Knowing what you want is good. Learning what that is can be hard. Sometimes, ignoring glaring red flags — and paying the price for it — can teach us important lessons we couldn’t have learned otherwise. Other times, it can simply make fools of our oblivious, overly hopeful selves.
No one seeks out a doomed relationship but having been complicit in a handful, I can say with confidence that in most cases, the deep red flags waved vigorously from the start. I attribute my own blindness to an immature fear of emasculation, but every man brings a different set of baggage into their dating life. Whether you see yourself in me or something entirely different has shaped you, do not pass go without being on sharp alert for these six behaviors.
They talk about their ex a lot.
We walk into each date with some previous experience — lessons learned, fond memories, and exes we can’t forget. But what happens when a date brings these into conversation again and again? “I’m totally willing to look past it,” says Benjamin, 29. “It also depends on how they bring it up, because sometimes a lot of our identity is wrapped up in a previous relationship and so, naturally, it comes up.” Benjamin looks to see how a date’s tone and body language shifts when they talk about an ex to determine whether this is a problem or not. If their voice changes register and eye contact becomes difficult, he becomes concerned. But if his date doesn’t seem to squirm in physical discomfort and their eyes remain dry, he tries to move on and hope for the best.
As men, we tend to get a bad rap for our emotional unavailability. To counter this, I myself have indulged a date eager to give an unsolicited history lesson on past romances to prove I was a good listener. Whether this is problematic is a largely a matter of timing. “Talking about an ex from five months ago means they should just get a therapist,” says Jane Brown, LCSW, a therapist in New York City. “On the other hand, if the ex is from five years ago, then something is amiss.” If your date still chokes up while talking about their ex from high school, it’s time to read the signs and save your emotional availability for somebody who’s ready.
They get drunk real fast.
We hope an excessively drunk date got to that point unintentionally, but it’s worth examining whether we really should give them the benefit of the doubt. “If they are outgoing, fun, and really into me, then the questions I have about dependence or addiction become secondary to the fun we are having,” says Danny, 24. Forgiveness can be easy to find because, even though the person sitting across from you is inebriated, the date itself can be quite fun and sexy.
But while you might be having a mutually great, respectful date despite the alcohol, press pause. This could be a sign that they “are not in touch with the signals they are sending” by allowing alcohol to diminish their self-awareness, says Brown. Ask yourself, who are they without the alcohol? What do they feel about you then? If you aren’t sure, that’s a red flag.
They hate PDA.
Some find it sexy to express attraction in the public eye, some don’t. And that’s fair. But a real dilemma can emerge when a partner has a complete aversion to PDA in any form. “They may not be ready to declare the relationship public,” says Brown. When intimacy is reciprocated in private but not in public, an overwhelming number of questions emerge, that if unresolved, can hurt.
I, for one, have never confronted a partner about my desire for PDA for fear of sounding needy, immature, and unmasculine. But deep down, I know that compromising my need for unashamed hand-holding and kissing could lead to having two relationships with one person: one private and satisfying, the other public and frustrating.
They only hit you with “u up?” texts.
Sure, a late-night rendezvous can be fun, but when all your communication is vampiric, it’s worth assessing the situation in the light of day. If you two are on the same page and that doesn’t breed resentment, great. What we may miss by ignoring this pattern, however, is a loud-and-clear message.
Erik, 31, recalls dating someone without ever going on any “real dates.” “We made it clear that both of us just wanted to hook up.” Yet although they were supposedly in agreement, he was hurt. “My ego got burned a little because I’m usually under the illusion that someone likes me more than I like them. This was not the case.” As men, we sometimes believe physical attraction is enough, but the little “burn” that Erik speaks of could be a subtle sign of wanting something more.
They never offer to split the bill.
Money, perhaps, is so complicated because it plays into gender expectations — straight men have historically felt they are supposed to foot the bill early on in a relationship. And that’s rarely a good thing. “It seems like a lack of some kind of balance if you can only be the giver or receiver,” says Brown. “Rigidity is never attractive, and it can indicate a lack of emotional fluidity.”
Never offering to pay or to split the bill could be an indicator that someone isn’t ready for the give and take a relationship requires. Ask yourself what your date is revealing by holding fast to an ideology that presents potential romantic frustration down the line.
They strike you as obsessive.
Whether a partner can’t stop talking about food, exercise, their favorite YouTuber, or how incredible they think you are, a fixation of any sort can be revealing. According to Demarco, this could be a case of the “dilettante syndrome,” a fleeting state of obsessiveness, easily forgotten for whatever may grab them next. “If you observe they are obsessed with something for a moment, do they continue [the obsession] or just drop it? Is this something that carries on to other parts of their life? Perhaps this [behavior] could extend to you.” And when a partner becomes obsessed with you, it can feel so good that the negative side effects become irrelevant, at least until resentment strikes.
That’s what happened to Larry and a former partner, who was fixated on Larry’s success and talent. “The obsession hindered him from being himself,” Larry explains. Over time, he became concerned that the basis of their connection was rooted in what he did rather than who he was. Meanwhile, Larry’s boyfriend developed a fear that he didn’t deserve to be in the relationship merely because he placed Larry on such a high pedestal.
Don’t mistake obsession for passion; an obsession is all-consuming while a passion can be shared. It feels wonderful to be an object of desire, but you’re wise to be careful not to let this cloud your vision of what is healthy. “Like any red flag, this should stimulate you to want to go deeper in your observing and understanding of that person,” says Brown. “In turn, you do the same of yourself.”