Beige flags: have we reached peak ‘flag’ fatigue?

My boyfriend has what TikTok would call a “beige flag” — a small, seemingly insignificant habit which irks or irritates you to no end, enough to even give you the ick if it’s early enough into the relationship. In fact, he has many.

For example, he’s terrible at pronouncing things. Roughly once a week, for the last two years, I have had to remind him that the fancy cookware retailer beloved by middle class millennials is in fact called Le Creuset (he owns some of their little pots so references them a lot) and not, as he calls it, Le Cruisieré. He thought Southwark was pronounced “South-walk” and any reference to the actor Barry Keoghan is a nightmare for him. He just calls him “that guy”.

He’s not alone in his beige flags. My girlie group chat was readily available with an arsenal of them when I called upon the roundtable for their boyfriends’ offending habits. Like a set of magicians pulling earth toned strings of handkerchiefs from their sleeves, they offered a plethora of beige flags: one friend’s boyfriend makes plans with her in his head, doesn’t tell her, and then gets upset when she “double books” him, despite her not knowing they had plans at all.

Another pal’s boyfriend used to embody a character he called the “rancid little prince”, putting on a high pitched, entitled voice when he would ask his partner for a cup of tea. Boyfriend number three convinced himself that his girlfriend loved certain aspects of housework, so each week he saved the hoovering just for her because he genuinely thought she enjoyed it.

This is the 2023 edition of the TikTok “beige flag” dating discourse — annoying but ever-so-slightly-endearing idiosyncracies — and it’s quite different to where the conversation began.

The term was first coined in 2022, when TikTokker @itscaito presented the concept of “beige flags” to avoid on dating app bios. People who have an opinion on pineapple on pizza as if anyone actually cares, bios where they say they’re looking for “someone to go on adventures with”, those which list a roast and a walk as perfect Sunday activities, et cetera, et cetera — boring stuff, stuff which signifies that someone is unoriginal, basic, and runs the risk of having dead chat.

This form of “flagging”, as it were, makes objective sense because dating apps are so oversaturated with options. Some of those options may be entirely unappealing to your unique set of tastes, but you have no way of weeding them out (Tinder and Hinge don’t exactly offer a “Boring? Y/N” option next to their political preferences section) except for by reading their profile, and plus, different people find different things boring.

But it’s also the fourth “flag” we’ve had to learn from the new dating therapese. We’ve had red flags, which denote obvious, glaring warning signs from potential partner (they’re possessive, they call their ex a “psycho”), pink flags, which are basically just toned down red flags (never been in a relationship before, won’t post pictures of you on social media) and green flags, which encourage you to date someone (a good relationship with their mother, washes bed sheets regularly). At this point it feels like eveything is a flag, and people can’t breathe without gaining some kind of black mark against their dating game. Psychotherapist Charlotte Fox Weber agrees, describing this intensive flagging process as like “like highlighting an entire text when trying to revise before an exam.”

She explains: “There’s always a degree of uncertainty and surprise [in dating] and I think our overuse of flags is our attempt to make sense of people, to classify signs and symptoms, as though preparation is possible.”

Beige flags are the latest criteria with which to judge potential dates (Unsplash)
Beige flags are the latest criteria with which to judge potential dates (Unsplash)

“The fact is that flags do not really keep us safe. The problem is that even when we identify red flags, for instance, intense attraction can overtake. And when the flags allow for proceeding in a relationship, if there’s no connection or spark, there may be no deep motivation to develop things further. Flags are hollow without a deeper understanding of who we are as individuals and what we value.”

Which is why the 2023 iteration of TikTok’s beige flags feels especially strange, when they’ve moved into idiosyncratic behaviours that are clearly never going to become relationship-ending. Do flags mean anything anymore — or have we reached peak flag fatigue?

Accoring to Fox Weber, it’s better to mark out how certain behaviour makes you feel — what feelings you will and won’t tolerate — and set these as your own standards, rather than naming random, specific, inoffensive personality traits to avoid. “Standards are healthier to clarify than constant flagging,” she says, “the odd flag can be useful for signposting something in particular, but use them sparingly. Too many flags just starts to take up space without motion.”

Because you might hate the way your partner pronounces Le Creuset, or the way they make plans with you in their head, but it’s not harming anyone, and chances are you’ll miss it once they’re gone.