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Is looking for red flags killing our chance of finding love?

2 min read

Is looking for red flags killing our chance of finding love?
From pink to beige and red flags, the internet has a new word for every modern dating scenario. But do these dating terms help or hurt our hunt for love?
Imagine that you’ve just had your nails done but fancy eating an orange. Would your partner peel it without being asked, to save you from sullying your fresh talons?
Aptly called “orange peel theory”, this is one of the latest relationship tests doing the rounds online. It’s meant to suss whether your partner does enough small acts of service for you, which apparently indicates if they’re a keeper. 
Thanks to the deluge of folks sharing and asking for relationship advice on the internet, we’ve got a whole new lexicon for standards you could hold them to.
For instance, you might reflect on their red, pink or beige flags instead, which are traits or behaviours that are dealbreakers, have the potential to become problematic, or are quirky or off-putting but not necessarily an issue, respectively. 
At the time of writing, posts tagged with #orangepeeltheory on social media app TikTok have been viewed 52.9 million times, while #beigeflag boasts 1.4 billion.

Red flags or unrealistic dating standards?

hands peeling orange on chopping board
This new arsenal of ways to assess our partners allows us to express higher standards for what we’ll accept. But will our relationships be better for it?
To an extent, probably. Everyone should expect a level of care and attention, and there’s an argument that having new words to express whether a match is up to par can empower us to spot issues and walk away.
For example, seeing a perpetual unwillingness to compromise pointed out as a red flag might make you realise that it’s not something you need to put up with. 
But there’s a tipping point where high standards become unrealistic and superficial. This can prompt us to scrutinise people unfairly. 
"Good people in good relationships can behave very poorly"
Take beige flags, for instance. These aren’t dealbreakers, but are things you might find irksome. The Guardian gives some examples: hating the word “moist” or debating whether pineapple is an appropriate pizza topping.
While these may offer a window into someone’s personality, are they a helpful way to gauge what kind of partner they are?
And when the bar is set so high, behaviours that could be considered normal within relationships (albeit less than ideal) can be designated as red flags: think staying friends with an ex or ignoring text messages
“Good people in good relationships can behave very poorly,” licensed clinical psychologist Isabelle Morley told Vox.
They might shut down during a conversation or be manipulative, for example. But provided the behaviour isn’t recurrent, this doesn’t necessarily mean they’re a terrible partner nor that the relationship is doomed.

When is a red flag not a red flag?

happy couple holding hands
We all mess up sometimes. Yet in healthy relationships, people put in the effort to be better and make amends for any hurt caused. It can be harder to do that if one of you writes the other off when they misstep. 
So, where’s the sweet spot for how high our standards should be? According to 2013 research on 135 married couples by psychology professor James K McNulty, high standards can be beneficial when you and your partner can meet them. 
McNulty found that pairs with higher standards were happier when they faced fewer obstacles to meeting their spouse’s expectations, like being stressed, and were generally nice to each other. 
Following this logic, if you raise your expectations to include a laundry list of things beyond what’s needed for a healthy relationship—like not peeling an orange on cue—the chances of your partner meeting them get slimmer. And so do your odds of being happy.
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