Carolyn Hax column cartoon for Sept. 29, 2014 (Nick Galifianakis/For The Washington Post)
Columnist

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn:

It strikes me that you hold romantic relationships to standards that almost no one could meet. I have never had a relationship without some of the “red flags” you’ve described. I’m beginning to panic about never meeting anyone (I’m in therapy for that). Do I really just keep waiting for a relationship without any red flags? At some point, doesn’t that become unrealistic?

Scared about Not Meeting Anyone

What are these red flags? Any common denominators?

My lone standard for relationships, romantic and platonic, is that you both feel safe enough together to be your honest selves. That to me defines a close and healthy bond — which doesn’t rule out disliking some things about each other or annoying each other sometimes. These relationships will look different for different people, just because we all have different ideas of safety and comfort.

Certainly you’ll have relationships that don’t meet that standard, plenty, including friendships, and that’s typical. It’s just not a good idea to force these less-than relationships to serve beyond their capacity just because you’re afraid to let go.

Remember, too, that red-flag relationships are the ones I write about most. Healthy couples aren’t all that rare; they’re just not writing to me.

Carolyn:

One of the red flags is partners not really confronting their own issues (say, mild mental illness). You suggest that being with a partner who doesn’t face up to his or her own issues is a recipe for a more difficult life than necessary — which makes sense to me. But that’s a standard above and beyond “being able to be your honest self,” no?

Scared again

Not really. An honest self includes embracing flaws — in fact, it’s especially important to admit frailty, because so many miseries trace back to a partner’s unwillingness to. How do you like always being the one who’s wrong? For years?

Someone who assumes blame for everything is difficult, too. Both types — the never-wrong and never-right — make their emotional hang-ups the centerpiece of everything, instead of letting truth and reality take their rightful place there.

Getting to the point where you recognize and accept your own shortcomings is often just a matter of time. So many reunions bear this out: The later ones (20th and on) are often delightful, and populated by those who’ve outgrown trying to present themselves as perfect.

So, it’s not so much an unrealistic standard I’m advising but unrealistic patience, to wait till you’re both over yourselves enough to be full and humble participants in a marriage. That in turn will allow you to see each other for who you are, vs. the fronts you’re trying to maintain, and also to drop your dukes and do what’s necessary to get along (or part ways) peacefully — like seek treatment for that mild mental illness that’s making things tougher at home.

Re: Scared:

Happy relationship hand-raise: The first four . . . years . . . I followed this chat, I was in a bad relationship. With pretty much every red flag Hax points to. Now I’m in a great relationship. There are no red flags. My standards aren’t high — you could really just sum them up as “I deserve better than a dillweed.”

Anonymous

Cross-stitch that, somebody, please.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Get her column delivered to your inbox each morning at http://bit.ly/haxpost.