I was recently on a flight where I sat in the exit row. You know, the kind where the flight attendant jumpseat is directly opposite on the wall. Across the aisle was a 20-something hetero couple. He was an average, casually dressed SF tech guy. She was super femme and pretty, but I noticed her voice. It was the one that always asks to talk to the manager.

Somehow I knew this meant trouble.

As the flight got underway, the young woman (TYW) pulled the jumpseat down and put her feet up, shoes and all. A flight attendant noticed as he walked by and politely asked her to put her feet down. As soon as the flight attendant turned his back, she ignored the direction and put her feet up again. Another flight attendant walked by and saw her, and politely asked her not to. She must have said something specific about shoes because TYW kicked off her sandals and put a napkin down so she could put her bare feet on the jumpseat again. That second flight attendant asked her to stop again. TYW threw the napkin on the floor and then put her bare feet back up on the jumpseat. The staff saw this and went to get the purser.

The purser arrived, and there was quite an exchange about not following flight crew instructions. A form was handed to TYW to fill out as acknowledgment of the discussion. As soon as the purser left, TYW flung the paper she got on the floor. When the purser came back to get the completed form, the woman said she wasn’t going to fill it out. “What’s your name?” she demanded, as if that would intimidate the purser.


All the while, TYW’s male partner looked on sort of dazed and ignoring the scene.

Why am I telling you this?

This story is an example of what I call: “You know it when you see it.”

I have an exercise for people working to figure out their relationships. Part of it is an examination of their deal makers and deal breakers– what qualities do they want in a partner and what will they want to steer clear of? If this young man wants a partner who is empathetic, respectful, or considerate, then this situation could be a window into his future. “You know it when you see it” is demonstrated right in front of him. To me, this spells trouble.

It’s kind of like when you go out to dinner with a date you’re just getting to know. They’re super nice to you, holding doors, and listening to what you say… but they’re RUDE to the waitstaff, the taxi driver, and everyone else. If you’re not ignoring what’s happening around you, heart-eyed by the new attention, then there’s “you know it when you see it” right in front of you.

One student told me that doing this exercise helped illuminate a problematic pattern for herself, one that she could now “see” for herself and choose differently going forward. Regarding her partner choice, she said, “The first time he lies, I’m out.” Think of how empowering that is!

Some of us prefer to justify the behavior of others. My father told me that he didn’t think my fiancé “loves you enough,” but of course, twenty-something me disregarded it. Stubborn and not wanting to be wrong, I told my dad, “You don’t know what it’s like when it’s just us.” But I did know my dad was right. I went through a contentious divorce years after my dad died, robbed of the opportunity to ask my dad what exactly he saw.

So what are we paying attention to when we date? How can we helpourselves (or our teens and young adults) to notice the critical signs right in front of us as well? I believe it starts with paying attention to everything– being intentional, getting conscious about our choices, and seeking information to make smart decisions.

(This mindfulness also helps with sex ed, by the way.)

Healthy relationships take work. And sometimes it takes years of research to figure yourself out. And that research can help you not to marry “trouble.”

Happy hunting!



P.S., Do you find this blog post helpful? There’s more like it in my online workbook, “Create Your Own Users Manual.” It’s got lots of assignments and prompts to help you think about how you can better relationship communication for happier, healthier sex, and more!

About the Author

The MamaSutra

Dr. Lanae St.John is a Diplomate of the American Board of Sexology and certified sex coach with a background in sexology and a passion for helping people improve their sexual health and relationships. She is the author of "Read Me: A Parental Primer for "The Talk"" and the upcoming "You Are the One: How stopping the search and looking inside will lead you to your romantic destiny," and is committed to staying up-to-date on the latest research and trends in the field. Dr. St.John aims to share her knowledge and expertise in a relatable and approachable way through her blog on themamasutra.com.

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