 2010 Reply

    I am going to write a book one day called WHEN THE RED FLAGS YOU SEE ARE GREEN. tHIS means that it is a perception thing.. you must see the red as red as opposed to Green meaning Go! I am an expert at deceptive thinking and it is all in being good to yourself as opposed to HELPing someone who is used to being Enbled ANYWAY!

  4. Kelly-333532 January 3, 2010 Reply

    Great article. Ignoring the red flags can lead to disaster. Been there. Done that. If your instincts are telling you something is wrong, it probably is.

  5. Brian-252799 January 3, 2010 Reply

    Great Article.

  6. Stephanie-404903 January 4, 2010 Reply

    Great article! God bless you!

  7. Patricia-512637 January 5, 2010 Reply

    Very good article.

  8. Carmen-433782 January 7, 2010 Reply

    That's true. Sometimes we know who is the person but we don't want to recognize

  9. Patra-410296 January 8, 2010 Reply

    Mary Beth, you're simply amazing! Your articles seem to always come right when I need them, and they are helpful. I've recently hit that "uncertain" stage in dating, the guy speaks of marriage when I'm not sure he is "the one", and I have been seeking external advice and praying a lot. Thank you!

  10. MaryKay-205317 January 9, 2010 Reply

    I say if there i is a "but" in the description, there is a problem.

  11. Patty-518656 January 9, 2010 Reply

    That is exactly what I have been doing. I pardon the red flags and provide excuses for behavior because of person's bad childhood or other circumstances that precipitated the choices ( I am in the counseling field, which makes me even more prone to this kind of thinking). Great point-you need to be able to form a relationship with a person for who he is today, not what he might become.

  12. Don-528832 January 9, 2010 Reply

    Wow……I've heard this all before, but never all at once, and never put into a "Godly" perspective. Made my Day/Month/Year, and is causing me to seriously look at who's in charge of my life. Great article thank you 😎

  13. Carlos-167015 January 10, 2010 Reply

    It is from personal experience that good guys always finish last no matter how you put it. Women will always prefer the bad guy.

  14. Julie-429607 January 10, 2010 Reply

    I'm sorry Carlos, but I 100% disagree. Perhaps you are just barking up the wrong trees.

  15. MaryAlice-97161 January 10, 2010 Reply

    Great article . . . I've known a lot of this, maybe instinctually, but it's always good to have a refresher.
    And sorry, Carlos, not all of we women will always prefer the bad guy . . . there are some of us who ARE looking for good virtue in a man. All the best to you in your search.

  16. Joanne-475325 January 12, 2010 Reply

    Oh, boy, MB-thase last couple of paragraphs are exactly what I did….! Thanks for the cold bucket of water-holy or not. That was very enlightening.

  17. Cynthia-386169 January 13, 2010 Reply

    real thanks…makes me think to drop him asap.

  18. Ron-533013 January 16, 2010 Reply

    Very good article and stimulating topic Loved the message that a partner should help you get to heaven. It is absolutely a number one priority. Women tend to be fixers more so then most men, so I imagine red flags hit home more often with them. From a mans perspective, and I know we want things to be our way in a relationship just as much as women do, it is the getting the complete truth out of a women that sends up those Red Flags for me. Why do women result to untruths when the subject matter gets to close to home or the soul? And, I have been told by many women, that ALL women lie.

  19. Ron-533013 January 17, 2010 Reply

    Thanks for the response. I appreciate the input. A wise women, more the likely, would not be single unless it was of her own chosing or act of God, in as He wants us together rather then standing alone. I would still like to hear why women, and remember this is admitted by women, feel almost compelled to cover-up, avoid, leave out, tell half truths, or just out right lie. I fail to see the benefit morally, ethically, spiritually or in any other way. It is a very self-ish act, probable the most selfish, other then to lie to ourselves.

  20. Ramon-406084 January 18, 2010 Reply

    great article, thanks for the holy water bucket.all this truth is very important to me, so i can be successful on my search.

  21. David-346559 January 21, 2010 Reply

    I don't think the intention is to lie, but sometimes the other party doesn't want to tell the WHOLE truth about their own life. It's best to be upfront right from the start about everything. If we don't do this than the relationship has no chance at all!

  22. Lori-510406 January 22, 2010 Reply

    I agree with David 346559 that one has to be upfront to make a relationship work. We all have flaws. No one is perfect.
    Thank you for your input., Lori 510406. I guess that's why my marriage lasted almost 47 years.

  23. Claudia-497439 January 23, 2010 Reply

    This article was great! Keep them coming….

  24. Dane-522423 January 25, 2010 Reply

    What a great article…thank you so much for the wonderful insight! AWESOME!

  25. Kassandra-535214 January 28, 2010 Reply

    Wow, it's so true! Thank you for the adivce!

  26. Bella-533263 February 2, 2010 Reply

    Thanks for your wisdom Mary Beth.

  27. Rebecca-502526 February 2, 2010 Reply

    Wow! Informative article…Triggers deep soul searching before making big decisions…Thanks!!!!

  28. Misie-512430 February 7, 2010 Reply

    YES! Great insight! Thank you so much and this article was an answer to prayer! Blessings

  29. Alyssa-306614 February 7, 2010 Reply

    I disagree.

  30. Jacqueline-198 February 7, 2010 Reply

    Great article!

  31. Megan-21150 February 8, 2010 Reply

    I'm curious, Alyssa. With what do you disagree?

  32. Grace-39317 February 9, 2010 Reply

    Great thing you published this online. It's one of the topics in the pinkies room ;D Thanks!

  33. Selena-536278 February 9, 2010 Reply

    Very wise! So put your trust in God and listen to him. Don't sugar coat anything and don't be one to throw away a great relationship. Remember we are not perfect either.

  34. Eileen-525410 February 13, 2010 Reply

    Wow! I really needed to read this today. Thank you!

  35. Katherine-521346 February 15, 2010 Reply

    Couldn't agree more..This website is for serious people looking for something that is going to make them happier in their lives with someone who can also help them grow spiritually. We need a journey partner but if something doesn't feel right then the Holy Spirit is directing you elsewhere. Don't fight it and just keep looking. Jesus will tell you when it's the right person. A priest once said to me "Trust your faith instinct" meaning "If it is within the Lord" then the Spirit has directed.

  36. Mary-347787 February 18, 2010 Reply

    This is such a terrific article. I know I have been at this crossroads before in relationships. It is so important to watch for those red flags. My new prayer is that God send me the wisdom to recognize sooner the men who are NOT right for me so that I can move on faster. Lately it has been working and I am defining more clearly for myself what it is that I want.

  37. Mike-203876 February 18, 2010 Reply

    too many use "Gods Will" as an excuse…if a relationship doesnt work out, "it was God's will". If it DOES work out, well that was "God's Will" also. The truth is EVERYTHING that happens is God's will….just man up and realise we have free will to do whatever we want, and that in itself, is God's will.

  38. Nelly-546802 February 19, 2010 Reply

    very enlightning thank you.

  39. Elizabeth-500107 February 20, 2010 Reply

    Put me down with those others who really needed to read this today. I like best the idea of "a scrap of red or the corner of a huge red flag" – yes, don't judge too quickly, but keep your eyes open.
    Thanks for this article.

  40. Patrick-341178 February 23, 2010 Reply

    I am always fascinated when people write articles on dating. I think Ms. Bonacci makes some good points, but the reality is dating is a unique experience for everyone. When you are talking about a relationship that could potentially lead to engagement and finally marriage, that is the hugest committment of the human experience possible. If we treat it so much like a business arangement, I think we are in for a huge disappointment. I would much rather marry a woman who had some red flags but I truly "loved," rather than some woman who was perfect for me on paper but I only really "liked". Maybe this goes against conventional wisdom but this is my preference. I think we have to be careful to assume what is right for one or most couples, is right for everyone.

  41. Malcolm-542038 February 27, 2010 Reply

    To me at this point and time, in my life its more important to not only see a red flag but to feel and act on that red flag. I can pretty much tell when a person is being deceitful or just plain leaving out certain parts of their life.
    I can pretty much tell when a person is hiding something that she doesn't want me to know.

  42. Jennie-137765 February 27, 2010 Reply

    Good article…very appropriate!!

  43. Peter-44842 March 12, 2010 Reply

    "I am always fascinated when people write articles on dating. I think Ms. Bonacci makes some good points, but the reality is dating is a unique experience for everyone. …If we treat it so much like a business arangement, I think we are in for a huge disappointment." – Patrick
    Yes, with all respect to the author, I think Patrick makes some worthy points. Discernment is very important, so are genuine pitfalls or boundaries, or 'red flags' in dating-ese. But dating doesn't always fit a kind of Platonic checklist or detailed manual quasi- handed from God. (If it were so, probably many of us wouldn't have been born.)
    We make prayerful and informed judgment calls about often imperfect and only partly known situations. Cheers

  44. Danielle-422418 March 15, 2010 Reply

    Do you have any advice for college students who aren't married?

  45. Timothy-557563 March 16, 2010 Reply

    great article , we start making mistakes when we start crossing boundries, while one can not be inflexible one should never compromise ones truth. i have had so many disscusions with women and men that the words "you don't understand " come after describing some unacceptable behavior. yes i do understand, you crossed a line and now your looking for a pass. we all sin , i understand that , just don't ty to tell me its not a sin.the red flags should never be ignored.

  46. Ana-473586 March 20, 2010 Reply

    Very well put, thank you..Yes for the most part we should be willing to take the person "as is" otherwise keep looking.

  47. Becky-515530 March 21, 2010 Reply

    This was an excellent article. I agree 100% that you need to allow time to pass and have had some quality time spent with someone before you say Goodbye and never ignore Red Flags… Geesh, dont ignore green or blue ones either!

  48. Dave-146273 March 23, 2010 Reply

    An insightful article indeed and some good thoughts but don't we all have "red flags" of our own? Maybe it's through our upbringing of "let ye without sin cast the first stone" that sometimes we let ourselves pursue and get involved in non-productive relationships. Maybe an article that would really hit the spot would be on characteristics to look for in a person that glorify God and our Catholic faith.

  49. Rebecca-323644 March 25, 2010 Reply

    This kind of describes the dilemma I was faced with not to long ago, and the funny part is, it was apparent before the whole dating thing ever took place. I think these red flags can even show up in the first few encounters with a person. It was a valuable learning experience for me because it showed me that discernment is something Im slowing learning and that I need to trust myself and my instincts when these red flags appear…

  50. Lauren-488188 March 26, 2010 Reply

    Very good advice. I think prayer with fasting is the best way to discern – I have found it very helpful.

  51. Humbert-392343 March 29, 2010 Reply

    Mary beth, You hit it rght on the head for me. Red all over BERT

  52. Yvette-537165 April 11, 2010 Reply

    I wish I would have read this article before I had married my X husband because this is EXACTLY what happen to me. I ignored the red flags and I wanted to change him into a better person but in reality I couldn't do such thing. Definately reading this article and having gone thru my bad experience has made me more of a cautious person and really watch out for the red flags. Bottom line…. 1st marriage was an emotional decsion not an intelligent one. It's not about the physical attraction it;s about the person they are inside and values they hold with god and to there heart. Thank you for this article!!! I really needed to read this 🙂

  53. Kate-568612 April 11, 2010 Reply

    I've been saying this for years. Good job of getting the word out. People forget that nobody is perfect and we all have flaws…some are just bigger than others. Thanks for sharing.

  54. Bradley-266389 April 19, 2010 Reply

    Oh, this definitely needed to be said. After reading this article: I now feel a sharp divide between a lot of haze that once was. I once felt like every problem in a relationship was due to my own shortcoming in holiness. Totally copying and pasting this.

  55. Anna-570487 April 20, 2010 Reply

    I think we sometimes ignore the "red flags" because we want to see the good (or potential) in people. Though this does not sound wrong, it traps us in a cycle of enabling. We either look the other way or we give them excuses for being the way they are. I think it's important to remember that we can't change people and we have to accept each other the way we are. If we can accept the flaws and still love them, then good. If not, then we should move on. Thanks for the article! 🙂

  56. Bev-570770 April 28, 2010 Reply

    I don't think you can CHANGE a person, however I do believe God helps people change. SO if there is a flag that someone sees and the other person IS Working on changing, I think we shouldn't be so quick to judge or run. TAKING the time to date people and get to know someone's heart is paramount to building a relationship. People DO Change- people quit drinking and smoking, etc every day. There was only one "perfect" soul on this earth and He died for us over 2000 years ago so although there are RED FLAGS we can't ignore – we also have to have a bit of common sense and patience with one another.

  57. Judy-566442 April 29, 2010 Reply

    Trusting our inner voice; God's voice is paramount. When the "feelings" of attraction set in – I've found difficulty in discerning because the feelings are so intimate being generated from my heart. I tend to have a large loving & forgiving heart because I believe this pleases my Lord. The red flags for me are heaven's signal — "warning". The discernment, courage to face reality in the midst of euphoria is a gift the I pray for. Dear God, a reason – a season or a lifetime? Thy will be done; not mine – amen.

  58. Matthew-537946 April 30, 2010 Reply

    I agree with the article, but, how do you ever know which person is right for bringing you closer to God? Obviously nobody wants to be with a person who is abusive, but, we all have flaws. I guess it comes down to which flaws we can deal with in a person in order to have a successful relationship.

  59. Lorena-526062 May 20, 2010 Reply

    Thanks for this article, its great!, very true 🙂

  60. Tracy-578230 May 30, 2010 Reply

    Great Article

  61. Andrew-350725 June 1, 2010 Reply

    A well written piece….

  62. Lucy-582901 June 2, 2010 Reply

    Excellent article! Makes me think of my past marriage (and divorce) in a whole different way, with a new perspective…

  63. Ken-389955 June 6, 2010 Reply

    I feel that I come from the other side of the tracks on this one. I did convert to the Catholic faith. As a matter of fact Nancy and my first date was going to Saturday Mass. I invited two of my ex girl friends, one came. She told me that she thought I was going to wait for her. To make a long story short My wife Nancy and I were married for 32 1/2 years before God took her home. I don't regret any of those days we had together.

  64. Marisa-588679 June 8, 2010 Reply

    Wow! You really nailed it! Coming from a place where I ignored red flags, ended up getting married, divorced and annulled….I couldn't have said this better myself. Bravo!!!

  65. Lee-529817 June 12, 2010 Reply

    Thank you for your wisdom. God bless

  66. John-529853 June 13, 2010 Reply

    Great article! Finding that special person and helping each other get to Heaven is the objective….
    I wish that I had read this article a long time ago. Listening instead of talking….that's why God gave us two ears and one mouth.
    Sometimes, things are said that are meant to be in "kidding or joking" spirit and can be interpreted as a "red flag". Unfortunately, it can hurt and lead to the end of the relationship. It does not matter if it's been four dates, six months or longer….
    Some Red Flags are real and others are perceived! How does a person convince a lady that their interpretation is perceived and not real? It's frustrating when you are not given an opportunity to prove the Red Flag is only perceived…..
    On the other hand, that behavior may be a big Red Flag that the lady is displaying…
    I do agree with Kayla and Marisa's recent comments….. thanks for the insight!

  67. Margarita-587177 June 14, 2010 Reply

    An eye opener!! Great point! Thank you.

  68. Maureen-539101 June 30, 2010 Reply

    This article truly opened my eyes. You learn something every day. Thank you.

  69. Patrick-606389 September 2, 2010 Reply

    LOL: The only discernment needed in the examples you provided in your essay is determing the size and weight of the brick Christ is smacking me with.

  70. Christine-568685 September 4, 2010 Reply

    My father was an alcoholic for 16 years of my life and then he became sober from alcohol. He went to AA for three months and never saw him pick up a drink again. The alcohol stopped but, his abusive behavior verbally and emotionally continued. My mother tried to get him to go to therapy and he refused.My mother who stood by him in marriage for thirty-six years was sad a lot during the marriage.This October will be 2 years since my father has passed away. My mother has a lot of resentments right now and I ask her why did you stay in the marriage when he made your life so miserable with his abuse. She said,”Your father was truly a good catholic man who went to mass daily every sunday, never cheated on me, and made an honest living. And I was a woman who was not going to give up on my catholic marriage.” She had told me in the past there were flags that she ignored when they were dating but, she thought she could make or god would make things better. Being 34 years old and exposed to this dysfuntional behavior I am confused still who will make a good spouse for me. With all the individual therapy and Adult Children of Alcoholics meetings I struggle still trying to find a healthy partner because my mother took the abuse because she wanted to make her Catholic marriage work actually did more damage to me. I know that I am not only one who has gone thru this but, when your example is your family and trust has been broken you more or less have to find a whole new image of a healthy relationship between a man and a woman which makes it almost impossible for me to find @ times. I’ve been on Catholic Match for three months now and still trying to find the spouse that god has chosen for me. I guess what I am asking is for everyone on this site to pray for me with this. Good article but feel hopeless with this situation.,`

  71. health site September 7, 2010 Reply

    When I see a good blog post I go ahead and do one of three thing:1.Forward it to the relevant contacts.2.Bookmark it in all of the common social bookmarking sites.3.Make sure to come back to the website where I first read the post.After reading this article I’m seriously concidering doing all of the above!

  72. Christina-615534 September 12, 2010 Reply

    I like the part where you mentioned “…many people talk about something being “God’s will”, when its clearly only their own will with holy water sprinkled on it”.. That was a good one. Its always been in my mind but never could get it into words. Thanx Beth!!..

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