The Pink Flag
So you’re finally on a date with the guy you’ve been scoping at the gym for two months. Just as you’re about to order a steak, Mr. Aggressive Personality orders the salmon for you instead. Maybe that seemingly perfect guy you’ve been dating still lets his mother do his laundry. It could be a huge sign that he hasn’t quite grown up. We are taught early on to beware of relationship red flags. What about more subtle signs of trouble in paradise?
Recently I faced my fears and jumped into the online dating game. Sitting in front of my computer screen agonizing over my profile, I wondered if I should use the picture that miraculously made me look like Beyoncé, or a more realistic photo that might not attract the Idris Elba doppelgänger I was hoping for. Don’t get me started on having to make my age and body type a matter of public record! I was sure that coming to terms with my true physical self would be the hardest part. No, the hard part was the section that asked me about the kind of man I prefer.
Sure, all women want a kind, good-looking man who’s great in bed. The questionnaire dug a little deeper than that. That’s when I realized I didn’t really have a type. I was proud of myself for not caring how tall a guy is, or whether his collar is blue or white, or whether his skin is black or white. After I stopped patting myself on the back for being so open and evolved, I started to worry. Was I so desperate that I’d just date any man? What kind of man would be attracted to a woman with no standards? I threw a couple of qualifiers into the mix, but kept my range of desired suitors pretty broad. Perhaps I was just lying to myself and I’m actually more particular than I originally thought.
Justin’s* profile got my attention. He was in his forties, which was fine because I wanted a mature man after having been emotionally invested for far too long in a 30-something man-child who’d given up a stable 9-to-5 to get his rap career off the ground. He first called me on Championship Sunday, a day I’m sure many men have lobbied to make a national holiday. “Aren’t you watching the game?” I asked. “I don’t care about that right now. I just wanna talk to you.” Pink Flag #1. The morning of our first meeting, he called me (twice!) before our 8:30 AM meet time. Pink Flag # 2. Is it too late to turn back now, I wondered? Already, Justin seemed clingy. I told myself I should appreciate the fact that he wanted to know everything about me (within days of our meeting online) and was concerned enough about me to call and check on me during a particularly treacherous drive on the icy roads. Never mind that I viewed the calls as annoying, almost dangerous, distractions. Upon meeting Justin, I found that I really liked him.
As a friend.
I could totally see us hanging out together and becoming BFFs. We talked for hours and played cards with the deck I brought since I knew he was a fellow card sharp. Once we moved the party to TGIFs for lunch, I was convinced I could never date him. BECAUSE HE’S TOTALLY GAY!!! Maybe he just wasn’t ready to come out of the closet. Maybe he didn’t have a supportive friend to help him on his journey to self-realization. I could be that girl. While I pictured myself as Justin’s wing-woman, he described himself as a sensitive male and said women really loved that about him. Huh? I was dying to ask what woman loved his particular brand of sensitivity. I mean, I'd like a man to show some vulnerability and wouldn’t mind seeing him shed a tear at his daughter’s wedding, but Justin seemed to take sensitive to a whole ‘notha level. So was he just sensitive, and not actually gay? A few minutes later, he walked me to my car and kissed me! Not quite a Hollywood movie kiss, but definitely more than a friendly peck. There was no time to linger because it was friggin’ cold outside. Of course, he called me before I even got home and processed what had happened. What did you think, he wanted to know? Like a needy teenaged girl. Another pink flag.
As a proudly independent woman, I’m accustomed to doing most everything for myself, including those traditionally “male” tasks like negotiating the price on a new car or killing a spider. Because of my independent spirit, I never really gave much thought to the idea of needing a macho man. Do people even use the word “macho” anymore? In an age of metrosexuality and Hillary for President bumper stickers, it seems absurd to assign traits as solely masculine or feminine. Haven’t we evolved from such antiquated thinking?
When Justin told me he’d be in town the following weekend, I agreed to meet him. In his hotel room. It honestly never occurred to me that he’d have expectations and that I should think twice about going to his room. Not harmless, dickless Justin (I’m a little ashamed now of how I’d mentally emasculated the poor guy). When I met him at the hotel, he’d just finished fixing his sister’s car, dirt still under his fingernails. He looked rugged. Masculine. I liked it. Everything about him seemed totally different from our first in-person meeting. Had I been imagining the whole “gay” vibe that I’d picked up before? WTF? After an enjoyable dinner, followed by card games and a movie, he made a move. It didn’t feel cosmically “right”, but it didn’t feel wrong in the way that it had the week before.
This is when I began to justify in my mind pursuing a relationship with this guy. No man is perfect. I’m not perfect. This guy is clearly straight. He’s just a little more in touch with his feminine side than I would like. Yeah, he brought candles on the road with him to the hotel. Maybe he’s just romantic. Yeah, he rolls his eyes a lot. Maybe he’s just dramatic. And yes, he’s the only man I’ve ever known to admit that soaptastic Scandal is his favorite TV show. Maybe he’s just more honest than other men.
This is why you’re alone!! Could I be one of those silly women who find a minor flaw in a man and turn it into a major dealbreaker? I ordered myself to stop thinking so much and just make out with the guy. It felt good. The good feeling didn’t last. He wanted to hold me. Like, all night. I was hot and I’d put in my cuddle time so I slowly started my journey to the other side of the bed. He just had to say something. Doesn’t this guy have a single feeling that he doesn’t feel the need to express? Isn’t that what men do? Bottle up their feelings so tight that they die of a heart attack in their mid-fifties? I made a joke about me being like a typical dude who doesn’t want to cuddle. We both laughed. It seemed safer to cast myself in the role of a cold, unfeeling, guy rather than cast him as the needy, clingy girl who wants to cuddle and talk about her feelings. Even though I laughed, I resented him for it.
When he looked me in the eye and asked oh so earnestly what was I thinking, I almost laughed in his face. Isn’t this what we girls are warned never to do if we don’t want to send a man running for the hills? Isn’t that against The Rules? His eyes were pleading with me to say something. Anything. “Nothing,” I lamely answered. Just like a guy.
The next morning, I took my walk of shame through the hotel lobby, got in my car and left. I wondered if I would even make it home before he called me to talk. He always wanted to talk. A girlfriend tried to open my eyes to all of the flags. “Do you really like this guy?” I did like him, or at least I felt like I should like him. As a single woman who’s not gettin’ any younger, who has eaten her fair share of single portion microwave dinners and knows that the opportunities to snag a decent, solid, mature man are few and far between, my brain reasoned that was enough. Listening to my heart never seemed to get me that far, anyway. Justin was a total gentleman who always made me feel like a lady. So what if he didn’t make me feel like a woman.
Living in different cities, I figured that absence would make my heart grow fonder. But Justin would just complain when we spoke that he wished he could see me more and drop not so subtle hints that I should call him more often. And when I did call, he would make a big deal about it and say how surprised he was to hear from me. The more affection he craved, the more I withheld. Justin got fed up with me. He suggested just before a scheduled visit that maybe we should just give up because I’d hurt his feelings. Most men don’t even admit to having feelings, let alone say those feelings got hurt.
I still don’t know why I was so determined to make it work. Maybe it was my pride. How dare he break it off with me? Or perhaps I was just afraid of being alone or letting one of the “good ones” go. We agreed to try again. We had dinner and he stayed over. Whether it was a fortuitous happenstance or a convenient lie, I told him it was that time of the month. He asked if he could just hold me. I welcomed having his big, solid arms around me. That’s when it happened. The bottom of his foot brushed gently against my leg and it was a wrap! His foot was so, so soft. The bottom of my feet haven’t been that smooth since I was a baby! Clearly, this guy spent a lot of time lotioning and exfoliating. I knew in that moment that I was never, ever going to let this guy touch me again. I concluded that I just wasn’t man enough to be the dude in a relationship.
I tried to remain friends with Justin, but it didn’t work. Too bad. I’m seeing someone now who doesn’t use lotion at all. He uses good old Vaseline to work out those rough spots. So far, I haven’t spotted any pink flags.