You’ve probably heard the so-called “red flags” of dating—things to look for in a potential mate that should, supposedly, make you think twice about him or her. Some are obvious, some may be useful to keep in mind, but some are just ridiculous. For instance, I’ve been warned against dating an only child—they’re likely to be selfish and inattentive. I’ve also heard that if your date moves in for a kiss too soon, it’s a sign that he or she will never be able to read your signals.
I think that if your alarm bells go off at a poorly timed kiss, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Some red flags—a meth habit, for instance—warrant serious attention, but when it comes to the little things, you have to be rather forgiving to let the relationship get off the ground. And in my experience, the most important warning signs lie in you, not your partner—and these are the signs that are most easily overlooked. Rather than evaluating his or her character flaws or past experiences, you should be considering your own role in the relationship.
For example, no matter how much you love your partner, you should never forget to take care of yourself. Relationships are built on compromise, not sacrifice—you might not have as much “me” time as your single self did, but you should still make time for things you enjoy and for hanging out with your other friends. If you don’t, it doesn’t mean your partner is needy or controlling; you may just be caught up in the excitement of a new romance. Spending every waking moment together is a recipe for disaster—you will inevitably begin to take each other for granted, or else start to get on each other’s nerves.
You should also never take extraordinary measures to get your partner’s attention. I knew a girl who used to go to parties every weekend, and often drink herself sick, while she was in a committed, long-term relationship—then when she and her boyfriend split up, she became surprisingly more subdued. She may not have realized it, but this behavior was probably a plea for attention. In a healthy relationship, you shouldn’t feel the need to go to such lengths. If you find yourself making drama just to get your partner’s attention, your relationship needs a check-up.
Another common red flag is making excuses for your partner’s behavior or blaming yourself for every problem that arises. It’s easy to do, and the more you do it, the less you notice you’re doing it. You may love your partner, but don’t forget to maintain your standards—not that you shouldn’t forgive them for a few missteps, but if you find yourself constantly making excuses for them and putting the blame on yourself, it’s time to take a breath and ask yourself what you should reasonably expect from them.
Ultimately, you should be measuring a potential partner by how happy they make you. If you find a reason to break it off early on, it’s going to have to do with how you feel, not what they ordered on the first date or their collection of Star Wars action figures. And if you end up falling for someone, make sure your feelings don’t obscure the most important warning signs.