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Relationships

Dating Red Flags to Look for Early and Often

| 06/14/2022

Illustration by Sophi Gullbrants

All you need to do is watch a TV show or open a dating app and it’s obvious; these days lots of people find dating frightening or overwhelming. 

Unfortunately, what we know from psychological studies is that having more options doesn’t make us happier. In fact, an abundance of options makes us less happy. And isn’t that just the definition of online dating?

But there’s good news! Taking some of the guesswork out of screening your potential dates can bring the thrill back to swiping. That’s why we’re spelling out some of the dating red flags to look for when you’re getting to know someone new.

What is a dating red flag?

A term that dates all the way back to the 18th century, a red flag is basically a warning sign. Red flags are used to indicate everything from military exercises to wildfire danger to hazardous swimming conditions at the beach. 

In the context of dating and relationships, red flags are signs to watch out for. It doesn’t mean everything we suggest as a red flag should be considered an immediate deal-breaker. Rather, it’s something you should pay close attention to, no matter how charming or attractive your date might be. 

Have you ever been on a date and something just didn’t feel right? Too often we ignore our gut if we can’t pinpoint an actual behavior that’s out of line. But some red flags can be incredibly subtle. That’s why knowing what to look out for can be so helpful. Next time you get that funny feeling, you may be able to spot some of these red flags and that might give you the extra incentive you need to trust your gut. 

Without further ado, here is a (non-exhaustive) list of dating red flags to look out for: 

They don’t take no for an answer

Personally, I don’t think game playing is a good idea. But a friend of mine has a technique she uses when chatting with potential hookups online that’s got a lot of merit. She finds something to say no to. Maybe it’s the time of the meeting, maybe it’s the suggested location — the details don’t matter. What she’s looking for is how the potential date will take no for an answer. If they throw a fit, then she saves herself the time, headache, and potential risk of going on the date. 

While you might not be able to screen for this before meeting up, it is something you should keep in mind. The ability to take no for an answer is essential. Not only is it an important sign of emotional maturity, but it’s an indicator of how seriously they take consent. 

They don’t ask you questions

Asking questions is one of the best ways to get to know someone — so what does it mean if your date doesn’t ask a single one? It may be a sign they’re more interested in finding an audience than a partner. If a person is simply looking for anyone to be with — and who they are doesn’t matter — that can spell trouble. While this one factor isn’t enough to judge by, being overly self-interested from day one can be a sign of narcissism

Remember, people tend to be on their best behavior on first dates and at the beginning of relationships. So if they don’t care about your thoughts and opinions now, that trend is unlikely to improve. 

Excessive alcohol or substance use 

Everyone has their own comfort level with substance use, and I’m far from a teetotaler. But excessive use of substances right off the bat can be a bad sign. On one of the worst first dates I’ve ever been on, the fella ordered 3-4 shots and beer combos in about one hour all while I sipped a single cocktail. It was enough for him to get messy, lunge towards me for a kiss (without asking) and for the bartender to make sure he wasn’t driving. No thank you. 

Luckily, I’d paid for my own drink when I’d ordered so I was able to bounce as soon as it was clear things were going sideways, without having to deal with getting the check. (I suggest you borrow this strategy, too.) 

Love bombing 

Love bombing is when someone comes on way too strong, right from the beginning. Constant texts, compliments, and talk about your future together may seem romantic, but love bombing is a bad sign. I hate to spoil the idea of love-at-first-sight, but love bombing is a textbook manipulation tactic utilized by everyone from narcissistic abusers to people recruiting for cults. 

If something seems too good to be true, it probably is. 

They badmouth their exes

You can learn a lot about someone by how they talk about other people, and especially about their exes. And if someone’s first-date banter relies heavily on stories about their “crazy” exes, that’s a sign for you to run. 

Listen, we all get a pass for one or two duds in our dating history — but that doesn’t make our exes fair game for verbal abuse, name-calling, or laying blame. And if you do have a true horror story about a past relationship, that’s a subject better covered once you’ve established trust and intimacy. 

Insults, put-downs, and “teasing” 

How many times have you seen someone test the waters of what they could get away with by insisting “it was just a joke” when their comment doesn’t land well? Worse, maybe they blame you for not being able to take a joke, or not having a sense of humor. 

Remember that people are usually on their best behavior on first dates, and early in relationships. If they’re unkind from the start, it’s a frightening preview of what the future may hold. 

Overwhelming negativity

Traffic was terrible, parking was a joke, and now the food is inedible. And don’t even get them started on the service! If everything out of their mouth sounds like an insult or a complaint, it might not be long before that negativity is aimed at you, too. Maybe they’re just having a bad day, but make sure this is a one-off and not a trend. 

Dishonesty

In the days of photo filters and everyone on the internet being 6’1,” it’s getting harder to draw the line between what might be a harmless white lie or exaggeration, and signs of something more troubling. Keep an eye on this behavior — if your date has a tendency to lie about small things, they may lie about bigger issues, too. In a worst case scenario, small lies can be a test, seeing how trusting you are and how much they can get away with. 

In the instance of lying about height, it could be a reasonable way to get around ridiculous dating filter settings, or it could be a sign that someone isn’t comfortable with themselves. In this instance, look for other signs of a lack of confidence. Low self esteem can spell relationship trouble, and can be a sign someone needs a therapist more than a new relationship. 

You should consider any lies that impact your safety as more than a red flag, instead, those lies are deal breakers. For example, if someone lies about other partners or their STI testing results, they’re robbing you of the ability to give informed consent. 

Jealousy 

Our culture has a love/hate relationship with the concept of jealousy, and that makes it difficult to know how much is too much. Luckily, it’s not feeling jealousy that’s the real problem, it’s how the person handles their feelings. 

Everyone feels jealous sometimes. The question is, what do you do about it? If your date expresses their jealousy by blowing up with anger, invading your privacy, or trying to control your actions, that’s an absolute red flag. 

 

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