Thirteen Red Flags of Dating:
Lessons Learned are Lessons to Share
It’s human nature to want a loving relationship, to have that someone special in our life to share our dreams and joys, our hopes and fears. Existing long-term marriages and partnerships attest to the possibility of connecting with the right person and we want to experience it, too. But as we enter the dating scene, we must remind ourselves to proceed with the same caution we would use when approaching a lake in which we’ve never swam – we slowly stick our big toe into the water before jumping in to make sure it’s not a life-threatening 40 degrees. We need this approach to dating. We need to test the waters with each person that attracts us.
As wonderful as it can be, dating propels us into a danger zone. If we are to make it through without damage, we must be aware of and pay attention to the red flags. But what are the red flags? And why do we ignore them? These are the questions I asked myself after my husband attempted to murder me and I found the answers as I wrote my book “A Dance with the Devil: A True Story of Marriage to a Psychopath.” Following are the red flags that waved at me during the first three months of our relationship, although there were many more that occurred during our nine year marriage.
THE SET-UP: It all started out innocently. A girlfriend called me at work and asked me to be a fourth at her dinner party that night. She hated to set an uneven table. “It’s not a real date,” she said. “It’s just dinner and you’ll never have to see him again – even though he is quite interesting. He’s a retired rear admiral and his father was Admiral Perry who started the Seabees in World War II.” I didn’t want to go. I was tired from working an extra shift and didn’t feel in a social mood. But I acquiesced. After all, Helen was my friend and she offered a “safe date” in her home.
RED FLAG NUMBER ONE: I allowed myself to be talked into a situation that I would have preferred to have skipped. My inner voice begged me to stay home and rest, but its good counsel fell on deaf ears.
RED FLAG NUMBER TWO: The antisocial fools more than just the person with whom they are romantically involved. They are encountered in situations at work, school, church, and organizations. There is no “safe place” from an antisocial if he or she wants something from us. But I knew nothing about psychopaths, other than how they were portrayed in the movies as serial killers. And I didn’t realize that this was the first time that Helen would be meeting John. It was her husband who was doing business with him and not for that long.
THE FIRST DATE: The night we met, John Perry was charming and quite the dashing figure with his Irish smile and twinkling eyes. He said all the right things; did all the right things. Or so I thought. John lavished his undivided attention on me, asking me about my life, about what I liked and didn’t like. The questions were not asked with rapid fire. They were interspersed throughout our conversation and I revealed a lot about myself without knowing that I had done so. John also regaled the dinner party with exciting stories that included famous historical figures that were family, Hollywood stars that were friends, his service with a branch of the CIA, and the battle in Vietnam where he won the Congressional Medal of Honor. He also tugged at my heart strings when he mentioned how his four children ignored him, even though he tried to be a good father. And I bought it: hook, line, and sinker. And when we parted that night, I thought it had been an interesting evening, but I didn’t think about a romantic future with John.
RED FLAG NUMBER THREE: We women reveal too much about ourselves when we meet someone new. We provide an unscrupulous character with details that help him tailor his approach to infiltrate our hearts. He then knows what to say and how to say it.
RED FLAG NUMBER FOUR: Talk is sprinkled with famous personalities that impress us and we believe it’s true. After all, why would he lie? We feel a sense of excitement knowing someone who had rubbed elbows with the rich and famous.
RED FLAG NUMBER FIVE: John presented himself with distinguished careers, including a clandestine one. We tend to automatically believe people in certain positions, like judges, policemen, CIA agents, ministers, and military officers. But just because someone says they are one of these, we must not automatically believe them. Antisocial personalities especially love the CIA and FBI because these positions are hard to prove and they also offer the perfect excuse for unexplained absences or the inability to get in touch with them.
RED FLAG NUMBER SIX: John was a great conversationalist, witty, articulate, amusing, entertaining, and told unlikely but convincing stories that put him in a good light. If questioned about a fact, he quickly spun the story and presented a plausible explanation. It’s especially easy for antisocial to spin their stories on internet dating sites.
RED FLAG NUMBER SEVEN: John played the sympathy card. Oh, how we women respond to this! We feel sorry for the man who bares his soul with sadness and we immediately want to make it better for him. We can fix it. Just give us a chance and we’ll throw all of our energy into relieving him from his emotional pain. Our codependency switches into overdrive. Women don’t fear the person they feel sorry for.
MOVING IN TOGETHER: A couple of weeks later, I had tickets for a concert and no date. So, thinking I was a modern woman and with no other prospect, I called John and asked him to attend with me. He gladly accepted. After we returned from the concert, I invited John in for a drink. We started dating, but he was always evasive about me coming over to his apartment. Within two months, John had moved into my home with limited furniture and his dog. We were having a fabulous time. However, it didn’t take him long to ask me if he could use my credit card as his commission check had not come in and he needed to take someone out for a business lunch. He would pay me back as soon as his check came. I gladly handed my credit card over (the fixer again, right?) and didn’t think much more about it until I got my next statement. He had charged quite a bit more than just one lunch. When I confronted him, John stormed up the stairs to pack and I immediately I begged him not to go. “We’ll work it out,” I said. Not too long after that he asked me to finance his van as his lease was up. I did that, too. And all during this time, I met only one friend of his whom he said was a distant fourth cousin. I did not meet or talk to any immediate family members. “They think you’re a gold digger,” he would say with bended head. I ignored the funny feelings I would get in my stomach each time the subject came up.
RED FLAG NUMBER EIGHT: John was evasive about where he lived. He had a story of how his third cousin had been living with him in his house, so John had moved to an apartment. He lamented that it was sparsely furnished and he felt funny having guests over. Why wasn’t I more suspicious? The story sounded a bit odd, but I ignored the red flag.
RED FLAG NUMBER NINE: I allowed a man I hardly knew to move into my home. What was I thinking? Well, it was exciting. I was a grown woman and felt liberated by the choice. But why didn’t he bring more with him?
RED FLAG NUMBER TEN: I allowed John to manipulate me into giving him my credit card and financing a loan for him. Women should never allow their money to be used by someone else, especially someone we hardly know.
RED FLAG NUMBER ELEVEN: John used fear to keep me in his web when he stomped up the stairs. My insides churned. Here I thought we had a perfect relationship and now he wanted to leave. Besides that, how would I pay off his exorbitant spending on my credit card if he left?
RED FLAG NUMBER TWELVE: I did not meet nor talk to John’s family. Phone calls between John and his family always transpired whenever I wasn’t home. “Oh, you just missed talking to my Grandmother,” he would say as I came home from church. There was always some excuse why we couldn’t call, the main one being the gold digger card. When I finally questioned John about why his long distance phone calls with his family did not show up on my telephone bill, he calmly said his family always wanted him to call them collect because they knew his funds were tight.
RED FLAG NUMBER THIRTEEN: I ignored my little voice, that voice women especially have that we call intuition. Each time John’s actions tugged at my soul, I felt uneasy. But I chose to stuff the feelings away in a place where they wouldn’t bother me. Big mistake!
MARRIAGE AND ALSMOST DEATH: After living together for almost a year, we married in a sleazy ceremony in Tijuana, not in the military chapel with swords crossed as I played it out in my dream. Our marriage continued for nine years. It included many good times with my family and friends, amazing travel, and special treatment as an admiral’s wife. But red flags also occasionally swirled around me. When I finally began to pay attention, it was too late. John tried to murder me rather than loose his golden goose.
WHY DO WE IGNORE RED FLAGS? Why did I allow John in my life? As I gathered data for my book, I looked back at where I was mentally and physically at the time I met John. I can see the red flags clearly now, buy why did I ignore them in real time? While not dating, I had a busy life. I had just moved “over the hill” to a city fifteen miles away from family and friends because it was where I could afford to buy a home and I was busy decorating. I was working full time. Twice a week I would trek into the city as I pursued a BS in marketing at the university. Yes, I was busy.
But somewhere deep down inside me, somewhere in a place I could neither feel nor understand, I was lonely. I wanted someone with whom to share my life. I became John’s prey because an antisocial can sniff out loneliness as easily as a hunting dog on the trail of an unsuspecting forest creature. And once he trapped me, I became part of the crazymaking world of the psychopath.
Lessons learned are lessons to be shared. My number one tip for survival is to get to know yourself and to identify when loneliness may be pushing you into an unsafe journey. Then start slowly. Build trust. Pace how much you reveal yourself, especially on internet social and dating sites, where it’s even easier for someone to misrepresent themselves.
Dating helps us find that special someone. It’s fun. It’s invigorating. And we must always remember that it’s possible to build a healthy relationship as long as we pay attention to the red flags along the way.
Barbara Bentley, Author
“A Dance with the Devil: A True Story of Marriage to a Psychopath”
“The Little Book of Success: Turn Your Dreams into Reality with Four Simple Tools”
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