10 Red Flags to Spot on a First Date

Crystal Jackson


It can be so much easier to see what everyone else is doing wrong rather than pinpointing our own red flag behaviors. I’ve found this to be true in my own life. Most of my own red flags were identified after the fact by evaluating the relationship or because a helpful friend pointed them out. At that point, it was no longer all that helpful in terms of the relationship that was over — but was actually immensely useful if I wanted to change my behavior for future relationships.

I decided to highlight a few poor relationship behaviors that are easy to identify when we’re not deep in the dating vortex. Maybe you don’t have a good friend who will drop some helpful truth on you. Or maybe you genuinely don’t know what you could possibly be doing wrong that seems to send potential partners running for the hills.

I’ve identified 10 common behaviors that act as red flags in the dating arena.

Low self-esteem

What you see as a self-deprecating joke may be correctly interpreted by your date as low self-esteem. Joking about your height, weight, or any other factor that you’re insecure about is a big tell. It’s not actually your date’s job to make you feel better about yourself, and making statements designed to pressure them into stroking your ego isn’t just awkward — it tends to be a huge turn-off.

Dating your smartphone

If you spend more time checking your notifications than checking out your date, don’t be surprised when the date doesn’t bother to finish the drink or asks for a to-go box for the dinner that could be enjoyed at home while you finish your conversation or text.

Seeking “The One”

If you go into the date seeing this person as your possible One True Love, you may be unknowingly broadcasting your desperation for the relationship to end all relationships. More likely, you’ll just be ending this date sooner than you expected. Wanting to find a soulmate is different from searching everyone for one or putting the pressure of that expectation on every person you encounter.

Blaming your ex

We all have exes. We don’t all blame everything on our exes without taking responsibility for our decisions. If every ex you had was a terrible person, your date is going to start wondering why that is and if you haven't yet learned from your experiences. If the only side of the story they hear casts you as the victim of a string of heartless former lovers, all they’re hearing is that you aren’t interested in accountability or personal growth. They don’t want to be the villain in your next story, so they’ll probably take a hard pass on a relationship.

Lack of self-sufficiency

People like to say that women are overly interested in security, but most of us are interested in financial stability. For most of us, it’s not about securing a wealthy partner, just a self-sufficient one capable of meeting their own needs rather than trying to source someone to do it for them. If you’re still financially reliant on others, constantly late with bills, or have no concept of saving money for any reason, you might be raising a red flag to a potential partner.

So, when you mention that you live at home with your mother, don’t be surprised if they respond with, “Check please!”

Bigotry of any kind

You wouldn’t think this comes up on many dates, but it does — often in ways we don’t realize. An off-hand comment shows our racism, or an attempt at mansplaining shows our misogyny. Fat-shaming or sexism can creep in with comments about how someone else is dressed.

On the one hand, you should definitely be yourself. On the other, if you show some type of bigotry and offend your date, don’t blame them. You’ll either need to do a little personal growth and address your bigotry or look for another bigot to date, but don’t expect someone to give you a free pass just because they like your face.

Rudeness to servers

This one is big. Actually, if you’re rude to anyone during the date, you should expect this to be factored into their conclusions. Bullying servers won’t get you far and could make your date wish they’d stayed home to binge watch Netflix instead.

Putting your date on a pedestal

Only people who are super codependent or narcissists will dig this behavior. No one is perfect. If you keep making your date out to be your idea of perfection, you’ll likely send them running. With good reason, too. It broadcasts your own codependency loud and clear.

Everyone knows that falling is the thing one does from a pedestal. People want to be loved for who they actually are, not worshipped for who you wanted them to be. These unrealistic expectations will trip you up every time.

Humble bragging

If you’re proud of your accomplishments, say so. Like self-deprecating jokes, the humblebrag serves to make us wonder if you’re covering up terrible self-esteem or an over-sized ego. Being confident and proud of your life is a good thing, and humble bragging doesn’t ever equate to confidence.

Interviews as dates

It’s great that you have an idea of the kind of relationship you want to have. While checking these boxes informally is something we all do, if you turn the date into an interview, don’t be surprised when they don’t want the job. Relax, enjoy the date, and make an effort to get to know them — and to let them know you. Leave the interview questions at home.

Dating isn’t easy. Meeting the right person is often all about timing. We can’t force it to happen, but that doesn’t mean we have to sit home alone every night having a threesome with Ben & Jerry while binge-watching the latest dating reality show.

Dating happens, but if our dates mostly show up in running shoes, it may be time to evaluate what we’re doing rather than looking for someone else to blame. By paying attention to our own behaviors, we may turn our dating experiences into something we actually enjoy.

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Crystal Jackson is a former therapist turned writer. She is the author of the Heart of Madison series and a volume of poetry entitled My Words Are Whiskey. Her work has been featured on Medium, Elite Daily, Thought Catalog, The Good Men Project, and Elephant Journal. When she's not writing, you can find her traveling, paddle boarding, cycling, throwing axes badly but with terrifying enthusiasm, hiking, or curled up with her nose in a book in Madison, Georgia, where she lives with one puppy and two wild and wonderful children. Crystal writes about relationships, mental health, parenting, social justice, and more. Never miss an update. Subscribe to emails: https://crystaljacksonwriter.substack.com/

Madison, GA

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