Red Flags and Green Lights
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Red Flags and Green Lights

Your roadmap for a bump-free ride to true love.

Love Signals

Dating can be like driving an undiscovered road: You need to know when to hit the brakes, when to proceed with caution, and when you can open up to the long stretch in front of you. To help you navigate the landscape, we asked dating experts for their advice on when to steer clear of a new relationship and when to put the pedal to the metal.

Red Lights: Slow Down, Danger Ahead!

Watch out for signs of possible problems with the new man in your life.

Red Light #1: Moving Too Fast "Be sure to watch the speed of the relationship," advises Bill Mitchell, a private investigator and author of Adultery: Facing Its Reality (Eagle's Nest, 2001). Take the time to really get to know someone by asking during your first few dates such questions as: Where did you grow up? What do your parents do? Do you have brothers or sisters? What are they like? You can learn a lot about a person by what he says and the way he answers. "People like to talk about themselves," says Mitchell. If he's hesitant, be cautious.

Red Light #2: Meeting on the Information Superhighway "When arranging to meet someone you met online or in person, make it at a safe time of day and choose a public place -- a restaurant, a coffee bar, or even a large department store," suggests Regena Thomashauer, author of Mama Gena's Owner's and Operator's Guide to Men (Simon & Schuster, June 2003). Or double date with a friend. Even if you're bringing a friend and he's coming solo, he should respect your right to feel comfortable.

Mitchell strongly advises against meeting men online. But if you do try it, he says, never reveal personal information like your address, your age, your occupation, if you travel frequently, and especially your telephone number (someone with less-than-innocent intentions can do a reverse look-up of your phone number and find your address and other information). Mitchell advises that if a relationship is starting to develop, ask the man to send a letter via "snail mail" with more information about himself. Then, verify what you can from his return address and other details like professional affiliations, a phone number, or a picture. No return address or a fake one? Pass that guy by.

Red Light #3: Getting Vague Answers Look out for lazy, vague excuses such as I've got things to do, or I'm really busy this weekend -- especially if it's a frequent response. And be wary if a man takes phone calls out of your earshot or gives you only his cell phone number. There may be someone else in the picture (perhaps a wife) or another reason that he can't connect openly. For a relationship to go anywhere, you need an open communication. If you don't have it up front, you won't have it as the relationship deepens.

Red Light #4: Rebounding from Another Relationship If you're on the mend from a relationship, take time for yourself. "Don't be so quick to fill that void," says Mitchell. "You won't look objectively at the situation." It sounds contradictory, but if you're dating to prevent loneliness, it's too soon. Besides, finding the right person doesn't happen quickly -- you need time to get to know someone. Hang out with your girlfriends or embark on a solo getaway in the meantime.

Red Light #5: Feeling Desperate "If you feel pressured," says Thomashauer, "you'll make a desperate decision." For example, you may choose the wrong man or stay in a relationship that's not going anywhere. And avoid substance abusers and men who are verbally or physically abusive. "There are millions of other men out there," she promises. Just cut your losses and move on.

Green Lights: Get Revved Up for True Romance

Seeing the positive signs below? This guy could be the one:

Green Light #1: Affection and Attention "Someone who displays genuine affection is a keeper," says Mitchell. That includes everyday niceties, from opening the car door for you to saying sincere, supportive things about your family and your lifestyle choices. But what really distinguishes character is doing what he says he's going to do -- and letting you know if plans change. If he's supposed to meet you at 8:00 for dinner but he's stuck at the office, a phone call to let you know he'll be there at 8:20 (and for him to actually show up by then) is admirable.

Green Light #2: Becoming Part of His Group Feeling comfortable and accepted in all of your new guy's circles is a good sign of compatibility. As you meet his friends, family, and colleagues, notice how you fit in. Do you feel like you're becoming part of the group? If not, your relationship can become strained, warns Mitchell. Think about the non-Greek groom in the movie, My Big Fat Greek Wedding. "The poor guy will continue to fight his outsider status and try to fit in with his new family his entire life," says Mitchell.

Green Light #3: Good Family Relations The way members of his family communicate with one another can be very telling. What is his relationship with his mother like? With his father? Siblings? How does he treat everyone overall? If you can't meet the family right away, pay close attention to what he says about his mom. "Having established loving relationships with the women in his life is always a good sign," says Thomashauer. It shows he has respect for women and will treat you well.

Green Light #4: Enthusiasm About the Future As you look at the road ahead of you, remember it's not where you are, it's where you're going. Let's say your man has no money -- maybe he's in school or starting his own business -- but he's very optimistic and passionate about his future. This level of enthusiasm is a jewel.

Green Light #5: Friendship and Chemistry Chemistry comes and goes in all relationships, warns Thomashauer. And, in some cases, it may not even arrive until after a friendship has first developed. If you two share only chemistry, your relationship will be a flash in the pan. If you want a longtime love, you need both friendship and chemistry.

How to Proceed with Caution

Keep these additional tips in mind as you get to know a new beau.

Trust Your Gut Does internal dialogue like Why didn't I see it coming? or I should have known better sound familiar? It means that you tend to internalize things and see failures as your own fault. First, quiet such harsh criticism (from yourself, of all people!) and learn to listen to your inner self. Women often have a strong intuitive sense, so if you think something is wrong, it probably is. Hone this instinct and you'll save yourself some heartbreak.

Get a Friend to Weigh In It's smart to bring a healthy dose of skepticism with you on a date. It also helps to bring a trusted girlfriend along too. "You may fall head over heels and miss obvious warning signs," says Mitchell. Set up a double date to see if your friend picks up on subtle -- or not so subtle -- clues that he may not be the one. For example, she may detect a tone of voice that isn't sincere or a bad habit that you're overlooking.

Take the Road Less Traveled Many women approach finding a man with a list of qualifications, says Thomashauer. Problem is, you quickly find that love has nothing to do with one's job, hair color, or social status. Strive to date a little outside your "type," she suggests. If you usually date tall men, go out with a shorter guy. Prefer older men? Try a younger one. Say yes to offers that normally wouldn't interest you. Mix it up and you may be surprised at what you'll find.