Red Flags and Green Lights

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

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