Higher Standards Dating

4 Subtle Dating Red Flags You Might Be Missing

You may know the common dating red flags, but here are four not-so-obvious ones to be on the look out for.


Getting to know someone while dating can come with a flurry of varied emotions: excitement, nervousness, intrigue, and beyond.

Given the string of emotions that come with dating someone new, it can often be challenging to evaluate this person clearly, objectively, and accurately.

You know what they say; love is blind! And wearing “love goggles” can distract you from some key warning signs that this guy may not be the best match for you.

Of course, it’s normal to experience some butterflies or nerves when you’re getting to know someone new. But certain behaviors and characteristics that set off these small alarms can actually be cause for concern in the long run.

I’ll share four subtle dating red flags so you fully understand some of the not-so-obvious signs to look out for.

Want more than four? Sign up here for a free PDF on 30 Subtle Red Flags.

What Are Red Flags?

woman in black dress sitting on couch looking at the man

Red flags are behaviors, phrases, or traits that serve as warning signs about another person.

If you see a “red flag” in someone, it doesn’t mean that they are automatically a bad person or even a bad partner for you. It simply means that you should be both cautious and curious if you decide to move forward with this person.

But if there are many red flags, or the red flags are severe, it’s probably best to move on.

Here are a few examples of common, glaring dating red flags that are usually not so subtle:

  • Controlling behavior: e.g., “I don’t want you to wear that dress.”
  • Jealousy: e.g., “Why are you talking to this person?”
  • Blame-shifting: e.g., “Your emotions are making me feel awful.”
  • Inability to admit fault: e.g., “I didn’t do anything wrong.”
  • Disrespecting your boundaries: “I didn’t know you were serious about that.”

Is Abuse a Red Flag?

Some people say that physical, sexual, or emotional abuse is a red flag, but I disagree. I believe any form of abuse is a dealbreaker, which is more severe than a red flag.

Red flags are behaviors that you can potentially discuss with the person you’re dating and see if they are willing and able to recognize these issues, thus increasing the likelihood of change and growth.

Even phrases that may seem more common, such as “you’re being too sensitive” or “that never happened, you’re being crazy,” is gaslighting, which is a form of emotional abuse and manipulation.

And even red flags like blame-shifting can be considered emotional abuse, especially if the speaker is intentionally using this manipulative tactic for control and power.

If you feel someone is abusing you, it is not worth your time, energy, and effort to try and work it out.

What Are Subtle Red Flags?

Subtle red flags are red flags that aren’t as blatant.

Subtle dating red flags have two sides. On the one hand, they could be a misunderstanding or small behavioral things that, once brought up, are easy to handle.

On the other hand, subtle red flags can be just as damaging as the big ones, if not more, because they take a while to notice and gradually build over time. Thus, you may waste more time on someone than you would have otherwise if they flew a bright, glaring red flag at you from the start.

This is why it’s important to discuss with your partner or the person you’re talking to if you notice a subtle red flag rubbing you the wrong way.

So without further ado, here are four subtle red flags to look out for.

1. Always Making Commands Instead of Asking Questions

backpacker holding hand of crop beloved in forest

Explicitly controlling behavior is a huge red flag. But even frequent commands can be a subtle red flag. 

Examples of Commands

  • “Come over.” 
  • “Let me buy you a drink.”
  • “We’re going out tonight.”
  • “Give me a kiss.”

Once in a while, they’re okay; these sorts of statements might make a guy seem more confident, bold, or even charming. 

But if he is constantly making demands instead of asking you questions, he may be testing the waters to see how much more he can control down the road. 

These command statements should be supplemented with genuine questions like “What do you want to do? “Can we dance?” “Would you like a drink?” and so on. 

Questions To Ask Yourself

So are his commands sexy or sly?

To distinguish between whether your guy is making friendly, lighthearted, or even flirty commands versus manipulative ones, ask yourself these questions:

  • How often does he tell me what he wants instead of asking me what I want?
  • What tone of voice does he use when saying these statements?
  • What happens when I say no to these sorts of commands? How does he respond?

2. Subtle Love Bombing

a person s hand holding a bouquet with white roses

Grand gestures like purchasing a fancy flight after your first date or sending 50 text messages a day might seem “romantic” initially.

But these extraordinary displays of “love” could just be a tactic to sweep you off your feet and cloud your judgment before you have the chance to see this person for who they are.

Additionally, if this easily woos you in the beginning, a guy might take that as a sign that he can use grand gestures to get out of future wrongdoings.

In other words, grand gestures and uncomfortably quick declarations of love — e.g., love bombing — is usually a sleazy and manipulative tactic instead of a genuine sign of interest, care, or love.

But love bombing isn’t always so obvious, and it may not always be intentionally manipulative.

Examples of Subtle Love Bombing

Some gestures might be explicitly obtrusive and absurd, such as saying “I love you” on the first date or bringing up marriage and creating a wonderful future together on the second date.

But Love bombing is sometimes not as obvious — a love *pop* more than a bomb if you will.

He might start fawning over you before he has truly gotten to know you or showering you with gifts or an abnormal amount of attention from the start.

Here are some examples of subtle love bombing:

  • Telling you how amazing you are all the time, but without specific points
  • Complimenting your physical appearance excessively
  • Wanting to see you all the time and getting frustrated or giving the silent treatment when you can’t hang out
  • Bringing a gift every meetup

Questions To Ask Yourself

It may sound difficult to differentiate between a guy who is love bombing and a guy who is just seriously falling for you (because hey, you’re a catch!).

The key here is to consider whether their words and (genuine) actions match up. In order to determine whether someone is truly interested in you or just love bombing, ask yourself these questions:

  • Does he listen when I talk? Or does he just wait for his turn to talk?
  • Does he ask me follow-up questions about things I’ve told him in the past?
  • Does he try to learn things about me that are important to me?
  • Does he remember the little things I’ve told him?
  • Is he giving me significantly more compliments than asking questions to get to know who I am?
  • Is he saying he likes me for very generic, copy-and-paste reasons?
  • Does he ramp up his affirmations, kind words, and talks of the future after he’s done something I don’t like?

3. Being Weird With His Phone 

person holding black smartphone near white ceramic cup on white table

Modern dating is known for being particularly complicated and frustrating, and phones play a significant role in this reputation.

Before diving into this red flag, it’s important to note that everyone has a right to privacy, and people have varying opinions and comfort levels when it comes to sharing their life on the internet, their passwords with partners, and so on — especially in the earlier stages of dating.

However, suppose your partner or fling is consistently acting shady with their phone. In that case, it could be a sign that they’re hiding something, are embarrassed by something — or, at the very least, that they don’t feel comfortable enough with you to share certain aspects of their life, which you may resent in the long run.

Examples of Phone-Related Red Flags

  • Not letting you borrow his phone, even for a quick task
  • Always putting his phone face down
  • Not including you on social media anywhere (especially if they’re an avid user)
  • Taking his phone with him everywhere
  • Safeguarding his phone at all times
  • Hiding his screen when you enter the room
  • Not sharing the entry password, even after dating for a while

Questions To Ask Yourself

Because everyone has a unique relationship to phone usage, the internet, and privacy, it’s important not to jump to conclusions when it comes to phone usage that seems strange to you.

Here are some questions to ask yourself that can provide more clarity on whether or not your date’s phone usage is a quirky trait or a potential concern:

  • Does he get angry, nervous, or defensive when I ask him to use his phone?
  • Has he ever left his phone on the table, even for a moment?
  • Does he post about me on social media?
  • Does he let me borrow their phone when I need to make a call or look something up?
  • If I ask who he is texting, simply out of curiosity, how does he react?

4. Being Awkward About Introducing and Meeting Friends

people having drinks

In the earlier stages of dating, both parties might be reasonably hesitant to introduce each other to family members. Family meetings are often reserved for people you’re more sure about or want to truly commit to, so it’s fine if this introduction takes a few months or even a year.

However, after going on several dates with someone or dating for a couple of months, you may want to meet their friends and have them meet yours.

If the guy you’re dating gets super weird about the idea of introducing each other’s friends or hanging out in group settings, this could be a dating red flag. This behavior is commonly referred to as “pocketing,” as the person keeps you tucked away.

Reasons Behind This Dating Red Flag: “Pocketing”

There are several potential reasons why a guy might not want to introduce you to their friends or vice versa.

  • He’s just not that interested in you
  • He’s not ready for the judgment or opinions of others
  • He feels insecure or thinks his friends are better than him
  • He’s worried about his friends not liking you or you not liking them
  • He’s worried about your friends not liking him or him not liking them
  • He doesn’t know how to introduce you because you haven’t defined the relationship yet
  • You’re the other woman (or one of many), so he has to hide you from people who know the main woman
  • He’s not ready, willing, or interested in getting to know all parts of you, including who is important in your life

Questions To Ask Yourself

Again, it’s okay if it’s early days and he’s just not sure about you yet, or you’re not sure about him. But if you’ve been talking for a while and are at a good point to learn more about each other’s lives, you have a reason to feel a bit taken aback by him not introducing his friends and/or wanting to meet yours.

The best thing to do for this red flag, and for most subtle dating red flags, is to have an honest conversation about it, explaining how you feel and what you would like, then see how he responds. This type of conversation will offer more clarity.

But if you want to make sure that his behavior even constitutes a subtle red flag in the first place, here are a few questions to ask yourself:

Not Wanting To Introduce You to His Friends:

  • Has there been an opportunity to meet his friends that he has actively avoided?
  • Do his friends know I exist as all?
  • Do I feel like he’s hiding me from his social circle?
  • When I do meet his friends, does he introduce me as someone he’s dating?

Not Wanting To Meet Your Friends:

  • Have my friends asked to meet him?
  • How does he respond when I ask if he wants to hang out with my friends?
  • Does he make an effort to ask questions about the important people in my life?
  • Do I feel like he could care less about my life outside of what directly affects him?

What To Do Next About Subtle Dating Red Flags

As mentioned, an honest conversation is the best way to address subtle dating red flags and investigate whether they are truly a cause for concern or whether they can be chalked up to a personality quirk or something else.

This is also the best way to find out if he’s just not ready to take the relationship to the next level or if he’s not interested in you. If he is interested, he’ll want to find a way to overcome any hesitations he has and will be open to talking about it with you.

There are many other examples of these subtle but significant warning signs, and you can download 30 Subtle Dating Red Flags — a free, quick guide to keep in your back pocket and reference when you want to make sure you’re not missing any key signals.

And now that you know more about red flags, even the subtle ones, you may wonder, “Is he even worth it?” Take this quiz to uncover your true feelings about this relationship (or situation-ship) and determine whether this guy is worth your energy in the first place.

Love,

Imani

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