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Keep The Red Flag Flying

Using Flags to Assess my Attractions to Other Women

I was a 0-100 kind of person growing up and well into early adulthood. It was a case of being either all in or all out on a project or with an idea, and living largely ignorant of any other number between 1 and 99. It’s little wonder I had to retake my maths ‘0’ level exam!

Having only these two numbers certainly kept the adrenaline flowing and proved useful for my conversion to Christ, but has faired badly when engaging in meaningful relationships or long-term healthy participation in life. 

Working through a five-flag attraction requires trusted others

I began using my red flag system back in the late 1980s. I converted to Christ in 1985 and, in response to the Bible’s teaching that all sexual activity was to be within the boundaries of marriage between a man and a woman, I walked away from the active gay life that I had been living. However, although I stopped the activity, this decision had no bearing on my emotional response towards various women. With that 0-100 mindset, I swung from dependency to detachment like a pendulum on an overwound grandfather clock. Exhausted and hurting from this emotional mania, I knew I had to devise a safeguarding strategy that could offer respite from, if not resolution to, this unsustainable turmoil.

Flagging up vulnerabilities

I chose to take stock of my relational history with women to see if that would help. Assessing my past girlfriends and other various women, fictional or otherwise, I made a list of all the characteristics that I found attractive. I included the social standing of the individual as well as her physical and emotional state. I listed whatever sparked a response in me.

I swung from dependency to detachment like a pendulum on an overwound grandfather clock

Although there were some left-field quirks that I could dismiss, I began to see several qualities and attributes taking centre stage. These qualities were the ones that pressed my response buttons and caused me to surge internally towards the unsuspecting person. These women displayed some (never all) of the qualities that drew me in, fed my faltering sense of self, nurtured the orphan-spirit or bolstered the rather battered ego. Apart from there being a certain level of physical attraction added to the mix, I began to understand that my weaknesses (real or perceived) were also in play. I would scan the room and lock into potential feeding stations, looking for any scraps they had to spare.

In response, I assigned a red flag to each listed trait. These red flags provided me with power and choice. I was no longer a victim to my largely unknown needs. Instead, I became someone who could begin the process of learning about distinct levels of healthy friendship. On meeting a woman, I would mentally allocate her a certain number of flags, and that would determine the subsequent path of friendship building. Typically, one flag meant that there was little chance of any buttons being pressed, at least in the short term. Whereas five flags warned me that friendship with that woman, at least currently, may jeopardise my commitment to grow in the things of God. Three flags, however, would remind me just to keep this woman as a group friend and to not seek anything more meaningful for the time being.

Working with the flags

It is critical to remember that flags allocated to an individual are not set in stone but come and go depending on the natural development of a shared friendship. Working through a five-flag attraction requires trusted others. It takes courage, humility, and transparency to share with a committed friend, or preferably friends, how a particular relationship is fairing.

These red flags empowered me... I was no longer a victim to my largely unknown needs

The system is not without its flaws and can be painful to work through. However, it has been a critical factor for me in revealing personal areas that have required talk, prayer, and healing. This has allowed me finally to enjoy good, healthy and intimate friendships.

The danger of inappropriate relationships may not be your issue, but do you know what presses your response buttons? Do you know your frailties as well as you know your strengths? Response buttons expose our needs. They needn’t invoke a sense of shame, but instead can draw us closer to the One who knows us best. He longs for us to live as He intended and not as a broken response to all we have endured. Vulnerability is hard, but we gather strength as we flag up our weaknesses and make faith-driven choices, thus repelling the fiery darts of Satan. Every appropriate choice helps change our old pattern of thinking and behaving. And so our weakness is transformed into strength through the presence and power of Christ Himself.

This article was originally published in the Autumn 2020 edition of the TFT magazine, Ascend, under the title "Keep The Red Flag Flying". Click the button below to download your copy.

Download the Autumn 2020 edition of Ascend

A conversation with the author...

Articles in Ascend often need to be ruthlessly edited down to fit within the required word count. To give space to discuss certain articles in greater depth, the TFT staff team will be recording occasional podcasts under the banner “Ascend Higher”, covering the issues raised in a more conversational style. To hear it for yourself, you can use the audio player below