When you’re dating someone new it can be helpful to keep an eye out for little red flags. Red flags can do two things for you. They can give you early warning signs that this relationship is only going to go downhill, or they can give you the opportunity to be aware of how much you give of yourself to the relationship. In other words: jump right now, or double check your parachute in case things don’t improve.
Other times, red flags are those things you look back on a decade or two later and call retrospect.
A partner talking down about past partners has always made me feel a slight unease, but as I’ve gotten older, it’s become a more important red flag.
Don’t have something nice to say? Don’t say anything at all.
We’re all guilty of saying things we shouldn’t say, often times to people we shouldn’t be saying them to, or in tones that give way to how we really feel. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t aspire to be nicer, greater, kinder people. Does the thing you think and feel put someone in a negative light? Does it taste like vinegar and piss when you say it? Does thinking about saying it make you feel bad? Try to bite your tongue before it comes out and consider what exactly you were about to gain from saying that negative thing.
Don’t use negativity as a bonding exercise
What do some people gain from saying negative things? Bonding. It’s likely you’ve been there too. You’re knocking back sushi with your best friend and slinging some shit about the old times when you remember Sally Sue from High School and how you used to date except you stopped dating and oh man that Sally Sue. This is where you talk about what a horrible person she was as the other person nods aggressively, oh yeah, I cannot stand Sally Sue.
People gain other things from talking poorly about their exes. They redeem themselves – if the other partner was bad then we, perhaps, can see ourselves in a more positive light. We can let the responsibility for that relationship go to some outside factor. But letting negativity fuel our future relationships isn’t any way to start a new relationship, nor any way to end a past relationship.
Newness should thrive on goodness. If you can’t find anything good to say about your ex, try something more passive: we weren’t right for each other, that was an interesting time in my life, they were a challenge, have you had any challenging relationships?
Respect the place your ex-partners had in your life
Even if you think about your ex-partner as some sort of soul sucking demon, there was likely some part of you that enjoyed them, their presence, their self.* Pack it into a capsule and memorialize it. That one time you went to go get burritos can be “I once had a really good time at that burrito place but I don’t like to go there anymore” or it can be “I once went to this burrito place with this jerk and the burritos weren’t even that good it was a really bad day and it was raining and really just fuck that whole experience.”
I mean, you know?
Things are going to feel different in retrospect and that’s okay but it’s important to remember that even if you can’t remember the good stuff, it did happen. And whether or not you gained a lot from that relationship, you probably have changed because of it. (See previous post: How relationships succeed.) Perhaps they didn’t make you a better person, but maybe they helped you see what kind of relationship you never wanted to have again. Send a totally non-passive-aggressive nod to them for that.
Once you hear someone talk poorly about someone else, you may begin to worry:
- Are they hanging on to lasting resentments?
- Have they really dealt with this part of their life?
- Are they going to talk shit about me if things go south?
- Why are they so negative?
- Have they learned from this? Will they be able to communicate with me?
We’re not going to be perfect examples of this behavior. Knowing glances are exchanged, heavy sighs, eye-rolls, singular expressions “oh man” can pass along entire stories to someone in the know. Pick and choose your moments and make sure if you are saying something negative that it’s going to be worth the expenditure of your – and your partner/friends – emotional energy.
As far as red flags, tread cautiously. If someone is saying something that makes you feel uncomfortable, tell them. If they seem aggressively-hateful, get your parachute ready. If you find yourself talking in ways that make yourself feel icky, try to figure out why you’re talking that way, and take it to your journal. Try to find new ways of bonding, and hang on to all the good memories.
Sometimes there are a lot, and sometimes. Well. They had nice fingernails I guess.
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