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Dating & Relationships

How To Spot Dating Red Flags

You start talking to someone new. It is going well and maybe you meet up for a date. Suddenly the conversation takes a weird turn. Did they really just say or do that? Should you be concerned? What things should you look out for when vetting a new person for a potential romantic partnership?

What Is A Red Flag?

Keep an eye out for any communication that alerts you to a potential issue in the future. This can be verbal or non-verbal. It can also be direct or indirect messages you receive based on their actions, behaviors, ideals and values. The key is to listen for incompatibilities or non-negotiables that could become issues in the future. These little pieces of information are called Red Flags. Just like ski slopes have red flags at the tops of cliffs; these are warnings that, if you continue going this way, your path will become dangerous and you will likely get hurt.

Defining Red Flags

That definition a red flag was vague on purpose, because it leaves room for personal preference and individual differences. A red flag for you may not be a red flag for me. You probably already intuitively react to certain things without realizing it, and the reason is that a red flag is because it is tied to how you feel. Realize what things in relationships give you that Ick feeling, get curious about why you are feeling that way, and then tie it back to a value. Once you do that, you will be close to identifying what red flags should be on your personal non-negotiables list.

Examples of Red Flags

I have the examples of red flags broken into two categories below. The fist is personal red flags; these are things specific and unique to you and what you want out of your relationship. The second category are Attachment-based red flags that alert you to a person’s potential for insecure attachment.

Personal Red Flags

Let’s start by exploring personal red flags. Actions, behaviors, ideals, and communication in this category will not be red flags for everyone; it is up to you to define these for yourself. Personal red flags are usually tied to values and will be in these subcategories: 1. Finances, spending, and saving, 2. Religious customs and celebrating, 3. How to spend down time, 5. Levels of commitment, 6. Views on sex and intimacy, and 7. Family planning and relationship roles.

Take time to think about these subcategories. Write out what your thoughts are on each of these and identify ways you might be able to tell when someone is not aligned with your values. These ‘tells” will become the red flags you look for.

If you have not noticed, I am HUGE on communication, so I have a few red flags on my personal list that involve communication style. My biggest red flag is condescending, rude, or dismissive use of language; things that feel like a pat on the head like being called “cute” or “hun”. Another communication specific red flag is explicit disclosure of toxic behavior. Do yourself a favor and take what they say seriously, especially if they say the following sentences:

  1. I’m selfish (read: I don’t look for win-win solutions during conflict)
  2. I don’t want to hurt you (read: I am less invested in this that you are)
  3. I’m not ready for a relationship (read: I am in a self-discovery phase)
  4. I’m hard to live with/love (read: I don’t take responsibility for my actions)
  5. I’m not good at relationships (read: I am not willing to learn about what it takes to meet the needs of my partner)

Attachment based Red Flags

These red flags are tells for what the person’s attachment style is and how they will show up in a relationship. Remember, the attachment styles are Avoidant, Anxious, Ambivalent, and Secure. We are going to look at common red flags for people who primarily attach as Avoidant, Anxious, and Ambivalent. As a bonus we will also look at common red flags for narcissistic behavior.

Avoidant Red Flags- They have high expectations and are looking for the perfect match; they use the desire for an ideal perfect match as a buffer to stay non-committal. They use humor to deflect feelings, don’t initiate conversations, and don’t disclose anything about previous relationships or why they ended. They have few real friends and lack a support system. They are hyper-independent, showing a lack of capability to relate interdependently. They cannot take responsibility for their part; can’t or wont apologize when appropriate. They don’t text or call when they say they will or change plans last minute. They cancel or ghost dates. They check out, space out, or dissociating during conversations, especially when things get difficult.

Anxious Red Flags- They express love with words, acts, and gifts quickly and often (Love bombing). They exhibit boundary leaks like gossiping, dumping on you, or over disclosing about their previous relationships. They are always the victim in every previous relationship. They have tons of “best” friends and hate all of their ex’s. They take too much responsibility for their part and always say sorry for everything. They call or text incessantly, or expect you to call or text incessantly. They will stay on the phone with you for hours (self-abandoning behavior). They obsessively checking their phone and answer texts to other people while you are together.

Ambivalent Red Flags- Ambivalent’s exhibit a mix of avoidant and anxious red flags. Inconsistency is the big word here. They are inconsistent in the way they show up (all one time, nothing another time). Their words don’t match their actions. They change their mind often and are confused about what they want. They are not sure why their previous relationships ended. They lack preferences and say “I don’t know” often. They say something and then later say they didn’t mean it.

Note about Ambivalent attachment: People recovering from anxious attachment or abusive relationships will often be Ambivalent before they are healed enough to be secure. Neuro-divergent and neuro-Atypical people may also exhibit Ambivalent red flags.

Narcissistic Red Flags- They downplay or dismiss your feelings and experiences by saying you shouldn’t feel like that, or you should feel like this instead. They Inflate their own experiences and importance. They one up you. They don’t have empathy for differences and believe that their opinion is perfectly right. They tell grand stories about their life with little humility, cut you off, talk over you, or neg you. Negging is a backhanded compliment with an insult disguised as flirting; this is a common strategy in the pick up artist community.

Game Plan For Recognizing Red Flags

In order to spot red flags, first write your expectations and non-negotiattbles down, then keep your eyes peeled for them. Check in with yourself and your expectations after dates. Debrief with yourself and ask yourself these questions:

  1. Is this person meeting my expectations?
  2. Is this relationship going to support the life I want for myself?
  3. Am I being truly myself in this relationship?

Meet Red Flags With Curiosity

If you do spot a red flag, remember it is a flag not a truth. Red Flags alert us to a potential issue. You can absolutely decide that it is a no-go for you at any time for any reason. Also, consider taking this opportunity to flex your curiosity and voice so that you don’t run the risk of contributing to negative dating issues like ghosting, bypassing, or meaning making. Notice the red flag and then confront it in real time with the most curiosity and the least judgement possible.

People are not toxic, just like people are not truly one single attachment style, codependent, or narcissistic. No one is just one label. People can have toxic traits and behaviors, usually stemming from an unresolved trauma. This is not to demonize or label any specific person, it is to gain understanding and make better decisions on what is or is not serving you.

When To Trust The Red Flag and Bow Out

Once you decide that this red flag means exactly what you though it meant, and that this is a deal-breaker for you, what do you do next? This is the time to show up strong for yourself, advocate for yourself, and hold a boundary for yourself. This means communicating that this relationship will not work for you. Communicate in a way that is clear but not over-disclosing. They don’t need to know every detail of your process. Answer questions they have if they come up with discernment, but only if you want. Feel free to block or delete any unsafe people. Move on!

Get More Support

If you are working on being a more authentic version of yourself, work with me 1:1 to get more support through the process! Coaching packages are on the contact page- apply to see if you would be a good fit for my coaching container.