Clementine Ford: 5 dating red flags you should never ignore

·7-min read

If you’re a woman aged between 18 and 99 who has the misfortune of being occasionally attracted to cis men, first allow me to offer my sincere condolences. Then allow me to offer my solidarity, for I too have knowledge of this particular affliction. At some point in your battle with men, you may have felt like you were dealing with the same demon, just wearing different outfits. And to some extent, you would be correct.

A little-known fact is that cis men, like a wizard’s soul, can be split into seven distinct categories. These Horcruxes are then hidden throughout normal society in everyday forms undetectable to the untrained eye. What might appear at first to be a jocular fun guy actually turns out, on closer inspection, to be a purveyor of insidious manipulation. And that cute dad who seems like an ordinary adult human reveals himself as angry, hostile and totally incapable of self-reflection.

A woman listening to a man (defocussed) talking during a discussion
Here are the dating red flags you shouldn't ignore. Photo: Getty Images

Anyone who’s watched Married At First Sight will be able to spot some classic signs of horcrux behaviour. James came out of the gates as a man who accused his ‘bride’ Jo of cheating on him with another 'groom', and then punished her with the silent treatment before openly gaslighting her in front of actual witnesses to his behaviour. Even when the 'experts' explicitly explained the term 'gaslighting' and told him that's what he was doing, James was unable to own his behaviour. Bryce is slightly less reprehensible, but only in that he hasn’t accused his partner Melissa of cheating on him – he’s been far too busy isolating her from the group and breadcrumbing her with tiny tidbits of affection for her to have spent any time with other men.


But while James and Bryce are shown as exhibiting behaviour most people can recognise as toxic, there are five other good examples of bilge sliming their way through the world. And so, in the interests of defeating the dark lord(s), please consider this your guide to identifying them all so that they may be destroyed – or at the very least, avoided for the rest of eternity.

Basilisk fangs at the ready!

1. The Nice Guy

You’ve probably already guessed that when professional experts talk about Nice Guys, the ‘nice’ is usually silent. (This is distinct from the lower case “nice guy”, which is a perfectly acceptable description to give to men who don’t consider ‘niceness’ to be a form of transactional currency they can exchange at will for sex.) Nice Guys present themselves as understanding, patient and willing to do whatever it takes to get you comfortable enough to bone them. They’re the kinds of people who talk about “the friendzone” as if it’s a real phenomenon and not simply a reflection of the value they think women have for them. Nice Guys think about women’s sexual boundaries as a series of obstacles that need to be bypassed, and they use this illusion of niceness to guilt women into breaking them down. They love to talk about how they’d never make you do anything you didn’t want to do, because they benefit from the fact that the bar for cis men collectively has been lowered deep into the centre of the earth and therefore truly believe that not ‘making’ you do sex stuff makes them a real hero.

Distracted woman on a date
They hide among us people, often in plain sight. Forewarned is forearmed. Photo: Getty Images

2. The Bro-Down

Bro-Downs make themselves pretty easily identifiable, mainly because they always consist of mega ripped white guys who call men ‘bro’ and women ‘females’. The Bro-Down loves other dudes more than anything in the whole world which can sometimes seem like positive masculinity, but he’s always careful to be clear that it’s “NO HOMO” which instantly renders it toxic. The sum total of a Bro-Down’s knowledge of women is how to do sex with one of them, and even though it may technically be “good” sex this is as deep as their relationship will ever become. He reserves his most emotional expressions for other men, and even these are as shallow as the pool in which these men’s genes collectively swim. “Bro bro bro bro!” is his platonic mating call. If you don’t have sex with him by date three, he calls you a cock tease.

3. The Soft Boi

It’s always really easy to spot the most obviously toxic doofus in any group. Everyone hates him pretty much immediately, and his treatment of women speaks for itself. The Soft Boi is a different beast, and in many ways he can be more dangerous. He slinks through the world carefully and artfully, pretending to all who meet him that he’s sensitive, kind and totally unthreatened by powerful women. In reality, he is a master of manipulation and gaslighting. He’s the kind of person who lures women in by pretending to be soulful and deep, but who then blames them for being “too intense” when they demonstrate they have a three dimensional personality and an emotional spectrum that doesn’t always involve fellating his ego. He makes sexist jokes and pretends it’s okay because he’s, like, super woke so it’s ironic. He uses Soft Boi dark magic to make women feel like their perfectly reasonable needs are too oppressive for him, and the only way they can make it up to him and also make themselves less intense is to laugh at all his jokes and have a ton of the kind of sex that he likes. When you break up with him, he’ll cry and everyone will call you mean. You will probably end up in therapy trying to unpack all the ways he’s made you feel like you’re a bad person.

4. The Wacky Lackey

The Wacky Lackey is almost indistinguishable from the Bro-Down except that he’s almost completely bereft of a personality or in fact any depth at all. So devoid of anything resembling substance is he that you’d be forgiven for thinking he was just a very beige couch or half broken lamp you picked up somewhere at a junk market once upon a time, save for the absolute devotion he has to supporting other men at all costs. He will steadfastly refuse to ever “get involved” when it comes to calling out his mates, framing this as some kind of emotionally mature opposition to dRaMa rather than what it actually is - total indifference to women as humans deserving of respect and dignity (especially when it involves his buddies) despite the ways he’ll #notallmen people in the comment threads of Facebook posts. “Sure,” he’ll say with the kind of confidence only a cis white man with the personality of a bowl of custard could possibly muster, “I’m not saying I agree with what he’s done. But he’s still my boy.”

5. Hinge Guy

He wants someone who doesn’t take themselves too seriously, because he won’t either. He claims to love curves, but what he means is “tiny waist but with big titties and a firm arse”. He calls you too sensitive whenever you object to anything he says, which is 90% of things that come out of his mouth. Hates body hair on women but hasn’t had a shower since 2017. He has one set of sheets that he washes every thirteen weeks and then leaves on the line for another three, during which time he’ll sleep directly on the mattress and underneath a doona whose various stains are now clearly visible to the parade of women he marches through this hellhole. On Hinge, he lists his job as “music producer” or “fashion designer”.

They hide among us people, often in plain sight. Forewarned is forearmed.

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