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Navigating the modern dating world is no walk in the park. Just a quick scroll through TikTok brings up countless “red flag” dating horror stories, while true-crime documentaries like The Tinder Swindler have put some singletons off dating apps for life.
So, what are the early warning signals that somebody could be bad news? We asked a dating expert to break down the tell-tale signs, and explain what to do if you’re ever presented with a partner who does exhibit red flags...
A partner who lacks the ability to communicate, or doesn’t let you say what’s on your mind is our first dating red flag to look out for.
If your partner always makes conversation “all about them”, it’s bad news, says clinical sexologist and sex and relationship coach Ness Cooper.
Cooper, founder of thesexconsultant.com tells Tyla: “If there’s no room for your individual input into the relationship dynamic, this may be a sign they have a narcissistic personality.”
While your date might generally be a good communicator, perhaps they score pretty low when it comes to talking about sexual health.
Cooper says that couples “should normalise talking about sexual health whilst making it clear that we shouldn’t stigmatise anyone who has had sexual health issues”.
“Many individuals will have some form of experience with STIs in their past. If a date reveals they have a sexual health issue, many can be treated or the spread can be prevented.
“If they are completely avoidant of talking about it after you have asked about it, it is something to consider as a possible red flag. If you do take things further and become sexual with them, implementing safer sex practises is important," she explains.
While a partner who sweeps you off your feet and showers you with gifts and affection can make you feel like the absolute queen you are, if they’re doing it as a way to manipulate you, that’s not on.
Cooper explains: “Love bombing is a method where someone confesses their love early on and shows constant over-the-top affection constantly to gain control of the other person in the relationship.
“It can be used to manipulate the individual into a relationship they normally wouldn’t be comfortable in.”
If a partner is flaky, this is a major dating red flag.
Cooper says that a partner who is “unreliable and lets you down loads [and] adds in false hope that they’ll change but never do” is something to make a mental note of.
Your other half should have your back no matter what, and although they are of course entitled to their own lives and own plans, they should also show up to yours when they say they will.
While jealousy “can be a natural thing” due to previous experiences or even relationship trauma, it’s “when it turns into unhealthy and dominating patterns of your relationships, then it can be a red flag,” Cooper explains.
This type of controlling and unhealthy behaviour is damaging to a relationship “as it doesn’t allow other areas of your relationship to grow.”
If your partner exhibits these signs, it’s a good chance it’s a dating red flag.
Now, this one is especially common when it comes to online dating (we’re looking at you, Simon Leviev!). Maskfishing, Instafishing and Catfishing are definitely dating red flags.
Although you may have gotten on like a house on fire behind the comfort of a screen, if you turn up to your date and find yourself with someone who isn’t who they say they are, proceed with caution.
Cooper notes that “whilst appearance isn’t everything for everyone, it can be a sign that other parts of their personality and life they’ve shared with you aren’t real”.
If the person you’re about to get down and dirty with doesn’t offer to wear a condom, that’s a serious red flag.
Cooper tells us: “If they are avoidant of condoms”, perhaps stating ‘can’t feel anything’ or that they ‘prefer sex without’, “then it could be a red flag as they may have had unprotected sex with others in the past.”
“Using preventatives to avoid spreading certain STIs should be used, while asking them to take a sexual health test can help understand their current sexual health status.
“But it’s worth remembering that not all STIs show-up on tests right away, so a condom is the safest method of preventing them.”
It’s also important to bear in mind that even if you are on hormonal birth control to prevent pregnancy, condoms are the only way to prevent STIs.
Furthermore, Cooper notes that “not everyone can take hormonal birth control, and both control itself shouldn’t be left up to one individual.”
“Sex takes two people (or more, in some cases), and staying safe and preventing pregnancy should be a joint practice.”
If your date fails to understand why you can’t or won’t use certain birth control methods, and the impact they have on your body, then it can be a red flag.
So long as sex is consensual between all partaking parties, there is no set amount you should be having sex with your partner.
Cooper tells us: “We can often have a fantasied expectation of what our sex lives are going to be like with our partners… But if they’re set on it being a certain way or level of intensity then it may be a red flag that they aren’t able to respect that your sexual needs may be different.”
There are a lot of factors that come into play when considering libido - it’s not always as black and white as whether or not you fancy your partner.
NHS England states that while there is no such thing as a “normal” sex drive, both men and women can suffer from a low sex drive. Only you will know what is “normal” for you.
Physical issues like vaginal dryness, painful sex (we see you, endo-warriors!), the inability to reach orgasm and vaginismus can affect libido in women, while ejaculation problems and erectile dysfunction are common causes for men.
It’s also worth noting that hormonal contraception can affect libido in women, and if you believe your birth control is the cause of your low sex drive, speak to your GP.
You might also notice you have a higher sex drive than your partner, this is particularly common in women with PCOS.
In women with PCOS the “androgen levels” are “elevated”, according to a 2020 Sexual Function study in women with the condition. Flo Living says: “It can bring about resentment if you’re never in “receiving” mode in your relationship – being pursued, wooed and adored by your partner.
“Getting into the mode of receiving pleasure from your partner can boost your mood and health.”
Now that you know the signs, knowing what to do if your partner shows red flags in your relationship is the next step.
While many of your well-meaning friends and family will tell you to “walk away” or say “boy, bye!”, it’s rarely ever that easy.
Elaine Parker, domestic abuse survivor and the founder of Safer Date, notes that “romance fraudsters have a clear and well-practised pattern that starts with love bombing” which “is all designed to draw you in very quickly”.
You should always “trust your gut” and leave the relationship if you are worried about any red flags. She also notes that there is always “a way out, but it’s extremely important that you reach out and ask for help, as this will make it much easier for you to leave the situation safely.
If you are worried about a friend’s relationship, however, you should try and “look out” for them.
“If any of your friends are dating online and you feel something isn't right, please ask if they're okay. It's not always easy to talk about what's going on behind closed doors, so if you see less and less of them and they are becoming withdrawn, reach out.
“It's difficult to start those conversations, but it could make a huge difference. For anyone who sees their friend in this situation, please understand that it is not easy to just 'walk away'...Support your friend and let them know they have a safe place to go,” she tells us.
It’s also important to remember that both women and men can be affected by domestic and sexual abuse.
If you’ve been affected by any of the issues mentioned in this article, you can contact Refuge's National Domestic Abuse Helpline on 0808 2000 247, or for male victims contact Respect's Men's Advice Line on 0808 801 0327.
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