What Are Red Flags to Look for When Dating Online?

Ten Red Flags to Look for When Dating Online

“Dating.” It’s a tale as old as time. We all dream of meeting our soulmate, preferably in some romantic way that makes a great story to tell at parties for years to come. Whether you meet at school, the gym, the coffee shop, or the office, most of us don’t care as long as we find our person, and, of course, if you’ve dated in the last decade, you’ve likely met some contenders on the internet as well. Dating apps and online matchmaking sites are almost a foregone conclusion these days. Some of us can’t even imagine meeting a stranger “out in the wild” without vetting them online first. While it’s a wonderful tool and has certainly given many happy couples their start, online dating isn’t easy or perfect. There are just as many pitfalls when it comes to online dating as there are opportunities. Whether you’re a seasoned pro or downloading one of these apps for the first time, it’s important to think seriously about how best to use these accounts conscientiously and safely. Here are some common red flags to keep an eye out for when you’re using a dating app.

1. Profiles that link to or sync with other sites.

Some apps offer a feature that links your dating profile with your social media sites, allowing your matches to see your activity on other sites like Spotify and Instagram. While this is often touted as a “validation” method to make sure that you’re talking to a “real” person and give you a better idea of their personality, it can actually give someone access to more personal information than you want a stranger to have. Carefully consider whether you really want to allow these sites to connect to one another because you may unwittingly share more about yourself than you bargained for.

2. Direct requests for money, personal info, or departure from the app.

Though it might feel like a good sign when the person you’ve matched with asks for your number, it’s probably a better idea to keep your communications within the app’s messaging feature until you’ve met in person a few times. You would be surprised how much an untrustworthy stranger can do with your name and phone number. And of course, be highly suspicious if anyone you meet online asks you for money. That is a 100% scam 100% of the time. Nobody who’s interested in getting to know you romantically will ask you to send them money over the internet.

3. Requests to meet privately.

Never meet a stranger in a private place. You want to make sure that your first few in-person dates are in public, within full view of other people, and always make sure someone you trust knows where you’re going and when to expect you home. There are a couple of reasons someone might ask to meet privately that could be dangerous. First, online dating does give a platform to human traffickers, and you want to be smart to avoid walking into a situation that compromises your safety. Second, meeting in “private” could be code for meeting in “secret,” and unfortunately that sometimes means the person you’re meeting doesn’t want to get caught. Online dating also gives cheaters and liars an easy way into your life, so if they don’t want anyone else to know they’re meeting you, you need to be suspicious of their reason. Cheaters may also outright refuse to meet you in person, because they know they can’t do so without being exposed. Either way, if they won’t go on a real date with you, be wary.

4. Unsolicited explicit texts or photos.

Surprising you with explicit content you weren’t expecting and didn’t request is a toxic and manipulative move. It’s a sign that they are trying to maintain control of your conversation and that your connection may not be what you were hoping for. It’s also a red flag if they ask you to send them explicit messages. Remember, no matter what the privacy settings are on this site, nothing you sent via the internet is truly private. They could even be taking screenshots of everything you send and sharing those around, so be very careful with what you put out there.

5. Values or behaviors that don’t align with your future goals.

This means you need to know your own values and goals before you start chatting with anyone. Ask yourself why you’re on the app. If you’re looking to find “the one,” but the person you’re talking to is just looking to “hook up,” those two things don’t match. Big red flag. Whether you value family, or taking care of the environment, or Dungeons & Dragons, if they aren’t able to share or respect what you love, that could be another sign that this isn’t a workable match.

6. Ghosting.

If they’re holding a conversation with you one day and gone the next, that’s one of the reddest flags there is. Inconsistent communication is not okay, especially when you’re trying to start a new relationship. You deserve respect, and anyone who respects you wouldn’t disappear without warning is ghosting you. Even if they eventually come back, be highly suspicious of whether this person cares about you in a serious way.

7. Narcissistic or other toxic communication traits.

If they can only talk about themselves, get frustrated when you don’t respond quickly enough, or constantly ask you where you are, this is a sign they are trying to control you. Online dating can bring out the narcissistic traits in all of us if we’re not careful, so make sure you learn to recognize the signs, not just in the people you chat with but in yourself. You want to be respected, but you also want to respect the other app users. Remember there are real, live human beings on the other side of these profile pictures and text bubbles.

8. You find yourself comparing yourself to others.

You ask to look at your friends' profiles. You constantly change your pictures, questions, quotes, or blurbs. You worry that if you don’t get it right, people won’t “get” you. Go back to your overall goal for being on these dating sites. If you’re obsessing over building your “perfect profile,” there’s a chance you’re thinking way more about your profile than you are about looking for love, which can take a major toll on your mental health. Take a deep breath and look away from the phone for a little way. At least five minutes.

9. You find yourself mindlessly swiping for hours.

There are some studies now about whether or not these apps are actually addictive. Much like a game on your phone can be addicting because of the colors, lights, graphics, and rewards, these apps can train your brain to be stimulated by more and more use. Remember this isn’t actually just a game on your phone. It’s a means to an end. You want to find someone to spend your life with, not spend your life finding someone. If you’ve been swiping for hours, it’s time for a break, and maybe for longer than five minutes.

10. Dating burnout.

No matter how you’re getting your dates, putting yourself out there is hard. When someone doesn’t message you back, or if you finally meet someone in person and they don’t want a second date, rejection can feel devastating. Apps and dating sites allow us to go through prospects at a much faster rate than we used to be able to, and you’re bound to experience disappointment at some point. Be careful not to get discouraged or take each rejection too personally. Some can experience depression if they misuse these sites, so if you’re feeling tired, pay attention to that feeling and take a break to avoid burnout.

Don’t let these red flags scare you away from trying these apps in the first place. There are plenty of happy couples out there who came together via the internet, and you could be next! This list is just here to help you succeed. At the end of the day, each one is just an indicator that something’s off. The best way to avoid disaster when it comes to online dating is to be consistently mindful of three questions: Are you being safe? Are you forming real connections? Is the process controlling you? If you’re able to take care of yourself in those ways, there’s no reason Bumble or Hinge can’t be part of your love story. Forgive the cliché, but God works in mysterious ways… dating apps are undoubtedly one of them. If you’re wondering about a specific interaction you’re having online, or if you’re not sure what to do about a red flag you’ve noticed, feel free to reach out for a chat with TheHopeLine. We have your back, and we’re happy to help you explore whether your online dating experience is safe and healthy!

TheHopeLine Team
For over 30 years, TheHopeLine has been helping students and young adults in crisis. Our team is made up of writers and mental health professionals who care deeply about helping others.
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