The first weeks of any new relationship are jam-packed with visceral and practical information about the person we’re considering getting involved with. Problem is, many of us plow through these early tidbits without giving them the credence they’re due. They may be vague doubts or huge, waving red flags. But because falling in love feels so damn good, we keep on.
A friend of mine — I’ll call her Lisa — recently reconnected with a high school boyfriend, Logan, at a mutual friend’s wedding — and the sparks between them reignited. Quickly, they pledged their commitment to one another, and started planning their new life together. They made a boatload of big promises in a matter of weeks.
But Logan had a pretty major tidbit: Though they had been separated for several years, he wasn’t divorced from his first wife. When Lisa pressed Logan on this, he assured her it would happen soon — explaining that his new relationship with her was the catalyst he finally needed to pull the trigger. But as weeks turned into months, Logan made many excuses as to why his divorce wasn’t moving forward.
Lisa was initially willing to ignore this very significant warning sign. As time went by, however, Lisa grew increasingly frustrated by Logan’s inaction. During one argument about it, Logan dropped the mother of all excuses: “I’m afraid my wife will commit suicide if I push this divorce. I need more time.” Shocked by this revelation, Lisa decided to back off. After all, she didn’t want this woman’s blood on her hands.
Lisa spent many months waiting for Logan to divorce before she realized it was never going to happen. Their relationship ended when Logan decided to give his marriage a second chance. By ignoring this red flag, Lisa had bought herself a whole lot of heartache and disillusionment — and time she couldn’t get back.
Sadly, many warning signs may not be as obvious as Logan’s. That’s why it’s important we dig deeper. Here are five red flags to look for in the first weeks of a potentially serious relationship:
1. Baggage. Logan’s baggage was a complex, unresolved marital situation that prohibited him from moving forward with Lisa in a meaningful way.
If someone has significant baggage or strings attached elsewhere, it’s imperative you determine how significantly these issues will affect you and the relationship.
We all have baggage and we’re wise to accept that’s true for others, too. But be discerning. If that baggage is going to spell big trouble for your relationship, think twice.
2. Comfort. Nothing wrong with seeking comfort in a romantic relationship. But there’s a certain type of comfort — I call it dysfunctional comfort — we’re better off avoiding. Here’s how it works: You’re viscerally (and unconsciously) drawn to someone because they remind you of some dysfunction — or someone dysfunctional — in your family of origin. An obvious example is the daughter of an alcoholic who partners with an alcoholic. But, in many cases, it’s more complex than that. Did you feel unseen as a child and now you’re partnering with someone who doesn’t seem all that interested in what makes you tick? Was your childhood home chaotic and your new partner gamely brings chaos to your door? Ask yourself why this person feels like a perfect fit. It may not be for the right reasons.
3. Boundaries. My parents have friends who met and got married two weeks later. Sixty years later, they’re still together. This is a wonderful love story but, in general, marrying someone you just met isn’t highly recommended. It’s more important to really know this person before you integrate them into your life whole hog. If it seems your new partner is trying to monopolize your time and insert him/herself into every aspect of your life within a short time span, you may want to back up the truck. Love at first sight does exist, but that doesn’t always signal a healthy start or guarantee longevity. If your gut is telling you this person’s lack of personal boundaries feels intrusive, don’t ignore it.
4. Acceptance. Does your new, dreamy partner tell you how great you are, but has more than a few suggestions as to how you can improve your career, hairstyle, clothing choices, or weight? In fact, it may start to feel like he wants someone else entirely. Conversely, be aware if you’re doing the same. Do you want to change him/her to fit your ideal? A determination to change a person — along with specific ideas as to how they should go about it — is never the fairy tale ending to any relationship.
5. Requirements. Any hard and fast requirement in a relationship isn’t optimal. “I won’t get married anywhere but my parents’ church,” or “I’ll never move out of the neighborhood I grew up in,” or, “If we couldn’t have kids, I wouldn’t stay in the marriage,” are all examples of rigid requirements and/or ways of thinking. You’ll know one of these beauts when you hear it because the way it’s presented negates any possibility of negotiation. At first, you may not object to some of them — they may feel harmless enough. But someone who isn’t willing to negotiate or bend, promises to be a difficult partner.
6. What Others Say. Are your friends/family/coworkers as excited about your new relationship, or do they seem concerned? Have they noticed changes in your energy level, availability to them, or your mood? Certainly, we can’t let others determine what makes us happy. But if the people who care about you seem worried this new relationship may be taking a toll, you might want to consider why.