Unfortunately, dating can feel overwhelming, exhausting, and hopeless at times. People can be misleading in their dating profiles. Ghosting is rampant. And flakiness is so bad that often people are unsure if a date will follow through and happen until they’re sitting at the restaurant in front of their date. What keeps us trudging through this difficult activity? The possibility and promise of finding love.
Sometimes we can be so focused on finding our forever partner that we can overlook some pretty big warning signs. The old adage that “love is blind” is real - we ignore the signs that trouble is ahead because if we faced the truth, we’d be back at square one and single. Our society is very good at making us value being in a relationship above all else, but so rarely do we see healthy relationships modeled for us. So, we do some extreme mental gymnastics to justify the other person’s behavior. We think, maybe this is just a one-time thing, not a pattern. Or they’ve told you about a difficult upbringing so it’s excusable. Or they’re going through a rough time, so it’s okay they’re taking it out on you. Or - the best one - maybe you can fix them!
It’s normal to evaluate your relationship and to wonder about what is normal or abnormal – and to see through the haze of your upbringing and socialization a therapist can be a helpful objective guide! Here are some simple guidelines to build off of to check red flags at the door!
It’s important for me to state that when you see one of these, you don’t necessarily need to cut and run right away. But stay vigilant, seek guidance and notice patterns.
This term gets thrown around a lot, so it’s important you know what it means. Gaslighting is when someone manipulates your words, emotions, or a specific situation to make you question your own sanity. Gaslighting looks like someone who responds, “You’re crazy” or “Are you listening to yourself” or “Ugh, not this again,” when you express feeling hurt by them. If you recognize gaslighting tendencies in someone you’re dating, you probably want to take a step back. This is someone who probably will not take responsibility for their actions, might not be able to empathize or value your feelings, and could manipulate situations to their benefit.
Love bombing is a common manipulation tool for narcissistic partners as well. It is when your partner floods you with affection and adoration far too early in a relationship. If you are feeling overwhelmed by the amount of gifts, love notes, and compliments from a new partner, listen to that discomfort. As good as it feels at times to be adored, love bombing is usually temporary and a great way for a new partner to get you on the hook and make it hard for you to leave. People in long-term relationships that start with love bombing often question what happened to the person they first dated - because the bombing rarely lasts.
Mixed messages can be a sign of manipulation, yes, but, more importantly, it’s showing that this person cannot be authentic with you. Look for someone who makes their intentions clear, sets up plans with you in a reasonable time frame, and communicates on a consistent basis. Mixed messages can mean a lot of things - they’re just not that into you, they’re seeing other people, they don’t respect your time. But turn the table back on yourself - if you’re spending hours of your day trying to decode a new partner’s texts, or lack thereof, you’re spending valuable emotional energy on someone who isn’t valuing you like you deserve.
Speaking Poorly of Past Partners
Most of us have gone through a breakup and can attest that even really toxic relationships had their good moments. I encourage you to grieve the good times! Someone who calls their ex “crazy” not only probably hasn’t processed the breakup in a healthy way but might not be able to acknowledge or take accountability for their role in the breakup. And, as we all know, it takes two to tango. Speaking poorly of past partners may be a sign that they have trouble respecting their partners in relationships.
You Are Their Only Friend
Someone who doesn’t have a community of their own may look to you to fulfill all of their emotional needs. We are relational beings at our foundation, and we thrive in community. If someone wants to spend tons of time with you at the beginning, be sure to question whether there are other people in their life they can turn to for friendship. Someone who only has you becomes someone whose emotions you could eventually become responsible for. It’s very difficult to leave a relationship with someone like that after a while because you feel like if they don’t have you, they will have no one - and very few people want that on their shoulders.