By now, (I hope) you know that if a man freaks out on the waiter, he’s likely going to do the same to you, and those men who hate all of their exes? Well, let’s just say they likely aren’t getting many accolades on the other side, either. But aside from the obvious traits one should avoid in a mate: aggression (passive or outright), disrespect, a lack of manners, empathy and/or intelligence, there are those red flags that look a softer shade of pink behind rose-colored glasses. You know what I am talking about. They’re the ones that cause that gnawing feeling in your gut and leave you wondering if the situation is workable or if it’s time to walk. (And read my 21 pieces of unsolicited advice for you, the brokenhearted.) If you’re tired of collecting frequent flyer miles to the purgatory between stay and go, you’re in luck. Read on for four non-negotiables that are often overlooked, but that I’ve learned to hold on tightly to.
1. HE HAS A STEADY JOB AND WORK HISTORY
In our teens, being in the band made a man sexy. As a grown woman, it’s only hot if that band is U2. Of course, requiring that a man bring home the bacon like Bono is hardly behavior I’d condone (make your own moolah, babygirl), but as a woman who has dated the perpetually unemployed, I can tell you that expecting him to have a solid job, work history, and career-plan should be a no-brainer. Don’t believe me? I went and confirmed it with an expert. “A man’s work ethic is a reflection of his character,” says Jennine Estes, M.F.T and author of Relationships In The Raw. She says an ability to make a long-term commitment gives insight into his value system. “Building a career shows an ability to commit, work through difficulties, and showcases a development of people skills. It also highlights his self-esteem. All of these things will impact your relationship in addition to easing the obvious financial burden,” she says.
The Job/Relationship Equation: There’s more to him having a job than you not wanting to constantly split (or get) the check; it’s a view into his personal code. “People can bond over their career passion or it can highlight opposing values,” says Estes who adds that the way a person approaches their career can also show how they can be in a relationship. “It’s not just about financial security, it’s also about showing that someone is willing to get up every day and do what it takes to take care of themselves and work towards a higher goal.”
When It’s Workable: If your man has recently changed directions, graduated school or been laid off, give him a break. “Don’t jump the gun until you know the full story,” advises Estes. “A man working towards a larger goal or fighting for a higher paying position is a lot different from someone who unreliable, lacks ambition or is lazy,” she says. Give him a reasonable time frame and pay attention to his dedication and energy level. If he’s getting up early, networking and pounding the pavement, he deserves your full support.
When It’s Not: Is your man always having work problems or making excuses to stay unemployed until he finds the “perfect” job? It may be time to give him the pink slip. If he’s not fighting for something as important as his career, how can you expect him to fight beside you when the going gets tough?
2. HE KNOWS HOW TO COOK AND CLEAN (AT LEAST THE BASICS)
No, I’m not talking Todd English-style dishes and floors so clean you can eat off of them (though, both would be nice). Still, I’m a firm believer that all adults should know to make a decent omelette and steak, and they should want to wash the dishes within a few hours of the meal. These skills are not only about self-sufficiency (and a dislike of smells and critters), but show that one is interested in enjoying life and not too lazy to go beyond the basics.
The Laundry/Love Equation: OK, so let’s be real: anyone with long workdays and a busy social life knows that take-out numbers are called and tube socks occasionally find a home on the floor. I chalk these things up to being the side effects of a full life. That said, if the only cooking your man does is heating up his General Tso’s in a dirty microwave, it may be a sign of something more serious. A man who knows how to take care of himself—and cares enough to make the effort to do so – will be far more inclined to step-up and take care of you than someone who just expects you to live according to his low standards or act as a full time maid-service.
When It’s Workable: If he just doesn’t know how to clean the toilet or chop an onion, but is open to learning, feel free to move past go. “The key component is compromise. No one should be doing all of the work, you have to have a happy medium. He cooks, you clean. He makes the bed, you dust the tables. This way it’s not over-the-top. It’s about two people creating a home that feels like their own personal sanctuary,” says Estes.
When It’s Not: Estes says there are certain “red flags” that should not be overlooked. If he refuses to do his part, always puts it off until “tomorrow”, or worse, thinks that only ladies do laundry, pack up and go. “This signals that he may not see you as an equal”. That’s a much bigger problem than figuring out who is going to take out the trash.
3. HE HAS LEFT THE NEST
It’s nice when a man is close with his mother, but if she knows where you are 24-7 or is snuggling in-between the two of you on movie night, you’ll feel more like a sibling than a significant other (been there, dated that). “Family-oriented includes spending quality time together, celebrating with one another, and supporting each other. Family-obsessed is another story. If it feels there is a competing element involved, you may feel that regardless of what you do or say, the family will win,” she says. One that accepts you too quickly is also a big no-no. “If his entire family is adding you on Facebook the first month or your meeting the family on the first few dates, you’re seeing big, red flags,” she says.
The Family/Relationship Equation: It’s important to remember that every family has a different set of values and boundaries, but your guy needs to know where his childhood ends and adulthood begins. “He needs to be able to stand on his own two feet as a self-reliant man who makes his own decisions, can face the world on his own and pay his own bills without help. If he can’t, these are important factors to consider,” says Estes.
When It’s Workable: “It’s a good sign when your guy can set boundaries and is open to having conversations about your feelings while making you feel like a priority,” says Estes. Better yet, these traits can help to make a relationship work even when you’ve had an initial set-back. “It doesn’t mean you have to end things if you don’t get along with the family in the beginning. It’s more important to examine how the two of you work through these issues. You’ve got to make sure that the relationship is solid and can handle the conflict no matter what,” she says.
When It’s Not: If your man’s mom is having an issue every time you have a date or the majority of his conversations include his family members, it may be time to cut the chord. The “blood is thicker than water” approach is going to get in the way of your long-term love, warns Estes. “If his family is so far up on the pedestal where they always come first and take precedence over anything else, including you, you’ll feel run over,” says Estes. And really, who wants to make out with a man baby? No thanks.
4. HE HAS A LIFE OF HIS OWN
In a world of dating sites and swiping right, couples who do everything together may seem retro and cute from the outside, but there’s a real value in flying solo, even when attached. “Relationships are dynamic and there are a lot of ways to connect with a partner. It’s important to have an identity and individuality when in a relationship. The more you work on yourself and build self-confidence, the more you can bring to the relationship. The more you grow, the more the relationship can grow,” says Estes.
The Life Of His Own/Relationship Equation: I’m obviously not suggesting that every woman start loving the idea of a Costa Rican bachelor party blow-out (sorry, gentlemen, I know too much), but imagine never having time to unwind with your girls over a bottle of wine or take that trip to the ultimate spa retreat with your bestie? We tend to forget that we are all individuals on a life journey who choose to walk together, and being in a relationship doesn’t change that. “It’s important to have alone time, friend time, and hobbies outside of the relationship to allow partners to be excited to come back together and share their stories,” says Estes.
When It’s Workable: If your man is a bit shy or a bit of a loner, it doesn’t mean you need to dump him. He may be unsure as to how to reach out to new friends. Think about it: In school, it was easy to meet new people, but as we grow older, the opportunities to make new friends (and see old ones) can seem more limited which means unless your guy has a solid crew of constant companions, he’s likely not going to always have someone to do something with.
When It’s Not: If your dude confuses co-dependency with love, doesn’t really have any interests or passions (read: boring) or sacrifices his “alone time” in order to keep you from going out and enjoying yours, it might be time to move forward … on your own.
Now, here’s the caveat, ladies: You should be able to offer all of these things, too.