You have found this great guy or gal. This person is good-looking, and the sparks fly between you. Your relationship, shiny and new, is off and running. You both have stars in your eyes. Nevertheless, if you are hoping for a long-term commitment you will want to watch for red flags.
So what would red flags be? Since human beings are endlessly varied, the possibilities are probably infinite in number. Still, the following problems often arise.
Needy people don’t take responsibility for creating their own happiness, and they seem to require constant attention from others. They may ask to see you every day. Alternatively, when you are together, they are talking or asking questions incessantly, and there are no easy, comfortable silences. Perhaps they are clowns, determined to crack a joke at every opportunity—to such an extent that real conversation becomes impossible.
Needy people depend on others to feel okay about themselves. They seem to need constant reassurance that they are okay and likable. Since you don’t have the power to make other people feel good about themselves, you should be wary of anyone who seems to expect you to. We all must take responsibility for our own happiness. Watch out for anyone who seems to want you to be responsible for theirs.
2. In a big rush
Some people seem to be in a hurry to nail down a relationship. From the first date they are saying how wonderful you are, how much they are attracted to you, and how they’ve found love at first sight. Suddenly they want to engage with you throughout the day and to see you every evening. You get multiple texts at work, although you’ve been out on only one date. They want you to commit to exclusivity almost immediately.
Like you, perhaps, such prospects are looking for a long-term commitment and marriage. They may have been disappointed in love recently or for a period of years. If you ask, they will say there’s no time to waste—“Let’s get started!”
The overpowering need to find a partner immediately is a warning sign. Maybe this is someone who is not happy and not accepting responsibility for him- or herself. One way of getting relevant information is to ask whether the other person has ever lived alone.
All of us need at least a year or two of life alone as adults before we settle down in a relationship. The time we spend in our own company teaches us what we need to keep ourselves on an even keel. With no one else on the premises, we have no one but ourselves to please.
In this way we learn whether we are morning or night people, how and when we like to eat, how and when we add music, television, relatives, and pets to our lives, and how we prefer to keep house. By learning about our own preferences we acquire a basic knowledge of ourselves that we can use as a reference point in any live-in relationship. Knowing what we must have for ourselves and what is negotiable, we are able to accommodate someone else’s needs while still managing our own.
Courtship with its mystery, romance, and the allure of anticipation is to be savored. To get to know someone else takes time. You need to build a backlog of shared experiences and common interests. You need to meet and hear about the other person’s family and friends. You need to see how you each handle conflicts and negative emotions such as anger, sadness, and disappointment. You can’t absorb this kind of knowledge intravenously.
If someone seems overeager to hop into bed after a couple of dates, to move in after the first month, or to marry after three months, object that haste makes waste. Just consider: if this relationship is so very important, what’s the rush? Shouldn’t we take our time to be sure that we get it right?
3. Empty promises
All of us have met people at one time or another who promise more than they deliver. One of the commonest red flags in a fledgling romantic relationship is someone who promises to do one thing and then does something else.
Perhaps he says he will call you tomorrow, and the day then passes with no word from him. Or she agrees to a date night out and then makes other plans, informing you at the last minute or not at all. Or the other person announces the intention of buying or doing something and simply fails to follow through.
These are well-known mixed messages. When you decode them, they tell you that the other person is unreliable. It’s almost as if the other person is saying: “Don’t count on me. I will let you down.” Obviously you don’t want to set any great store by someone with this bad habit. You want your partner prospect to be trustworthy.
4. Ghosts from the past
Another warning sign is people who claim to be divorced or free from troublesome relatives and yet appear to be constantly at the beck and call of these phantoms. Their ex is still around on the car insurance, the medical insurance, or the title to the house. Your prospect has had children with someone else, but the connection with the past partner appears to involve a lot more than coparenting. It seems freighted with emotion.
The warning signs in this case are preoccupation with the past. Look for evidence that the other person is still grieving the loss of the old relationship or is still angry and filled with blame for the breakup.
Such a person will not be free to commit to you and will not be able to invest in you emotionally. If grief, loss, and anger are still issues, you may find him or her constantly suspicious of you and unable to trust in other ways. Achtung!
5. Leaking anger
People who are constantly angry make difficult partners too. Perhaps they have been disappointed by key figures in the past. If they harbor anger with others long term, the chances are that they haven’t coped with the loss of past relationships. Their emotional energies are still tied up in the past, and they cannot prepare for the future yet. Worse, you may wind up on the receiving end of anger that is really meant for someone else.
6. Incessant blaming
Relationships are always two-way streets. Whether a past partner has been unfaithful, has complained of not being heard, or has drifted off after the kids finished school, your prospect should be able to acknowledge having contributed to this outcome. Breakups are never wholly one sided.
Even the woman who married a psychopath must realize that, monster though her mate was, she picked him, and something needs to change so that she doesn’t do it again. People who can only blame others for their misfortunes are not accepting responsibility for their own lives and are not learning from their mistakes.
7. Problematic history
Some red flags come in the form of catastrophes in childhood or the absence of expected events.
People who have no memories of childhood until about the age of eight (this is just an example) may be people whose childhood was so terrible that forgetting it was necessary for self-preservation. People who were physically abused as children may bear indelible scars—or they may have distinguished themselves as astonishingly resilient survivors, seemingly undaunted. People who saw combat duty in the military may have returned from the conflict traumatized, struggling to heal.
Another issue arises when someone has had no long-term relationships. A short résumé in this department is to be expected from teenagers and young adults, but people in their thirties and beyond need to demonstrate some sort of track record to prove that they have staying power and know relationships require give and take and compromise. A “my way or the highway” partner will be hard to live with.
8. Bad boundaries
Another possibility is that your would-be mate is too intent on pleasing others. All of us need to be able to set limits that let us take care of ourselves, and we must be able to do so without embarrassment.
I should be able to tell you easily that I don’t welcome phone calls after 9:00 pm, because I go to bed early. I should also be able to tell you that I need to take some space now, because I am tired and grouchy after a difficult day at work. In this way all of us minister to our own needs. If you don’t respect my boundaries, you are history!
Conversely, someone who isn’t able to set boundaries will be irritable and quick to explode in the face of one demand too many. Healthy people are relieved when others set boundaries, because most of us like to get along with one another. Clear boundaries facilitate communication between us and let us respect each other’s needs.
9. Need to control you
A special sort of boundary issue arises when a potential partner tells you how to deal with your mother, your boss, or your children. We all need to know, when problems arise, whose stuff it is, so that we can refrain from meddling in other people’s business.
It may well be true that problems between you and someone else affect your dearly beloved, especially if the three of you live under one roof. Nonetheless, the problem between you and the other person must be solved without your partner’s interference.
Control can also take the form of an attempt to manage your money, spending habits, or schedule. I will never forget the bank teller who was given a fancy cell phone by one of her male customers. The phone, all booted up and ready to go, was a surefire way of letting him know where she was at all times.
This list of red flags is obviously not comprehensive. It suggests only some of the problems to watch out for. As you beat the bushes for the right person, though, it is important to remember that no one—at least no one I have ever met—is completely free of issues. When we pick a partner, we are simply choosing the issues we are willing to deal with.