Ah, dating. A lovely break from the unending pressures and responsibilities besetting adults across the country. Getting to intimately know someone new is exciting in its spontaneity and mystery. This is the ideal time to relax and let our guard down with company we enjoy more than our own solitude.
Or is it?
Just as there’s much to see in the good of someone new, there are also red flags to watch for. When we’re new to building a lasting bond with someone, we aren’t great at picking up early warning signs. We may not know what we’re doing, why, or what to expect. For various reasons, some are never even able to recognize signs of trouble the more experienced they become.
We may not want to come off as someone who feeds on negativity, but observing behavior isn’t naturally negative. We are free to, in our own heads, observe troubling signs/red flags of potential issues in a partner. They’ll never know about it.
Most have a mental list of “red flags” they watch out for when dating. Some lists are more extensive than most, having dealt with nightmare partners to build those lists up. But we don’t want our readers to exchange nightmares for knowledge, so we’re going to do the work for you. Here are a few red flags everyone should pay attention to when dating someone.
1. They haven’t matured yet
“Age is just a number” and clichés are just exhausting. It’s not unheard of for some to mature quicker than others, but maturity is more than being able to talk about world events and classic music. If someone is having trouble keeping a job, managing their finances and personal space, planning for their future, or taking care of themselves in general; they may not have finished growing up just yet.
This leaves far less energy to spend with you, and even less on your issues when they come up. It’s not that they’re emotionally unavailable, they’re just mentally unavailable for the time being. You may find it hard to depend on someone who hasn’t matured yet.
E.g. someone’s appearance for a date speaks to their perception not just of their date but dating itself. You’ve taken time-consuming steps to ensure you look your best. They showed up in flip-flops, bed-head, and bad breath. It’s an easy red flag to find when someone can’t see the value in making a good impression to a potential partner.
2. They’re rude to people
For better or worse, it’s much easier to see this particular side of someone mid-pandemic.
Someone who’s mean to others for seemingly no reason most likely has a litany of issues to be worked on before they’re ready to date. They’re treating others rudely because they’re comfortable doing so from a perceived lack of consequences for their actions.
If they’re snarky with servers, impatient with cashiers, or irate over an innocent inconvenience: run. Rude behavior towards strangers is a good indicator of how they’ll eventually treat you. And seriously, it’s just extra gross to mistreat service workers.
Everyone has habits and ways we prefer doing things because it’s what we know best. A partner who can point out how to do something better for our sake is tremendously valuable. A partner who insists you do something their way is someone who will try to control your life. They tend to suffer from jealousy issues in their relationships which could be directed at your relationships with others. They may even try to wedge you from significant people in your life (family, friends, boss, etc.). These are the ultimatum experts that will make you choose them over others as an expression of “love”.
4. Family/friends don’t like them
Think of your family and friends as an extension of yourself and who you are. Your family is where you first began to learn interests, principles, and values. Your close friends are those you most likely share interests, principles, and values with. When your friends and family get to meet your partner, they’re doing so without the bias you view them through. If they’re objectively concluding that they aren’t right for you, it helps to hear them out on why and how.
These are people you undoubtedly have similarities with, and they only want you to be happy. One friend having doubts may be an exception. Most of your friends/family disapproving is a warning.
5. Bad communication
Everyone has a bad day or two. Sometimes, we feel as if we’re getting a whole string of bad days right in a row. How someone communicates about these problems is telling in their emotional maturity. Some find it difficult to express how they feel or discuss issues. Times that call for vulnerability and openness are replaced with distance and silence. They will typically leave their partner hanging to figure things out on their own. The few expressions they offer can be through moodiness or even the feared “silent treatment”. If they don’t care how their behavior is making you feel, don’t expect them to become more considerate of you or their communication.
6. Lack of trust
There are many people who find certain topics more difficult to discuss than others with people they’re unfamiliar with. People who rightfully steer clear of speaking about things that may trigger undesirable emotions in them. These are not the people referenced when we bring up a lack of trust.
The old saying “trust until given a reason not to trust” may as well be lumped in with the rest of the tired, antiquated clichés. The action that loses your trust takes place before you learn about it. Always be mindful of instances that would make you question your trust in them.
If you wait for their violation of your trust to begin questioning what seems off, you’re already playing catch up. Not all trust violations are malicious and calculated. They may simply be a coping habit or unhealthy, learned ways of communicating from their upbringing or beyond. But being lied to is as much of a “no-brainer” of a red flag as we can hope for.
7. Unable to accept responsibility/accountability
Someone unable to hold themselves accountable for actions that hurt their partner lacks integrity, respect for themselves and their partner. A common trait in those suffering from personality disorders, this stubborn attribute only spells disaster for your mutual future. Someone unable to take responsibility loves taking credit for anything and blaming others for everything. Unfortunately, the delusion required to maintain that existence isn’t good for your mental health. If you notice they have an issue with “ownership”, don’t be afraid to address it head on. If they’re still unable to own their mistakes, you’re better off walking away.
Insecurity issues while dating can stem from within yourself, but also from how their partner behaves towards you. As a relationship progresses, we’re inclined to build on shared experiences that strengthen your connection. However, rather than moving forward in that direction, you find yourself uncertain of your place in the relationship. The reassurances you may justly seek seem fleeting and disingenuous. Some have little problem keeping the relationship steady for both individuals, but many aren’t as fortunate.
Conversely, there are many people who only date because of their need to feel needed. They will build an entire identity around themselves as someone too good to be without just to find a partner as quickly as possible. However, a personality finding happiness in the attention of many may find it difficult to transition to the attention of one. They tend to have higher, often unreasonable, demands to feel secure and satisfied. This dynamic is hard to avoid being the focal point of a relationship. As a result, there will be little room for growth as a couple or individuals.
9. Sensing disinterest
Have you ever found yourself bearing the responsibility for a conversation? Coming up with topic after topic, questions, and anecdotes just to receive short, closed responses face-to-face. They don’t elaborate, they don’t expand on any thoughts, they don’t ask you questions in return. The most socially awkward of us will still be able to indulge in light conversation. Finding them unable to reciprocate simple banter may leave you facing an uncomfortable truth in their overwhelming lack of interest. Don’t ignore that. The first stages of dating are supposed to be the most filled with gleeful intrigue. If the beginning is lacking in even subtle interest, it doesn’t stand to get much better the deeper you go.
A general red flag is anyone oddly possessive and secretive over their phone. Psychology hasn’t yet come up with a decent enough explanation for such behavior. This isn’t a case of you snooping through their phone or asking to look through it. This is more you wanting to use their phone to check the time and as you reach for it, they jump to snatch it away. If you weren’t suspicious before, you sure are now.
10. Troubling past relationships
We all know what a big red flag it is when someone won’t stop dumping on their exes during a date. But if you care to venture a bit further, another red flag is the non-resolution of said past relationships. This isn’t exclusive to only intimate relationships, it also applies to friends, family, and even co-workers.
They’re unable to figure out why past relationships didn’t work or consistently blame others for the relationship failure. Most likely, even talking about their past relationships will make them visibly annoyed. That could also be a sign of lingering emotional investment which, unsurprisingly, leaves little room for a new emotional investment. This is a pretty big tell for someone unable to accept responsibility. If you listen to them prattle on about how every person in their past has mistreated them while they’ve done nothing to warrant it, you can make a safe bet they’ll do the same to you.
I saved the easiest, but most important, for last. There is never an acceptable instance of abuse. Full stop. Physical, emotional, mental, verbal, and even spiritual abuse are all instant deal breaking parade banners of a red flag. The issues that led to such behavior nor the behavior itself should be your issue. You didn’t hurt them, but you can’t help them through a relationship. Someone suffering from an abusive nature should seek counseling/therapy to understand the source and treat themselves. All you have to do in that situation is leave and don’t look back.
We should mind how we view these warning signs. Some red flags are universal deal-breakers while some are more like yellow flags. Issues to be aware of and work on, but not things that should have you running for the hills. However, keeping an eye out for the negative doesn’t mean you’re someone who can’t appreciate the positive. You’d be wise and forgiven to approach dating with a healthy dose of experienced caution instead of youthful naivete.
People may be overly guarded because of their own bad experiences in previous dating/relationships. Some may be overly guarded because they’re hiding who they really are along with ulterior motives. Everyone is different with a different story; a different path leading us to each other. Trust in your instincts, know your observations. It’s up to us how to navigate an intimate connection, but we stand a much better chance arming ourselves with wisdom.
National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Call the HelpLine at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), Monday-Friday, 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. ET or email firstname.lastname@example.org. If you’re in crisis, text NAMI to 741741.
National Suicide Prevention Hotline. 800-273-TALK (8255)
Self-Injury Outreach and Support. Learn and/or share personal stories while learning coping skills for the urge to self-harm.
If you enjoyed learning about picking up on red flags while dating, you’ll love this article that shares insight on how to trust more efficiently while cultivating confidence.