The first stage of dating someone can be exciting, invigorating, and intoxicating — but it can also be perilous if you’re not careful. If you see too many of these red flags flying instead of fireworks, you might want to look for love elsewhere.
Illustration by Sam Woolley.
They’re Rude To Waitstaff, Ushers And So On
If you’re meeting Joey for dinner, and he’s rude to your server for no reason, it’s a good indicator of how he treats people in general. He might be all smiles toward you early on, but that’s because he’s still trying to impress you. The same red flag applies to any service industry folk, like ticket takers, ushers, baristas and bartenders. But, as Lifehacker US commenter There Wolf, There Castle points out, you should watch how they relate to all people in your vicinity. If Joey is being rude to your server and making rude comments about a couple at a different table, he’s probably just a rude dude. Commenter g101010101 suggests that if your date is genuinely kind to people around you, they are probably a genuinely kind person all around. When Lifehacker US we asked what the biggest dating red flags were, this one was mentioned the most.
They Try to Push Past Your Boundaries
Finding love should never mean being uncomfortable and doing things you don’t want to do. We asked dating columnist and Kotaku contributor Dr Nerdlove about dating red flags, and he recommends you watch out for “boundary-pushing behaviour”:
You tend to see this most often around sex – someone trying to convince you to do things you’re not ready for or interested in yet – but it can show up in a number of different ways. It can be as obvious as ignoring soft no’s, or not stopping when asked, to demanding reasons why. One way people will try to push boundaries is to use silence and disapproval, sometimes known as a “freeze-out” in order to get you to agree to what they want.
Vanessa Marin, licensed marriage and family therapist and Lifehacker contributor, agrees that someone pressuring you to have sex is a major red flag. If you’re not interested, that’s that. Giving in to their unwanted advances now will only encourage the same boundary pushing behaviour later on. If they can’t respect your boundaries this early into your relationship, you don’t want to be with them.
Not all boundaries are sexual, however. Your date sharing too much personal information too soon can be a boundary-pushing red flag as well. As commenter ImprobableJoe explains, if Sally is telling you extremely personal things over your first cup of coffee together, there could be some more serious emotional issues at play. If you ask Sally if you can buy her a drink, for example, and she declines and explains that she has a bad history with alcohol, that’s OK. But if Sally is telling you her deepest, darkest secrets just to make idle conversation, it may signal that her definition of personal boundaries is much different than most people’s. Her sharing things isn’t necessarily bad, but if it makes you uncomfortable, it’s definitely a red flag for you.
They Get Too Serious Too Fast
Everyone should date at their own comfortable pace. If Greg is pushing you for commitment early in the dating process, Nerdlove explains it’s likely because of his insecurity or lacking emotional intelligence. Greg is trying to “lock you down” before you have the chance to recognise his flaws. Commenter RollinNicaStyle calls it “love bombing”. Your date says and does everything perfectly, as if they were in a cheesy romantic comedy or romance novel. They’re so flattering they lure you in and try to make things serious as fast as they can. Remember, if things seem too good to be true, they probably are. Marin also suggests you watch for your date acting possessively, checking in on you and wanting to know where you are all the time. It could be a sign they’re clingy or possessive, both of which are stifling and bad signals for a future relationship.
Be aware of your date's expectations of you as well. As commenter The Knitigator points out, if Greg is looking for you to "restore his trust" in people or undo all the damage done to him by previous significant others, that's way too much pressure on you early on. Also, if Greg tells your landlady that he's moving in without you knowing, or gives you a key to his place after only three dates -- run.
They Act Irresponsibly
If your date isn't capable of handling some of the basic responsibilities that go along with being a dating adult, or worse, totally shuns them altogether, you should re-evaluate your relationship with them. There's nothing wrong with being a child at heart, but according to Lifehacker US readers, here are some examples of "Peter Pan Syndrome" red flags:
- Financial irresponsibility: They blow off their bills, they pay for everything with one of their dozens of credit cards, they expect you to pay for everything (or ask you to pay for things like their bills, debt and so on), or it's obvious they spend way more than they can afford. The opposite can be a problem too, especially if you're money-conscious. If they seem to spend endlessly or don't value money the way you do, that's a bad sign too.
- Clinging to their parents: Depending on their age and circumstances, a date who lives with their parents may or may not be a red flag. There's a big difference between a recent university graduate getting on their feet and a 38-year old crashing in their mum's basement because they don't feel like living on their own. If their parents are dropping them off for your date, however, and are reviewing your plans for the evening, that's definitely a red flag. Odds are you're not a teenager anymore -- you don't need to date like one.
- Inappropriate social behaviour: There's a time and place for certain humour, conversation topics and other behaviour. If your date seems openly immature or oblivious to major social norms on your first few dates, it will likely only get worse as they get more comfortable with you.
Your date doesn't have to act like a fuddy-duddy grown-up all the time, but the last thing you want is to pick up their slack, date someone emotionally your junior or have to teach them how to be an adult. You want to be a partner, not a parent.
They're Flat Out Disrespectful (Beyond Playful, Mutual Teasing)
Poking fun at each other can be cute, but there's a line. Nerdlove recommends you watch for negging or other disparaging remarks:
There's playful, flirty teasing and then there's backhanded "compliments" and straight-up insults. Even if they're not playing PUA [pickup artist] status games, they're still indicating a lack of respect for you.
If Amanda says something that comes across as truly hurtful, say something about it. If Amanda doesn't stop, or it gets worse because you brought it up, there's clearly a problem. Commenter LARPkitten suggests Amanda may be trying to break down your self-esteem and gain the upper hand so she can control you. If you leave it unchecked, it could lead to an abusive relationship down the line.
Disrespect can come in all shapes and sizes, though, and it's not always easy to read. Your date may be judgemental about your appearance or lifestyle. Or they may assume things about your culture or background, regardless of what you tell them. As commenter Book Club Babe explains, disrespect can be veiled as well:
A pretty specific example is when a guy asks you how you "take care of yourself." That's essentially code for "Are you going to get fat on me?" I have a slender figure, but some douchenozzles get ultra-concerned when I tell them I don't particularly care about fitness... You are never going to be able to please a body-negative jerk like that.
Don't just listen to what they're saying, listen to how they're saying it. Implications can be just as disrespectful as straight-up insults, and they can be sinister and long-held.
They're a Drama Queen/King[video provider="youtube" id="hkK2AcOG854" size="xlarge" align="center"]
Some people live for drama. The video above, from Art of Manliness, explains these are the folks who go out of their way to stir up controversy whenever things seem a little flat or boring. The video is meant for straight men, but there are definitely "drama kings" out there as well, so the same advice applies to everyone. Nerdlove notes a few other ways to spot a "drama queen/king":
If they are always having some crisis that's never their fault, if they expect you to provide constant reassurances, drain the emotional energy out of you, or they get upset at signs that you have a life outside of them, then you should ditch them immediately.
Life is already dramatic enough, so save yourself the struggle and look for someone a little more level-headed.
They Play Games With You
No, not the fun kind of games. Love games, dating games, pick-up games, they all lead to people wasting their time and getting hurt. According to Nerdlove, if someone is actually interested in you, they should show it fairly consistently. If Billy keeps making and breaking plans with you, or always seems unavailable while giving you just enough attention to keep you stringing along, end it and find someone who respects your time. Commenter Cassandra.Sandra.Dee recommends you also look out for people who show a little interest, but expect you to insist on a date so they can always feel wanted. And commenter The ARTIFAQ suggests you watch for those who want to use you as some sort of tool or exotic fling:
How fixated she seems about race. When it seems like it keeps coming up and seems forced. In college, "I've never been with a black guy before." is hot. But we're adults now. I'm not looking for a damn tourist, and I'm not a tool to make your mother clutch her pearls. There's nothing "exotic" or "dangerous" about me. I'm just a dude who felt your game and liked your verbs.
Whoever you're dating should be interested in spending time together and getting to know you, not using you for an experience, a story to tell or more interested in "the chase" than actually connecting with another person. If they have only got one foot in the pool, it's time to climb out and dry off.
They Have Issues In the Bedroom
Sex is a big part of a normal adult relationship, but there are plenty of red flags that can appear in (and around) the bedroom early on. Marin suggests two major bedroom-related red flags to keep an eye out for:
- They refuse to talk about sex. If you've both established that you want to wait, that's one thing, but if you broach the subject at a reasonable time in the relationship (a la, not the first date) and they change the subject or never show any interest in discussing things with you, something is up.
- They want to have sex, but they're selfish about it. They only care about their pleasure and not about yours. They ask you to do things that they refuse to reciprocate, like oral sex for example.
Both of these red flags spell out trouble in the future. Either you'll be sexually frustrated, hoping they will finally come around, or you'll be constantly pleasing them in hopes they will eventually return the favour. Either way, there's no reason for you to spend time in a sexually unsatisfying relationship.
They Show No Interest In Your Interests (Or Worse, Deride Them)
The early stages of a relationship are all about getting to know each other's likes and dislikes, but that can't happen if your date only talks, thinks and cares about themselves. Many commenters pointed out this obvious red flag, but selfishness can actually manifest a lot of different ways.
For example, your cute date Lola might shrug off the things that matter to you, all the while expecting you to show interest in the things she likes. Or Lola won't stop bragging and talking about herself, and when she does give you a chance to talk she's just waiting for a chance to cut back in. Maybe Lola doesn't have any presence whatsoever, constantly glancing at her phone or getting distracted and losing track of the conversation. Perhaps worst of all, Lola does have nice things to say, but only about your appearance, or your possessions, and doesn't show any interest in getting to know you personally. A compliment is nice, but nothing but compliments makes it obvious what they're after. You hear those trumpets? It's a red flag raising ceremony.
However, Don't Let One Red Flag Ruin Everything
Red flags are generally bad, yes, but you also can't just give up every time you see one. That won't get you very far. Everyone has flaws, yourself included, and people deserve second chances to show you whether they're really raising a red flag, or they just haven't opened up yet. They may have been really nervous the first time they met you. Or maybe they acted selfishly at first because they wanted to impress you. Go beyond the first, awkward coffee date and try to get to know someone.
That red flag you noticed might not actually be red in the right light. Or you might realise they have so many, good qualities that you don't care if they're not into the same things you're into, or you don't like how they handle their money. Reader bettere offers some good advice and recommends you give someone a few dates before you pull the plug. Comedian Aziz Ansari and social scientist Eric Klinenberg cover this in their book Modern Romance, too. Their research suggests that healthy, long-lasting relationships rarely click on the first or even the third date. It takes time.
Obviously if they're really bad, or showing any of the more blaring warning signs we mentioned, don't waste your time with them. However, if you only notice a few red flags, or they're not glaring, they may be a product of nervousness or circumstance. Give them a chance to relax and get comfortable being themselves around you. Keep your eye out, but don't abandon ship every time you see one flapping in the wind.