Yield Signs Are Worse Than Red Flags — 4 Big Ones To Look Out For

Photo: Jacob Lund / Shutterstock
couple drinking wine on date

Back in a high school creative writing class, my classmates and I were asked to write about love using a metaphor.

For mine, I described the dating process as two people in a car headed to a town called Romantica.

Romantica is a beautiful place filled with ample natural amenities. The scenery is both calming and vivid. Most importantly, it’s real, with nothing manicured or artificial about it. Both people can be their full selves, knowing they’ll be met with acceptance.

The metaphor returns to mind when I think about pacing in dating as an adult. How some people grow anxious at the thought of never making it to Romantica — so at the first sign of greenery, they pull over and proclaim (emphatically) a premature arrival. 

Or they speed and miss important signs along the way that would have re-directed them had they been veering off path.

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I think now about how important those yield signs are.

We hear about red flags.

Sometimes though, the signs aren’t so severe. They’re just cues to slow down.

The term red flags personally sends me into fight or flight, just reading it — and I’d prefer not to activate myself like that. Especially when, to me, dating intentionally means making a level decision in a non-activated state (based on what we know about ourselves and others through past experiences).

Fight or flight bypasses those intentional, logical processes.

With yield signs, you pay attention and proceed more intentionally, but you don’t flat-out close the door or immediately run away.

It’s less dramatic than that. Less… hot-blooded.

Not only is it kinder to you and your nervous system, but it’s also less likely to result in insensitive behavior — allowing for more mindful communication if and when you do decide a person isn’t the right fit (a lot of ghosting, my guess, takes place under the influence of fight or flight. Ghosting is literally the flight response).

I wasn’t always aware of my "yield" signs.

In many dating situations in my 20s, I cast aside my needs — denying myself in an attempt to make a relationship work with a person who wasn’t right for me, for one reason or another. I continued on at the same pace despite an inner Miss Clavel periodically poking me with a, "Something is not right."

It took a diagnosis of Celiac a couple of years ago to turn this pattern around. Celiac forces us to narrow our food choices, making us more mindful. I began to do the same with dating options and paying attention to yield signs.

Yield signs are so individualized that it would be impossible — and irresponsible — to put forth a list of universal ones (though some, like physical abuse, are given).

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Here are 4 yield signs to look out for, according to mental health therapists:

1. Inconsistency

"A healthy relationship should feel safe and consistent, not like a roller coaster."

2. Verbal and/or emotional abuse

3. Active addiction

4. Untreated mental health issues

"That’s not to say those with mental health problems cannot have healthy relationships — they absolutely can; however, when conditions are left untreated or unstabilized, it’s going to make a relationship very, very challenging."

Beyond these though, they will vary from person to person depending on individualized experiences.

My personal yield signs are if someone is showing a lot of interest and affection very early on. These aren’t yield signs for everyone. They are for me personally, because of experiences I’ve had.

Those experiences have taught me that the daters most willing to give you those things prematurely are also the likeliest to retract them just as quickly.

I feel safer with daters who want to start from a more level and cautious place as I do — people looking to really get to know me as a person before jumping into the coupley stuff (again, this is a valid way to date and works for some people; it just may not work for a person who’s repeatedly experienced love bombing or dusting).

Your yield signs might be a person who has not a single nice thing to say about any of their exes. Or one who, early on, seems more concerned with securing unconditional love than with respecting your feelings, autonomy, and personhood.

Dialoguing with your yield signs can help you better understand them.

Exploring whether they’re coming from an exaggerated, fear-based reactivity can lend insight into whether you’re projecting from a past situation that doesn’t truly apply to this present one, or if there’s some basis to them.

Beyond just identifying, "This gives me a bad feeling," consider why it gives you a bad feeling.

The "why" for me on the hand-holding and references to multiple future dates too soon is because every time a person has come on strong, they’ve disappeared just as quickly. Those professions can be a sign of love bombing.

It’s a deeply personal process. But you can keep learning, keep refining and keep understanding what works for you and what doesn’t, with every dating situation you find yourself in.

Get clear on what feels healthiest to you, regardless of if it feels healthy or anxiety-provoking for other people. Refine your personal guidebook to create as much ease and clarity as possible during the process. Because without one (and even with one), it can be a messy one — especially for people who feel things quite deeply.

RELATED: If You Notice These 12 Red Flags, You're Giving Too Much Of Yourself To Others

**One thing to note about these yield signs, since I mentioned that mine have been influenced by past experiences. I can imagine some readers thinking:

But Eleni, shouldn’t we not be letting our past traumas dictate how we proceed to shape our futures? Isn’t that not living in the present? Or allowing our past lens to distort the present and not see it for what it is?

I’m not suggesting reactively entering into fight or flight and blindly ending a relationship with a person with whom there are yield signs. That would be fear-based, and letting the past run your present.

Instead, you’re merely staying aware. You have your antennae up.

The past flew a message to you. You took that message from its wings and added it to your stash of other tools.

Your past would be running you if you let it knock you over, take full control, and discard all the other tools you’ve since adopted, replacing them instead with its all-encompassing totalitarian parchment.

There’s wisdom in looking to our pasts to a certain degree.

If you’re noticing a pattern, that’s telling you something. Patterns send messages. It would be unwise to ignore them or to treat every new person as a completely blank slate.

If a fire burned down your home, you’d be (reasonably) wary of fires from then on. Hopefully, they wouldn’t dominate your thoughts or completely run your life, but you’d show some level of caution around them. Memories of the past blaze and what you lost would help you maintain your caution. A healthy degree of it.

Awareness of the past and incorporating lessons learned from it will help you execute similar caution.

Take care of yourself out there. Don’t let yield signs send you into a panic, but also don’t ignore them.

RELATED: 15 Relationship Red Flags You Should Never, Ever Ignore

Elena Stephanides is a freelance writer and Spanish interpreter whose work has been published in Them, Tiny Buddha, Peaceful Dumpling, The Mighty, The Gay and Lesbian Review, and Introvert Dear, among others.