What Maya Angelou taught me about relationships

Please indulge me for a bit of a history lesson. It's the early 17th century. You're on a naval vessel deep in stormy seas. Approaching is a ship bearing red flags. This can only mean one thing: war.

Fast-forward a couple hundred years, and figurative "red flags" are still used to signal trouble, most often when it comes to relationships. A red flag is any indication that your date might be hiding something. And they're to be avoided at all costs.

But, alas: human nature. Red flags, to some of us thrill-seekers, are open invitations to take risks. There's something exciting about a little danger, isn't there? I like to call it, "bad-boy syndrome." Think, teen rebellion. Think, punk rock. The guy that brings over a geranium to your parents' house is definitely a keeper, but he's so...boring.

The thing is, we tend to go extreme. If the sweater-vester isn't cutting it, we're going for the leather. We're going for the broken family, the drug problem, and the unidentified emotional baggage. We excuse the lateness and the alcohol breath. We see ourselves out. We pick up the tab. We bail. We excuse. Because we love them.

But do we?

Along with your mother and your sister, the late Dr. Maya Angelou would be shaking her head. The poet and activist enlightened us with her wisdom, especially when it came to sizing people up. And in my opinion, the best advice she ever gave was one simple line: "When someone shows you who they are, believe them; the first time."

It's a quote that I use as a personal mantra. Angelou begs us to be honest with ourselves, and honest with how we see people and interpret their words and actions. But more than that; she knows we can. Recognize the red flags, she says, don't ignore them. Then, give yourself credit for avoiding a potentially harmful situation. Know that people have a slight ability to change, but most likely won't do a total 180. The way to do this is to listen. You won't have to do much excavating. The truth always comes out sooner than later.

We often get so carried away with our fantasies that the truth gets buried by artifice and by our projections of grandeur. We can think someone is the best we can get, but fail to see that the better we feel about ourselves, the better a person we can attract. Know and trust the people that came before you. They're trying to help you. They don't want to see you hurt like they might have been when ignoring their own red flags years ago.

In the end, you need to find someone who will love you, and who you can love. Not lust after, not fantasize about, but love. Those red flags are not out there to scare you, but to protect you.

More from Trueself