[This article was originally published on July 2020.]
It’s important to be open-minded when you start dating someone. Sure, you might hate the way they cut their toenails in bed or leave dirty dishes on the sink like they’re curating an exhibition, but these things aren’t exactly deal breakers.
Real dating red flags tend to be a little more complex than habits you could pass off as behavioural quirks.
And in today’s love at first swipe culture, where apps and social media have revolutionised the way we communicate, they’re more nuanced than ever.
According to dating psychologist Madeleine Mason Roantree, a red flag can be defined as “something your partner does that indicates a lack of respect, integrity or interest towards the relationship”.
From never initiating dates to refraining from posting a couples shot on Instagram, here are the eight red flags you really need to look out for and why, according to dating experts.
They don’t want to label the relationship after a few months of dating
If Shakespeare was still around, perhaps he’d be able to give us a hand when it comes to understanding the ever-expanding language of love.
Unfortunately, the famous Bard died in 1616, leaving us to make sense of lexical ambiguities like “seeing someone” and “hanging out” all on our own.
We live in a world where there are now many words to describe one’s relationship that are conveniently non-committal and also, somewhat meaningless.
But if after a few months the person you’re dating/seeing/snogging/pulling/spooning refuses to label it (i.e. call you their girlfriend or boyfriend), it could be a major red flag.
Not only might it signal a lack of commitment, explains Mason Roantree, but it may also suggest they are romantically involved with someone else.
“If your significant other seems to avoid any conversations about exclusivity and labels after dating for several months, they are probably not serious about the relationship,” she tells The Independent.
You don’t feature on their social media accounts after a few months
This is niche and should come with a disclaimer: if you or your partner are not on social media, or you use Instagram solely to follow cat fan accounts, you can probably ignore the following.
Not featuring on their social media could mean they don’t see you as a long-term option
Madeleine Mason Roantree, dating psychologist
But if you are someone whose partner scrolls through Instagram/Twitter/Facebook religiously and has a history of featuring exes on their profile, Mason Roantree says it might be bad news if they haven’t posted about you yet.
“It might mean they don’t see you as a long-term option, or that they are not ready to show you to the world," she explains.
The one exception? If it’s a business account. In that case, not wanting to post selfies of you both in front of the Eiffel Tower complete with love-heart emojis and #CoupleGoals is kind of fair enough.
They never initiate dates
It might sound simple, but actually sticking one’s neck out to make a plan is pretty important when it comes to dating, says Mason Roantree.
“If you always seem to suggest when to meet, this is a one-sided relationship,” she explains. “It requires you to do all the work.
"Someone who is really into you will contribute and be proactive in the relationship.”
Being proactive is attractive, sitting back and letting someone else do all of the legwork while you bask in the glory of not having to lift a finger is not.
There’s a power imbalance
Dating is about working together to support one another in equal measure, says dating coach James Preece. Being in a happy relationship should feel like being in the best kind of team, he says. If it doesn’t, and it seems like one of you is constantly exerting control over the other, who is more submissive, consider it a bright red flag, he tells The Independent.
“Signs of a power imbalance can take the form of jealousy or controlling behaviour,” he explains. “Both can easily lead to the end of a relationship, so try to deal with this early on rather than bottling up emotions.”
As for how to handle it, Preece advises making your concerns clear and if nothing changes, it's time to reevaluate.
You express your feelings to one another differently
It’s a good thing to have a yin and yang balance in a relationship: what you lack, your partner provides and vice versa. But one instance when this could be concerning is when it applies to how you express your love and affection for one another.
If you expect one thing and get another, you might not be as compatible as you hoped
James Preece, dating coach
It could be that you’re more of a romantic wordsmith – you constantly tell your partner you adore them and inundate them with compliments – while your partner is less appreciative of effusive compliments and favours kind-hearted actions.
The tricky thing is that if you’re one way inclined, it may lead you to expect the same kind of behaviour from your partner, and when you don’t receive it, it can be disappointing, explains Preece.
“If you expect one thing and get another, you might not be as compatible as you hoped,” he adds.
One of you is keeping secrets
We’re not just talking about harbouring a penchant for pineapples dipped in marmite. If you or your partner is hiding something from the other, it’s going to do inevitable damage to your relationship at some point and is a definite red flag, says Preece.
“We don’t need to share every little thought with our partner. But if one of you has something major on their mind that they are hiding, then it’s going to be problematic because keeping secrets can interfere with your happiness and the idea of getting ‘discovered’ can cause paranoia and arguments.”
Recent research by dating website Elite Singles found that 34 per cent of people think sharing secrets is an important part of forming an intimate bond, so there are benefits to being an open book too.
They won’t compromise
You’re never going to agree on everything with your partner, that much is a given. For example, a recent study found that nearly one in 10 couples split during house renovations with 15 per cent claiming they were “constantly at each other’s throats”.
But learning to find a middle ground and ways to compromise on key issues is hugely important for a relationship to thrive, Preece explains.
“Compromise really is all about not standing your ground and keeping the peace,” he says.
“It’s all about looking for the halfway point where both parties can be happy. They’re not thrilled, but they’re not disappointed either.”
If you notice that you and your partner are having an almost impossible time compromising, perhaps one of you refuses to budge on a particular issue, then there may be something very “seriously wrong with your relationship,” Preece adds.
Your friends or family hate them
If the people who know you the best do not like your partner, it’s an obvious red flag, says Preece.
“Sometimes it’s easy to get blinkered and only see what you want to see, but if your family or friends clearly don’t like your partner then you need to understand why.”
Of course, not everything can be happy families and some people simply don’t get on. But if you start to hear more negativity from your friends and family members, you may want to reevaluate your relationship.
Preece adds: “Those around you can often see things you never will.”