This post is written in response to many requests from my clients who want to find someone to spend their life with but have become disillusioned with the whole process of dating. The thing I seem to hear most is, “How can I find the right person?”. The sub-text of this, of course, is “How can I find someone without getting hurt?”.
There are no guarantees but the odds can be swayed in your favour if you are able to spot and listen to any Red Flags.
Getting to know someone is a gradual process. Closeness (or emotional intimacy) is achieved through sharing vulnerability and not being bitten. In the beginning it’s like a dance, with each person sharing vulnerability gradually, in a reciprocal way. You are not going to know at the start if the other person has the same agenda as you (finding a loving partner) – even if they say they do. This statement of their agenda needs to be backed up by actions that fit that agenda. They might have the same agenda but be really difficult to be in a relationship with.
So, to minimise the likelihood of being significantly hurt, what are the Red Flags?
- Fast Forwarding the getting to know you phase – before you know it their toothbrush is resident in your bathroom and you seem to have committed to a week away next summer – and you only met them 2 weeks ago. Or, they have sent you an explicit photo before you’ve met them in person and have asked for one of you in return. Listen to your feelings, if it feels rushed and out of control, it is. Intensity is not the same as intimacy.
- Full on Attention. This is what you’ve been craving. However, some unscrupulous individuals use this as information gathering rather than genuine interest. They then use this information to appear like your ideal partner. This is a way of manipulating your impression of them. A clue here is an overly intense level of eye contact. Attention is not the same as interest.
- “Love Bombing”– according to the other person you are the most attractive, sexy, intelligent, well read, successful…..While those things may well be true, that other person doesn’t know you well enough to be able to decide whether this is true or not. Unscrupulous individuals use this method to create need and dependence. At some later date it will disappear and you may find yourself trying to please them to try and regain the love and closeness that was on offer at the beginning. Cults use this method to gain compliance.
- Self-Description. “I’m an honest guy” “I’m an easy going kind of girl” – again, an attempt to manipulate your impression of them before you’ve had chance to work out if that’s true or not. Pay particular attention to the same self-descriptive statements being made a lot (“mentionitis”). Anyone who is genuinely honest or easy going doesn’t need to make a statement about it because they know you will work that out.
- Mission Statements. Sometimes unscrupulous individuals will do the opposite of inflated self-description and will make an honest statement dressed up as a joke. “I’m a bit of a nightmare”, “You don’t want to get into a relationship with me”. This then absolves them of responsibility and blame if you continue to see them and they are a nightmare. It’s not their fault, after all they let you know right at the beginning.
- Blame – of everyone and anything else other than them. “My last partner was a psycho”, “So was the one before that” etc etc…..It might well be that they are in the anger phase of the loss of their previous relationship but if the blaming extends into other areas of their life too, like work, family and friends, pay attention.
- Poor Boundaries – this would include ignoring boundaries you clearly state e.g. “I’m not taking any calls this evening as I’m getting an early night” – then calling anyway or texting. Also, inappropriate sharing of information from work, family and friends (especially if it is of a confidential nature).
- Hero Speak –This can be either overt e.g. “I don’t know how they’re going to manage without me while I’m on holiday” or covert e.g. “I’m so glad I was able to be there as they were really struggling”. The covert form of this is harder to spot as it could be genuine kindness.
- Victim Speak – e.g. “I stayed with my psycho ex for so long because I wanted to be there for the kids”. The key clue here is sloping shoulders – an inability to take personal responsibility.
- Inability to say sorry – We all hurt those around us, usually unintentionally. The required response in order to repair the hurt is a genuine apology, which demonstrates empathy towards the person who has been hurt. If you still feel sore after an apology it’s likely it wasn’t heartfelt and genuine (see my post on Apologising here).
- Gaslighting –There will be times when the new person in your life hurts or disappoints you. A genuine apology is needed (see above). However, if they start to inflate your shortcomings or try to suggest the problem is with you for feeling the way you do (“You’re being over-sensitive”, “You have trust issues”) this is Gaslighting – a bid to deflect and distract from their own wrongdoings.
- Unkindness to people in a lower position e.g. rudeness towards a waiter/ checkout operator.
- Over Promising & Under Delivering – Again, an attempt to manipulate your perception of them. Those feelings of being let down you have – they are important. Inevitably we are let down from time to time but if there’s a pattern it’s a Red Flag.
- Unwillingness for you to meet family, friends, workmates. Although normal for a short time at the beginning of a relationship, this becomes suspect a few months in. Unscrupulous individuals who are putting on a facade find it very difficult to manage the tension that comes from one set of people who know them in a particular way and others. This leads to compartmentalisation – a defence mechanism. It’s important to see the new person in the context of their lives, how they relate to others, how others relate to them.
- Too Good To Be True –This is true of anything in life, if it seems to good to be true there’s something you’re not yet aware of. While that person will have many good qualities, they haven’t yet shown you their darker side.
I certainly wouldn’t advocate taking a checklist (even a mental one) on a date. It’s so important to listen to how you feel, both on the date and afterwards. A really important consideration is, after you’ve spent time with the person, do you feel more you or less you? This Red Flag list above is for anyone who feels that something is “off” about a person but can’t pinpoint why. Red Flags don’t necessarily mean you need to back off, just be cautious and pay attention.
Your heart is precious and needs you to keep it safe.