If finding love or a life companion is one of your priorities for the summer season, chances are that you’ll find yourself thrust into the world of online dating. Gone are the days of love at first sight, as you lock eyes with a stranger across a crowded room. Nowadays, everyone’s eyes are locked onto their phones and to get their attention, you may have to get online.
The stigma of online dating is long gone, and eHarmony reports that more than 40 million Americans currently use online dating. In fact, the popular dating site also claims that 20% of current committed relationships begin online — which should offer plenty of hope to anyone looking for a digital date.
However, online dating isn’t all rainbows and butterflies. While you can’t weed out every potential disaster, there are often signs that Mr. or Ms. Right might be all wrong. Below, you’ll find some of the more common online dating red flags that can separate the scammers from the soul mates. Of course, there’s no surefire way to know who’s sincere and who isn’t, but these tips can help you avoid potential potholes and get on the road to happily-ever-after.
Pay Attention to Pictures
“I’ve been looking so long at these pictures of you that I almost believe that they’re real…”
—The Cure, Pictures of You
A picture may be worth a thousand words, but you’ll still need several of them to tell a whole story. Be wary of anyone who has a profile that features only one picture or a series of photographs that all look like they were taken by a professional. There’s bound to be one “dressed up” shot at a wedding, but look for a wide variety of profile pics, including photos with friends or groups and pictures in and outdoors. You’ll increase the likelihood that you’re actually communicating with the person in the photographs — plus, you’ll get a good sense of how they really look, instead of seeing one super-flattering selfie.
Look for a Solid Bio
“Words are very unnecessary, they can only do harm…”
—Depeche Mode, Enjoy the Silence
Unless you’re using an online app like Tinder or Bumble, which restrict you to 300 characters, you’ll have an opportunity to write a biography that tells potential dates something about your interests and personality. This is your chance to introduce yourself and create a spark, so consider incomplete bios — or worse, no bio at all — to be a big dating red flag. Not everyone can write like “William Wordsworth,” but a half-hearted summary can indicate that the user isn’t looking for a real relationship or isn’t willing to put in any effort to create a connection.
Trust Your Instincts
“Hey baby, what you gotta say? All you’re giving me is fiction…”
– Neon Trees, Everybody Talks
It’s natural to put your best foot forward when you’re writing an online profile, but many people fall into the trap of describing themselves as the person that they wish they were — rather than the person that they really are. Take every bio with a grain of salt to help keep your expectations in check. Also, keep an eye out for summaries that contradict themselves or include “double-speak” that seems deliberately unclear.
“I’m as single as can be” sounds innocent enough, but it might be someone’s sneaky way of saying that they aren’t actually single at all. If something seems misplaced, unnecessary, or sounds funny to you, go with your gut instinct.
Avoid Unrealistic Expectations
“You must be kind, you must be witty, very sweet and fairly pretty…”
—Jane and Michael Banks, The Perfect Nanny (Mary Poppins)
We all have characteristics that we’d like to find in our mate, but creating an actual list of requirements is a definite online dating red flag. A checklist of prerequisites can indicate everything from unrealistic expectations to inflexibility, and even if you do tick all of the boxes on the list, you may find that you’re never actually able to fulfill all of the laundry lister’s demands.
Similarly, watch out for users who define what their potential matches should and shouldn’t do — or can and can’t do. It’s perfectly fine to say that you prefer to date people who don’t smoke, but saying that someone must workout — or can’t like football — may be a sign of someone who is eager to control or change you, rather than accept you for who you are.
Don’t Discuss Finances
“Your love gives me such a thrill, but your love won’t pay my bills, I want money…”
—The Flying Lizards, Money
It starts out so well: you’re trading messages, you’re connecting and feeling flutters, and you actually think this could be “the one”! And then, it happens. Your online sweetie asks for money. Just a little! A quick loan. And of course, you’ll be paid back — double, with interest! A request for money is a serious red flag in online dating and it should be politely, but firmly, declined. Even if you’re sure that your sweetie is real, sincere, and in serious need of a little cash, even if you’ve had several dates, and even if you think that you’re in love, do not send money to someone that you’ve met online.
Make Sure That You’re Looking for the Same Thing
“A little less conversation, a little more action please…”
– Elvis Presley, A Little Less Conversation
If you’re looking for a serious relationship online, it can be hard to decipher who’s there for something real and who’s there for something quick. Profiles that include overtly sexual language are fairly obvious, but suggestive photos — like a shot of a guy’s abs without his face showing or a woman lounging in lingerie —can be online dating red flags too. If someone comes on aggressively and seems to be interested in a quick hookup, there’s nothing wrong with asking where they’re hoping your connection will lead to making sure that you’re both on the same page.
Nix the “Ex” Talk
“You’re crazy if you think just half your love could ever please me…”
– Rod Stewart, My Heart Can’t Tell You No
We’ve all got baggage, but dating is about putting the past behind you and looking forward to the potential of new love. Mentioning an ex can be a serious red flag and an indication that your date isn’t ready to move on. If your match talks about an ex in their bio, during conversations, or on your first date, chances are that they’ve still got feelings for that ex — or at the very least are still processing the end of their previous relationship. While it’s completely possible that you’ll be the person to help them move on, it’s equally possible that those ex-issues will continue to pop up and hinder your relationship. Proceed with caution to protect your heart.
If you’ve successfully navigated the world of internet romance and have your own suggestions to share, consider working as a life coach or relationship coach to help others. You could turn their online dating blues into online dating bliss!
And for more tips on “Dating With Dignity,” check out Live Lead Play’s resident relationship guru, Marni Battista, and her popular podcast series.
Also published on Medium.