If you move too fast, you might get burned.
After decades of ignoring the early red flags in relationships only to sail into disaster each time, I’ve finally realized that no matter how gorgeous and alluring the new stranger is, you have to quit when a red flag goes up. As soon as it goes up.
This isn’t as easy it sounds.
For starters, you have to learn how to distinguish red flags from mere quirks and annoyances.
If a woman on her first date with you wears an orange-striped top and you hate orange or stripes, this is not a reason to bail. If her cell phone rings during dinner and she takes the call at the table, this is annoying and will need to be addressed at some opportune point (not the first date). But it’s not a dealbreaker.
If, however, you take a woman to a restaurant that serves fancy pizza and she eats the pizza by scraping the cheese and tomato off the crust, leaves the crust on her plate, then lights a cigarette, smokes it, and grinds the butt out on the crust, this is a red flag.
Happily, I can report after three decades of romantic misadventures that there are, in fact, a few warning signs that the person you’re dating is not relationship material.
1. They’re chronically late.
God, I hate this. I know people like this and let me just say this: I don’t hang out with them anymore. Chronic lateness is never due to, “It’s been hectic” or “It’s been a crazy day or week.” They lack focus and can’t manage their schedules or the clock. Cut ’em loose.
For clarity, “chronic” means “three dates in a row.” If your date arrives more than ten minutes late each time, don’t wait for his (or her) fourth arrival. Be gone.
No doubt your date will have wonderful excuses and one or two may even be sound. But three in a row is a pattern and what the pattern says is: I don’t want to get into this. So neither do you
2. They’re rude to waitstaff.
And taxi drivers, and anyone else in a service job. I shouldn’t even have to explain why this is a dealbreaker. Just remember that it is.
3. They tell scary divorce stories.
It’s amazing how much a new prospect will tell you about her life on a first or second date — much more than she knows she’s saying. The question is: Do you hear it?
If she launches into the story of her messy divorce, is her ex the villain in every respect? To me, that’s a red flag right there. Anyone who’s emotionally grounded should be able to see that two people, not one, contributed to divorce.
I used to know some clown that would spill all of his dirty laundry all the time. Graphic grossness. No one wants to hear or know any of that. Cut ’em loose.
4. They have a too-deep attachment to pets.
A golden retriever is fine and cats are all right if they don’t do much. But I’m still haunted by the memory of an ancient, hairless dachshund that would manage to jump up on the bed during inopportune moments and bark.
Not until the dog owner chose to disengage herself from me and comfort the dog instead did I know that this was trouble.
I know people like this and it’s just weird. Nonstop pictures of her dog and food. This chick has no life and is a profoundly lost and lonely person who is basically a zero. I’ve been out with her and she is an absolute bore. She has NOTHING going on.
It’s easy to be pals with a dog. They’re just your property. Besides… who wants a companion you have to take outside and clean up their excrement for the next 14 years? No thank you!
5. They’ve only had short-lived relationships.
During a first, incredibly romantic lunch with a new prospect some time ago, I mentioned that my most recent relationship had ended after a year.
“A year,” my new friend marveled. “That’s so impressive! All of my relationships end after three months.”
Of course, I resolved to be the exception. Over the next weeks, which happened to include Christmas and New Year’s, we had an amazing time, both in New York City, where she had a charming Hell’s Kitchen walk-up and at my house in the Hamptons.
One Sunday, after I’d put her on the train home, I came back to find the most tenderly romantic note on my pillow, something about soulmates joined. The next week, for no outward cause, she called to break up with me. No argument, no terrible time, just end of story. Only later did I realize it was week twelve.
Lesson: When anyone over 35 tells you all her relationships have ended after a few months — red flag.
6. They put ketchup on their eggs.
If one of those first dates is brunch and your new friend reaches for the ketchup to put on her eggs — red flag!
I realize this may seem arbitrary or fussy. Or perhaps you think I’m making a class judgment here. All I know is: Nothing good ever comes of ketchup on eggs. And it’s really gross. (Kidding!)
7. They have demon children.
Children with an issue or two? Maybe. Children, who hate you? Watch out.
Hopelessly spoiled or angry children? Head for the door.
8. They believe money is the only thing that matters.
Money stirs up so many issues, conscious and unconscious, far more than any blog article can cover. For now, let’s just list two red flags you can spot early on: If a man suggests splitting the tab on a first date or that the woman should pay.
If this happens, then bolt. I don’t say this is fair, especially if, for instance, the woman is a CEO and the man is a freelance writer. But it’s the way it is and any man who tries to worm out of his society-given role as tab-picker-upper on the first (or second or third) date for the sake of saving a few bucks is a creep to be ditched.
For men, an early red flag about money may not start waving until the third or fourth date. A lot of women begin life as daddy’s girls; a few stay that way. They feel men should provide them with the lifestyle to which they’ve grown accustomed from other men who did just that.
If you’re a sugar daddy yourself, have fun. If not, back off.
Over time you’ll only be despised and dropped.
9. They hold unjustified resentment toward their parents.
Powerful emotions about one’s parents are a huge red flag. For men, mother-worship is relationship death.
Back when I was living in New York, a 50-year-old man I knew had dated every single woman in New York and found, to his bafflement, that none is good enough — for his mother, that is. One of this guy’s many castoffs is a very attractive, successful woman of 42, whom I later dated myself.
Now that I know both, I can only wonder who was the first to reject the other. It must have been like two gunfighters at the O.K. Corral.
Nancy rejected me after three really nice dates because she decided my eight-year-old daughter, whom she hadn’t yet met, would be an “encumbrance” to our relationship.
Only after we became friends did I learn how much she resents both her parents. Coincidence? I don’t think so.
10. The sex is bad, really bad.
I don’t need to go into detail here, do I? Except to say that bad sex may get better after a first, fumbling time, but bad sex two or three times in a row is sex that only gets worse.
Don’t fool yourself into thinking that sex is just one part of a relationship, that laughter and shared values are as important — they’re not.
11. They wear dirty underwear and socks.
Your mother was right. They have to be clean.
Dirty underwear is the hallmark of a secret slob and every secret slob has many worse habits you don’t even want to think about, but will all too soon get to know if you don’t leave now.
12. They consistently show anger.
As he or she talks — not just about past romantic relationships but about work, friends, and family — listen for a low hum of anger, like a third rail running along the tracks of your new prospect’s life. For reasons I never quite figured out, I used to be attracted to women who had that vibe.
Maybe it seemed sexy; maybe it reminded me of my mother. But I now know how to recognize anger — not shows of temper, which may be healthy in moderation, but the deeper, more destructive hum — and to back off when I hear it.
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