Image licensed from Shutterstock // Olena Yakobchuk
There’s one relationship experience that drives us mad. It usually happens a few months after you start dating, but sometimes it takes longer, much longer to see past your blind spot.
It’s that moment you realize you made a terrible mistake, but not because you recognized an incompatibility, confused with love, or merely decided they weren’t the one.
It’s the moment you say to yourself, “Shoot. I’ve been conned.”
The person you believed thoughtful, caring, and loving shown themselves to be controlling, neglectful, or worse. You look back and say to yourself, How did I not notice?
The pink shirt phenomenon
Sometimes, love blinds us, and we can’t see the obvious, but that’s not always the case, at least not for me. Love had rarely ever fogged my vision; ignorance did. The signs were subtle, allowing me to fall victim to the pink shirt phenomenon. If you’re unfamiliar, here’s how it works.
Let’s pretend I text you at the end of the day: How many pink shirts did you see today?
You’d have no idea. You may have seen people in pink shirts, but it never registered in your awareness.
Suppose, instead, I had told you in the morning, look for everyone who’s wearing a pink shirt. By the end of the day, you’d have a number for me.
That’s the point behind these seven signs. There are the obvious red flags to look for when dating someone new: are they still hung up on an ex, are they courteous to service staff, do they keep their promises. And then there are the pink shirts — the signs we see but don’t notice.
1. They’re wonderful when you’re alone but treat you poorly in group situations.
“But they’re so nice when it’s just the two of us.”
Have you ever said that to your friends or had one of them say it to you?
It feels like you’re dating two different people. They’re always kind and caring when alone, but sarcastic, insulting, and controlling in group situations. Later, when you’re alone again, they play it off like a joke, sometimes commending you on being a good sport.
Perhaps they’re narcissists, and their niceness is just a performance, or maybe they lack confidence and need to feel superior. Either way, it sends a signal.
2. They compete with your friends — especially ones of the opposite sex
Disapproval of a partner’s friends can introduce tension into a relationship and is an often-cited cause of divorce, but the signals appear much earlier, though they’re not always evident.
There’s the usual red-flag, “Why would you need opposite-sex friends if you already have me?” But like I had seen with my old friend Chloe, a smart person conceals the clues.
Chloe and Kevin had been dating for a few weeks. He was personable at first, but every time we interacted, he’d always try to one-up anything one of the guys said. He’d subtly position himself between Chloe, and whatever guy was talking to her.
Kevin saw her guy friends as competitors but was smart enough to avoid challenging Chloe on the subject. Instead, he tried to undermine us and turn Chloe against us.
Pay attention to those soft qualities: body language, use of sarcasm to criticize, and one-upmanship. They’re telling signs.
3. They won’t let you pick a restaurant, movie, or even a flavor of ice cream.
In college, I dated a woman who loved to make decisions. For the first two months, she picked where we ate, what movie we saw, and what parties we attended. At first, I didn’t mind. I enjoyed having someone else make all my decisions.
But as time passed, I began to suggest things I liked. She resisted and used guilt to get her way. The longer we were together, the worse it got.
Early on in a relationship, the control freak can make life easier. They plan everything, relieving you of decision-making burdens. But when your partner commands every aspect of your relationship, they rob you of agency and relegate you to the role of sidekick rather than an equal partner.
4. They cheat at Monopoly.
Whenever you date someone new, always play a game of Pictionary, Monopoly, or some other board game. Do they attempt to rewrite the rules? Do they cheat or accuse others of cheating without cause? Do they lose their shit when someone else wins?
You can tell a lot about someone’s relationship potential by observing their game etiquette. It sounds silly, but playing board games can reveal a person’s worst qualities in a safe and controlled environment.
If they can’t handle losing in a board game, you can’t expect them to do any better when the stakes run higher.
5. They’re super-affectionate when drunk but not always with you.
Sure, not everyone drinks, but if they do, it’s essential to trust them after a glass or two. Do they get affectionate (and not always with you)? Do you have to intervene and rescue or stop them from doing something they’ll regret?
Some folks don’t handle alcohol well and either can’t or won’t curb their behavior. The worst of them use it as a cover for engaging in actions that would otherwise get them in trouble.
It doesn’t count. I was drunk!
Beware of the partner who shows a pattern of over-drinking or engaging in questionable behavior while drinking. You’ll always fret over what kind of trouble they’re getting into when you’re not around.
6. They treat you like a placeholder partner.
Some people don’t like being alone. They always need a partner, even if you’re just a placeholder, someone to keep them occupied when bored, sexed when in the mood, and comforted when blue. All the while, they’re on the lookout for the one.
You don’t always know you’re filling this role, but you can sense it. There’s the subtle rumble in your gut that tells you something’s wrong, but you ignore it, thinking it’s paranoia. Your partner musters desire and enthusiasm when needed, but it takes effort. They hang out with you but rarely as their first option.
The good news is that once you’ve been burned as a placeholder partner, you’re adept at recognizing the signs should it ever happen again.
7. They hold grudges long past any reasonable expiration date.
For a long time, I was this person. In my teens and twenties, I lacked confidence and self-worth. Naturally, this self-image proved disruptive to my friendships and romantic relationships.
It finally came to my attention when eating dinner with someone I had recently started dating. We had gotten into a conversation about college friends. That’s when I descended into a nonsensical rant about a former friend who had wronged me.
“Seriously,” she said. “That was nine years ago, and you’re still pissed off about it?”
People who cling to grudges get offended easily and struggle with forgiveness. They carry around shit-lists and maintain them with the precision of an accountant recording debits and credits.
Your partner may grow out of it as I did. But if you date someone like this, prepare yourself for a project — someone who needs constant coddling and reassurance.
Few of us get through life without being fooled by a partner who presents a false front. The signs exist, but as the pink shirt phenomenon proves, you don’t always notice what you see.