Ignoring Red Flags: 3 Lessons from the LA Times “Dirty John” Podcast

The LA Times has a six part narrative series that I stumbled upon a few days ago called “Dirty John” by Christopher Goffard. Spoiler Alert 🚨 If you haven’t finished reading or listening to it, stop right now and go finish it!   According to my husband, the podcast version is really good. I actually read it while holding my sleeping 1-year-old. I’ll recap the series briefly and then talk about lessons that we can take from this story.

This series is about a woman, Debra, who meets a man, John, on an online dating site. She was a successful business woman with a lucrative interior design business.  He was a charming, good looking man who showed interest in her.  She thought he was the best thing that ever happened to her but he turned out to be her worst nightmare.  He lied about his job, his finances, his past. She ignored all the red flags and put her family at risk to be with a man she didn’t even know.

There’s so much more to this story which, you can listen to in your own time. For our purpose, let’s look at the three lessons we can take away to help you stop ignoring the red flags.  Keep in mind, there are varying degrees of red flags.  There are some that may warrant a conversation with the other person but then there are more severe ones that just require an end to that relationship, without discussion. If you’re unsure, talk to a trusted friend.

Listen and TRUST your intuition. We all have that little voice inside us that might say “Hmm, that’s odd.” Sometimes it’s not a voice, it’s a feeling. It shakes you up a bit or makes you feel uncomfortable. You may not be able to even explain it but it just doesn’t feel right. Don’t ignore it. It might be nothing (although it almost always is), just keep a mental note of it. Dating is a way to gather information about someone so you can decide if they are the right partner for you.  You don’t necessarily have to do anything with it right away (unless it’s severe) but you might notice a pattern of behaviors that will force you to make some decisions about the relationship.

Find a “red flag” accountability  partner.  Have you ever had a friend who was dating someone and every time you asked how things were going they’d say, “things are good!”? Or who minimizes things that bother them about the other person? Then, they break up and…the truth comes pouring out! There were red flags left and right and you’re wondering why this person left all this information out when you asked.

Maybe they really wanted it to work so they ignored the red flags. Maybe they were embarrassed about what others would think. There could be a number of reasons. Chose a friend who is going to be honest and objective and who will challenge you.

You’re in the love bubble.  You need someone to keep you grounded while you’re in there.  Depending on the severity of the red flag, it doesn’t mean that at the sight of the first red flag the relationship has to be over.  Here’s what that conversation might sound like:

Kate: ok Mindy…what are the red flags?
Mindy: I can’t think of any!
(This is where the friend pushes).
Kate: Mindy…no one is perfect. Has he said or done anything that might be seen as a red flag?
Mindy: Well, there is this one thing…”

Once the red flags are identified you may want to have a conversation about it with the person you’re dating OR you might decide it’s severe enough to just end the relationship.

Pace the relationship. After five weeks of dating, Debra and John moved in together.  Five weeks! It’s possible to start developing strong feelings for someone in that time but it’s a very risky move to decide to live together after only 35 days. How well do you really know the person? I’ve been with my husband for five years and there are still things I’m learning about him!

Getting to know someone takes time. You can’t rush this step.

Pacing the relationship means pacing how often you see each other.  Create some time in between dates to process how you’re feeling about this person.  Allow time to miss each other a bit and to build some anticipation and excitement for the next time you meet.

Now, you’re not going to tell your date “Sorry I can’t see you tomorrow because I’m pacing our relationship.” Instead say, “I’m not free tomorrow, how about Thursday night?”

My husband actually asked me how often I felt comfortable seeing him during the week. I wish I could remember exactly how he worded it!  He freaked me out with that question because 1) no one had ever asked me that and 2) I thought he could read my mind!

Dig Deeper:

The million dollar question: Why do we ignore the red flags?  I’m guilty of doing it.  People might say that they wanted to see the good in people or they saw a side of someone that they thought had “potential” instead of looking at the whole person.  They may just want love so bad that they’ll justify the red flag somehow.  They might think that maybe they’re being too nit picky.  There are so many reasons that we can come up with but, the truth is, it will likely never end well.

I’ll use an example from my own dating life. I met someone online who was a genuinely nice and interesting person.  On our first date, he made me feel so comfortable and at ease…we had a great time and I couldn’t wait for the next date.  Well, every time he would ask me on a date it was always at the last minute.  After a few times of turning him down, he finally asked me out with a few days notice.  The day of our date arrives and he hadn’t followed up to confirm the date or tell me the plan. At this point, I had two choices.  I could text him and find out or I could make other plans because it was already late in the afternoon and I hadn’t heard from him. I went against my better judgement and texted him. The entire night was a series of back and forth texts but we did eventually meet up. This is where it would have been helpful to have a friend that could’ve snapped me out of it!  We went on a few more dates after that but we were looking for different things.  I knew by his actions that he wasn’t looking to be in a relationship so I initiated the DTR conversation and he confirmed it.

One more example of a time when I ended it without a discussion. I met a guy while I was in traffic in downtown LA. He was in the car next to me. We had agreed to meet at a Starbucks in downtown. I showed up and after 10 or 15 minutes of waiting for him, I left. He texted later saying that he was at a different Starbucks.  I didn’t believe him because the location was very specific.  I didn’t open it up for discussion. I simply said to him that it was very important to me that people do what they say they’re gonna do and to please stop contacting me.  He was upset and he let me know. Maybe he was telling the truth but I had to trust my intuition and I didn’t believe him.

I think the reason we ignore the red flags comes down to not trusting ourselves, not valuing our time, not valuing our worth.  We learned this growing up, either from our parents, other family, friends, teachers, etc.

I don’t regret mistakes I’ve made in the past. Every mistake I made while dating helped me to trust myself more, to value my time more and to value my worth more.

I hope this post helps you and that it gives you the courage to make difficult decisions and have difficult conversations.

If you have a question about this post or any other dating question, you can submit it here.

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