Going With the Flow: Red Flag or Hottest Quality?

A few weeks ago, I was playing this cute little bride-to-be game at my soon-to-be sister-in-law’s bridal shower. She had to guess what she thinks my brother’s favorite quality is about her, and we all had to guess if her guess matched my brother’s answer. My SIL wrote “fun,” thinking that my brother would write that as his favorite thing about her. Out of all of the adjectives my brother could’ve written on that piece of paper, his final answer was “she goes with the flow.” I immediately spit up my mimosa as I was not prepared to be triggered in such a violent way. How dare he minimize all my SIL’s wonderful qualities to a fuckboy’s tinder profile bio!

If you’ve been in the dating scene (queer or otherwise) within the past five years, you know “go with the flow” is typically code for some version of the “long distance low commitment” casual girlfriend. It’s like the word “interesting:” It tells you nothing about the thing you’re wanting to know information about, and yet we somehow think it’s appropriate to use in all situations. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, here are some examples.

A very hot person’s bio:

“I like traveling and trying new things. I just kinda go with the flow. Message me if you want to grab drinks sometime.”

Me, asking this person what they’re looking for on any particular dating app
The person: “Idk I’m just going with the flow and seeing what happens.”

Me, asking this person I’ve been dating for a month what they’re into
The person: “I’m pretty chill and laid back. I just go with the flow.”

Me, doing one of the DTR talks after this person confessed feelings for me
The person: “Idk if I can commit to anything right now. I’m just going with the flow.”

Instead of giving into my intrusive thoughts and writing “fuck you” because writing this piece is already so triggering, I’d like to redirect my energy here to consider alternative theories to the demonstrated examples I just provided.

I follow and read a lot of couples therapists’ content (because I’m in school to hopefully become one), and one of the hard and fast rules many of them preach is to always consider the phrase “go with the flow” a red flag. For those of us wanting a relationship, this phrase indicates the person isn’t wanting anything that involves even committing to a day and time for drinks. For those of us looking for something casual, it’s still extremely unclear. If you just want to have a casual sex-based relationship, why not just say that?

The phrase has certainly jaded me, but hearing my brother and this new person I’m dating say it with all the genuine love in their heart really has me second-guessing if “going with the flow” is really the red flag everyone thinks it is. What would it look like to translate this phrase through a process I call “they probably meant _____ but I should probably just ask them what they meant?”

My brother, a quality man who isn’t a fuckboy at all and treats my SIL very well saying his favorite thing about her is that she “goes with the flow.”
My translation: I love that you’re up for doing anything and everything with me. Our lives are both so crazy and require us to travel so much that I appreciate we can both be flexible in how we spend time together and show love to one another.

My friend telling me her favorite quality about me is that I “go with the flow.”
My translation: I really appreciate that you listened to me when I said I was feeling anxious in the store and said we could leave if that would make me feel better.

This person I’m dating telling me they see me in our future together for a long time and also they just want to “go with the flow” generally in life.
My translation: I really like you, but I don’t want to come off too strong. I also don’t want to overthink and get ahead of ourselves when I don’t even know what I’m making for dinner today. All I know is that I want to be with you and only you right now and the foreseeable future.

If I conducted a formal experiment with data, I might find that the intentions behind “going with the flowwp_postsreally aren’t so bad. However, until then, this ubiquitous phrase still holds a fair amount of charge. Guilty until proven innocent in love, I suppose.

So please, I beg of you, if you use this phrase please just say how you feel!!!!


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Em Win

Originally from Toledo, Ohio, Em now lives in Los Angeles where she does many odd jobs in addition to writing. When she's not sending 7-minute voice messages to friends and family, she enjoys swimming, yoga, candle-making, tarot, drag, and talking about the Enneagram.

Em has written 47 articles for us.

7 Comments

  1. 1) Thank you for this article. I bet you got your translations right and it would be nice if people were more specific instead of saying “go with the flow”.

    2) That’s not what intrusive thought means. I’m sharing not because I want to be overly nitpicky but because I think that as the meaning of “intrusive thoughts” gets convoluted or diluted in popular culture, people will find it harder to understand when they’re actually having intrusive thoughts and when those thoughts become a problem, like in OCD.

  2. Oh dear, I use “go with the flow”. As a demi-romantic who is mostly looking for casual relationships but would be potentially open to something more serious if the right person came along, it seems to fit… I also don’t have strong feelings about how people have to fit into my life or visa versa, whatever works better for us. Clearly I’m going to have to start saying it better!

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