How to spot red flags (in others and yourself)

red flags go both ways

Last week, after Hurricane Fiona hit the island, I decided to try dating again.  

Yes, I had sworn to be single for a year as I worked through some childhood trauma, but I was freaked out about weathering another storm alone and even more freaked out about a crush I’ve developed on a friend who is much, much older than me.  

So, using the excuse of wanting to find someone more age appropriate to crush on, I set up a profile on a dating app and within two days had booked my first date on Prince Edward Island.  

We met at a fast-food restaurant. He was recently out of rehab but he was charming and creative and funny, so we made tentative plans for a second date.

Did you notice what I just said there? Not the fact that he chose a fast-food restaurant for our first date (which is not the best, but a choice I can forgive). The second part. You know? Where I just casually mentioned he was recently out of rehab.

This is why I should not be dating right now.

I see a red flag like this (and yes, recently out of rehab is a huge red flag) and I just casually ignore it because, “Hey! He’s charming and creative and makes me laugh!”

In an ideal world those qualities paired with any red flag would trigger a protective cage that immediately blocks any further interaction with the flag bearer.  

Charming, creative and makes me laugh are my kryptonite (or rather, they used to be).

I once kept dating a guy who asked me to tell him a dirty story about his ex-girlfriend the first time we had sex because he was charming and creative and made me laugh.

It’s hard to see red flags when you’re wearing rose coloured glasses.

To be fair, prior to my first PEI date, I did Google dating someone in recovery to see if this was something I could do. The dominant advice was tread with extreme caution.

And even then, I caught myself thinking, “Maybe with the love of a good woman… “

Fortunately, I stopped that line of thinking in time. If I’ve learned anything from trying to change almost every man I’ve ever dated, it’s this: you can not change a man no matter how much changing they need.

Those early red flags need to be heeded: They point to landmines that will blow your heart and/or your sanity to smithereens.

That said, possibly because I haven’t had sex in seven months and was horny AF or possibly because I still have some dysfunctional default patterns to heal (and most likely both), I found myself immensely attracted to my new alcoholic friend.

Over the next 24 hours, we texted several times and spoke on the phone during which it finally hit me:

This guy didn’t just have one red flag, he had more than the Chinese national army.  

For example:

  1. He went on and on about how talented he was but didn’t have much history to show for it.
  2. He claimed to be interested in something I was interested in but later said he didn’t care about it.
  3. He wanted to discuss and define “our relationship” after one date.
  4. He started making jealous comments about my platonic activities involving other men, insinuated that I was sleeping with them.
  5. He got pissed when I was quiet on a phone call and accused me of scrolling and ignoring him when what was I was actually doing was processing everything he’d just said and wondering if I should just end it now.

I know! How could I let him go?

After all, he was not only recently out of rehab, he had all the early markings of a narcissist.

I know a lot about narcissists. As an empath, and someone who historically hasn’t had the best boundaries in relationships (and red flag radar), I’ve attracted my fair share.

Narcissists are emotional abusers who make you think you are crazy.

They play head games to control you so that you can give them what they crave – non-stop attention. Although they profess true love and suck you in by making you feel like you are special, they actually don’t care much about you or your needs– only what you can give them.  

Like a vampire feeds on blood, narcissists are emotional vampires who feed on your energy.

They suck.

In my early 20s, I dated one for three years and it almost killed me.

Two years ago, I accidentally mistook one for a good guy. We dated for a month, and it took me three months to recover (only to have him smear my name to others in our community – as I had fully expected him to do).

I suspect my last boyfriend would have revealed himself to be one had we dated longer. (He also had to be the centre of attention, liked to push my boundaries to see how far he could go and once said “I don’t care” when I told him something he was doing to me physically hurt.)

Narcissists like to jump into relationships fast and it’s super intense when they do.

I find new relationship energy hard to resist at the best of times but with a narcissist all that initial attention and flattery is like crack to my lonely inner child.

Fortunately, through therapy, I am learning to protect myself from them and other men who fall into the not-good-for-me category.

I’m also learning to allow my intuition to overrule my libido (as frustrating as that might be).

I know I’m with someone who isn’t good for me because my throat closes up and I feel like I’m choking.

I’ve ignored this sensation in the past to my detriment, but after the end of my last relationship cracked me open, I’ve become more aware of my own red flags:

  • sleeping with people on the second date
  • confusing lust for love
  • realizing I’m with the wrong person the moment the initial new relationship energy disappears
  • being hot and then cold and then hot again because I liked the sex and was afraid to be alone (only to eventually freeze the person out)
  • not being honest about my own needs in a relationship
  • dating when I know I won’t be sticking around (because, for example, I’m planning on moving to PEI)

It’s no wonder I’ve attracted some messed up people: I’ve been messed up.

But, I’m healing this.

And I’m spotting the red flags faster in others and myself.

Although I was horny as all hell, after that second conversation with my first date on PEI, I messaged him and said I didn’t think we were a good match and cancelled our subsequent date.

A few days later, I booked another date…

With my therapist.

They say, when you change the people you attract and are attracted to will change.

As my first PEI date showed me, I’m not there yet, but I do know this:

I’m on my way.

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    1. Yes. That is definitely a red flag. It was part of what prompted me to get into therapy myself: this need to be in a relationship. I think this year will be the longest I’ve been single (without a FWB or someone in my back pocket) in a long time.

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