This guy, a 26-year-old named “Mike,” called a talk radio station this morning with a dilemma. Here’s what he said happened.

Yesterday, he and his girlfriend got into a verbal argument over the correct spelling of the word “vegetable.” He said he’d already been having a bad day at work and wasn’t in the most tolerant mood. The fight escalated and the girlfriend snatched Mike’s pen out of his hand and refused to return it. So Mike grabbed for the pen, managed to get it back, but she still had the pen cap. He demanded the pen cap, there was more yelling, and then she ended up throwing the pen cap at him. The cap landed on the ground. He told her to pick it up and give it back, she refused. They argued about that some more. Then the phone rang, she got up to pick it up, but because they were in mid-argument, Mike walked up and hung up the phone. She then “promised” that if she could call back her friend and finish the conversation, that she would pick up the pen cap. He agreed. She called her friend back, they finished their conversation, and then she went into the room, got dressed and put on her makeup, and then left to go to a party with her friends, having never picked up the cap. Mike was fuming, so when she returned, they fought again and they broke up.

The radio show personalities, along with most of the callers, reamed Mike out for being stupid and petty. “It’s a PEN CAP, do you realize that?! Who cares about a damn pen cap? If you can’t get over a PEN CAP, you’ll never get anywhere in a relationship.” Mike insisted it’s more than just the pen cap. It’s the fact that she lied to him and then left. People said, “If she lied, she lied about a PEN CAP! Hello!!”

I tend to agree with Mike. It’s not about a pen cap, even though that’s the subject of the argument. But the pen cap is just a variable, it could’ve been anything that mattered to Mike. The fact is that the girlfriend is physically confrontational (snatching a pen out of his hand, throwing things at him), doesn’t respect him, and is okay with saying “F you” through her actions of saying, “I promise to do this,” and then just leaving without doing it. His feelings are of no consequence to her. Sure it’s a pen cap now, but the fight reveals a lot about her attitude, and the future fights will be the same but about bigger things. Like maybe it’ll be really important to him that she not have this one drink at an event but she insists on the drink and everyone will say, “It’s a DRINK. Get over yourself, Mike,” but really, she’s an alcoholic. People were yelling about how small Mike was to not pick up the damn cap himself. But what about her? She didn’t pick it up, either. They both could’ve stopped it at any time, but both were too stubborn. Who says the guy needs to give first? She was the one who threw the cap.

The fight as I pictured it in my head made me laugh, but it’s full of real red flags to me. These are the kind of red flags you look for early in the relationship as indicators of how the other person deals with problems. I’d like to be (and be with) a person who says, “I may not understand what the big deal is, but I can see that it’s important to you so that’s fine, I’ll do this little effortless thing to make you happy.”