Wow! That handsome guy you just met a couple of weeks ago is really coming on strong! Is it love at first sight or is it….something else altogether? Sure he’s sexy, has a nice house and brings you a mini-orchid from Trader Joe’s every time he sees you. But why is your gut telling you to exit stage left?
Have you seen a red flag (or eight) that you’ve immediately dismissed because you are flattered by all of the attention you are getting from this overzealous new guy? Are you already making excuses for his behavior mere weeks into the relationship, or keeping potentially embarrassing information about how he treats you from your friends?
Take it from a divorce attorney/coach/mediator who has been handling divorces, custody disputes, and breakups for 25 years:
DO NOT IGNORE THE RED FLAGS.
If you do, you may very well find yourself years later — gutted, personality changed, confidence rattled, hair falling out, unrecognizable to yourself and your friends, and a stack of self-help books on your bedside stand with riveting titles like “How to speak to a Narc”.
Even worse, you could find yourself entangled in a long-term child custody battle or divorce proceeding while simultaneously trying to recover from years of emotional abuse. Nothing like the surreal feeling of sitting in a divorce attorney’s office to put an exclamation point on a relationship you had every sign would fail in the first place. So why go there?
Recognizing and (more importantly) acting on the red flags described below during the first few weeks of dating someone can save you time, misery, emotional abuse and keep you open and available for the emotionally well-adjusted person who is out there for you. One of the following red flags on its own may not mean much, but a combination of a couple or all means there is a problem. The dating process is a vetting process – be your own vigilant best friend and remain open to the red flags as they present themselves. Within four dates, you could very well have sufficient information in hand which could save you years of misery.
THE TEN RED FLAGS:
- He seems off, low affect, or odd on first date. During the first date (and even before you have the first date!) you may very well be excited or very physically attracted to this new hottie…but you also may have noticed that he has low affect, seems “off” or disconnected, or is just plain….well…weird. Maybe his cadence is off or his social skills are awkward. Maybe he is rude or dismissive of a friendly waiter, or “judgy” when you relayed something personal about yourself. Now…if his awkwardness is tied to being nervous about your first date, who are any of us to judge? He may very well be off his game or excited to meet you in his own right, but file this feeling in your mental dossier. If he exhibits none of the remaining qualities below, then this particular red flag may mean nothing.
2. Your gut is telling you “nope!”
This is a big one and a red flag all of us ignore when a new love interest is sexy and showering us with overwhelming amounts of attention (who doesn’t want that?) right out of the gates. But ask yourself — why is your gut telling you something is wrong? When you describe the new person to your best friend (or even yourself), why are you saying, “He’s very nice and attractive, BUT…..” Why the “but”? We are so willing to dismiss the gut instinct when we start to see a new dating partner, but your body is telling you something for a reason. Between your dependable gut and a stranger you have just met, you’re going to choose…the stranger?? If this was love at first sight, you would not have any reservations about him, but if your gut is tempering your excitement…listen to it.
3. His texts feel like tests.
Within the first few weeks of dating, it can feel great to receive a text from a new romantic interest. But do the texts feel like tests, set ups or traps? Is he peppering you with too many? Does he pout or punish you with silence when you don’t get back to him within 15 minutes? Are you getting a bunch of urgent texts when he knows you’re in a work meeting only to refuse to answer the phone when you are finished with that meeting? This is manipulation. Don’t ignore it.
4. He tells you he’s in love with you….within two weeks of meeting you.
Most of us have had a “love at first sight scenario” but this isn’t that. There isn’t any mutuality with this red flag. The rushed disclosure that he is “in love with you” or that he thinks you are his “soulmate” or that he has “never met anyone like you” feels disingenuous, transactional, oddly-timed and just plain too fast (because it is all of that). This revelation in the midst of an avalanche of attention right away is a huge red flag that this guy is not emotionally mature, has stunted emotional intelligence, is at the very least a jerk and at most has narcissistic personality disorder. Do not discount it just because he is easy on the eyes, looks good on paper or because in some way you like that he’s falling all over you. He may enter a hero, but he will exit a zero.
5. He reacts badly when you tell him to pump the breaks.
As an extension of #4, if you tell this new guy that you are flattered by his quick disclosure that he is in love with you, but nevertheless need him to slow down because you are concerned that he’s moving too fast, his response can be extremely telling. If he cops to it — if he immediately admits that he has let his feelings get the best of him and that he is simply excited to have met you and realizes he’s getting ahead of himself — this would show some emotional self-awareness and maturity. If, however, he seems put out, angry or frustrated that you aren’t expressing the same quick attachment, or is defensive that you’ve even pointed it out, this is a big red flag.
6. The first date feels like CIA-level interrogation.
First dates — even second and third and fourth dates — should be easy breezy. Conversation should flow and topics evolve — sometimes slowly. If on the first date, however, you feel like his questions are too personal, too much, and coming at you like he’s an eight-tentacled attorney cross-examining you, beware and be aware. You are allowed to make clear that you feel his questions are too much or too personal for a first date. The concern here is that he is information gathering and eliciting facts about you which will initially be used to bind you to him, and then used against you after he is done love bombing you. Take your own pulse: During your first date at a restaurant did you need to escape to the restroom just to take a break from the interrogation? Did the over-pressurized questioning leave you sweating or feeling anxious? This red flag can perhaps be forgiven if the new guy is nervous or is having a one-off evening because he’s excited to be on a date with you. But if this red flag arises in combination with any of the others…leave pronto!
7. You feel anxious when you see that you’ve received a text from him.
Or a voicemail. Or an email. Or are even sitting on a beach right next to him in what should be a zen setting. Even in the first few weeks, your body can start having physical responses to the anxiety and stress and “tests” this new guy is creating for you. Are your hands shaking after you pick up your phone and see a text from him? Does seeing a text from him make you feel happy but simultaneously put you on high alert and make you anxious? These physical responses can stem from cues you are already receiving that this individual is not a healthy match for you. You may already be learning to walk on eggshells around him or sense that he is not trustworthy. For example, maybe he has already thrown you under the bus a few times in front of his friends or family by disclosing something you told him in confidence only to portray it as a joke (its never a joke) when it is really intended to discredit you. Perhaps he is already making you feel as though you are failing the tests he has created for you despite having called you his “perfect soulmate” just a few weeks prior. Maybe you sense he is trashing you to his family and his “best” friends behind your back because he routinely trashes his family and best friends behind their backs. Better to listen to any physical responses NOW and exit stage left before this becomes your reality for years. The longer you remain in it, the harder it will be to leave, and your health will decline as a result.
8. He pouts or ghosts you as punishment.
Even in the first few weeks, lover boy may suddenly go MIA, ghost you, give you the silent treatment, shoot you a dirty look, or sabotage confirmed plans as a means to punish you for any number of things. This isn’t normal, healthy, emotionally-intelligent behavior. Maybe he’s upset with you because you didn’t text him back in 5 minutes a few weeks ago and he’s still not over it, or maybe he’s pouting because you accomplished something special in your work day which takes the spotlight off of him. Maybe he’s mad because you didn’t tell him you love him quickly enough (by his standards), or you didn’t help clear the table (even though you had) — who knows? If you are punished with silence for an entire weekend for ridiculous reasons, or made to feel like your heels are against the wall for no articulated reason at all, you are free to say adios. And should.
Whether your new fella has a personality disorder like narcissistic personality disorder or is just a garden-variety jerk (does it really matter?), the onset of what I call “the language of devaluation” will already have made its presence known in the first few weeks of dating, and will only devolve from there if you choose to remain (thus devaluing yourself!). This devaluation process will not be pronounced in the initial month because this guy is putting his best foot forward to lock you in. But yes, his veneer will slip a few times within the first few dates to the point you will pick up on it. Maybe this new guy has tossed you under the bus in front of his friends by relaying something you shared with him in confidence (only to claim he was joking — it wasn’t a joke), or he has embarrassed you, lied to you, or dismissed your opinion about something because it doesn’t align with his. Maybe he has already missed an important event in your life or a confirmed holiday celebration — thus placing the entire spotlight on his absence or drama. The messaging — through both words and conduct — can be subtle at first but will become more overt. The message is this: you mean nothing to him. His life is to be given priority and you may not even be 4th on the totem pole. You will rarely feel like you are on a team because he never shows up for you in your life, and if he does show up, he will make sure you know how much it inconvenienced him. This language of devaluation is a tactic implemented by narcissists/emotional abusers and jerks alike. Pay attention and advocate for yourself by ending the madness before it begins.
This last red flag may be the hardest to figure out in the first month of dating. If he gaslights you, you may need it to happen a few times before you realize its happening. If you’re anything like me, you’re so perplexed by the notion that someone would gaslight you in the first place — and the other person seems so convincing when he says that you are wrong — that you do the very thing that gaslighting is intended to do — you question yourself! When you realize that you are maintaining an “evidence dossier” — that you have learned to keep every text from him, every email and every voicemail to prove that prior discussions, agreements, and plans did, in fact, take place — you are officially in the gaslight zone. Maybe he flaked on a confirmed plan and claims he was unaware of the plan in the first place (as though you would make up that entire conversation/plan by yourself). Maybe he claimed that he “never got your texts”….as he’s standing right in front of you, phone in hand, scrolling passed your texts. Do not allow yourself to be drawn into the crazy-making by pulling out your phone to “prove” that you had plans together on Saturday night by sending screen shots of your text conversation to him. This is emotional abuse.
Perhaps with so much current focus being placed on narcissism, NPD, narcissistic abuse and personality disorders generally, its not a surprise that these concepts and the red flags that point to them are more and more obvious to family law attorneys, life/divorce coaches and mental health practitioners. If someone has failed to recognize her partner is a narcissist (or simply a jerk), or has convinced herself that she is the one person who can change the narcissist by embarking on a full-fledged relationship or marriage, the damage and recovery will be much more pronounced than it would be if an exit was made during the initial dating phase.
Our time on this planet is precious and limited — the minimal investment in time to vet potential romantic partners during a mere few dates is worth it when taking into account the amount of time which could be lost to emotional abuse, PTSD, recovery, future disputes and even custody battles. There is no guaranty, of course, that dating an emotionally well-adjusted adult won’t lead to divorce — good people get divorced after perfectly good marriages every day. There is near certainty, however, that a relationship with someone with NPD will be miserable and will end.
Give yourself the benefit of a good decision. If it comes down to relying on your gut or overlooking myriad red flags to be with someone who is already making you feel miserable, confused and lonely….choose you.