For a long time, in the social media world, relationship and personality traits fell in neat piles under red and green flag categories. Green is good. Recycles, respects women, picks up after himself. Red is bad. Has anger issues, doesn’t let you have male friends, reads your texts when you’re not around. But what about those that belonged to neither? Likes to talk endlessly about gadgets, loses his mind over football, irons his socks? We have a term for it now: beige flags.
It is the newest buzzword floating around in the TikTok-Instagram spheres. And it is what it sounds like—a trait in yourself, your partner or even your pet that is not good or bad, just a unique personality or behavioural quirk that makes you take notice.
The term was first used by 29-year-old Caitlin McPhail from Australia in a TikTok video last year as a way to spot “boring” people on dating apps. Hating pineapples on pizza, quoting over-referenced mainstream TV shows, using dogs as props, were featured on her list. These generally pointed to a lack of effort on the part of the person who wrote the profile, and might indicate a boring personality, she said. Beige flag because beige equals bland or boring.
This idea caught on on social media even then, and a lot of people made reels and posts around it. But it wasn’t until earlier this month that this term really started trending. Both TikTok and Instagram are buzzing with the talk of beige flags, with users discussing their partners’ neither-good-nor-bad traits. Beige in this context represents neutrality. These reels are often hilarious, interesting and sometimes…concerning.
For instance, one user wrote her fiancé's beige flag is that he talks in his sleep and imagines that he has a full-on work meeting sometimes. And when his partner says, 'What did you say?' he gets annoyed with her for not paying attention in the meeting. Another wrote his partner’s beige flag was that she refuses to be the first to break the silence after a fight and yet wants him to be around so she gets to ignore him and show him that she’s angry ('Welcome to married life,' he writes).
The concerning ones are those where the OP (internetese for ‘original poster’) thinks the trait is harmless, while the good folks in the comments section sound the alarm bells. For example, one woman wrote her boyfriend’s beige flag is that he gets so impatient waiting for his food to arrive at a restaurant that he runs to the waitress, takes the dishes from her hands and brings them to the table himself. The commenters called this a red flag as he seemed entitled and disrespectful of a minimum wage worker. Of course, it’s more passive than outright yelling at the waitress, you might say, therefore making it less red, if only slightly.
The hilarious ones are where the trait being depicted is obviously a red flag, but it’s handled with sarcasm. “My husband’s beige flag is that he likes to leave his shoes in the middle of the house instead of the shoe rack,” says a woman, as the video shows her pretend-tripping over said shoes and falling down dramatically.
Of course, what behavioural traits get a pass in a relationship depends on several factors. Someone more accustomed to traditional gender roles might not mind the careless shoe-tossing all too much, while someone who is in the honeymoon phase of the relationship may very well see red flags as beige. And there are those who may be aware of their own annoying traits and therefore might be more tolerant of their partner’s.
In that sense, the beige flag is kind of the opposite of ‘the ick’, a term that was trending about a year ago—the feeling of disgust one feels about one’s partner at some point. Sometimes, it’s a gut feeling you can’t put your finger on, sometimes it’s a direct consequence of something they said or did. The ick usually ends with the couple parting ways. The beige flag, however, might be something one could live with, work on, or even come to adore.
Some define the beige flag as something that is not yet a red flag but worth keeping an eye on.
As one woman wrote, her partner’s beige flag was that he would join in anytime she is watching an episode of a TV show and call it “our show”, so she couldn’t finish watching it on her own. Not a huge problem in itself, but if it morphs into a controlling tactic or prolonged codependent behaviour, then it is an issue.
Nobody has all green flags. We all have qualities and traits that may give someone the ick. The takeaway from this trend, hopefully, is not that people are to be labelled ‘boring’ or ‘weird’ and cast aside. The hope is that with the emergence of such ideas on social media, we get to discuss our likes and dislikes more openly, that we get to dote on our partner’s adorable weirdness, and when something feels off, we have the language to express our concern.
Indumathy Sukanya is a Bengaluru-based writer and artist