10 Red Flags That Indicate You Are Dating a Toxic Person

Ignoring toxic traits won’t save you from getting hurt

Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash

There are some things that you need to experience yourself to understand fully. You don’t really get heartbreak until your own heart gets broken. You don’t understand the depths of grief until you lose someone close to you. You won’t understand the crippling effects of depression or anxiety until you experience them firsthand. It’s not that you cannot empathise, it’s that fully grasping how it feels and how it changes you requires that you go through all the emotions related to it.

You might never understand why someone gets into or stays in a toxic relationship, but it happens — exactly because it’s not easy to see the toxicity at first. But there are some signs that you should take as red flags, some hints that suggest that you might be dealing with someone toxic. Watching out for red flags at the beginning of a relationship is not paranoid, it’s self-care. No one else will watch out for you, so you need to be aware of your own boundaries and of the qualities of people you let close to you.

So what can signal that you are dating someone toxic?

#1 It feels too good to be true

It’s a cliché to say that whatever feels too good to be true is often not true — but cliché or not, it’s still valid. Toxic people have a tendency of love-bombing which is an exaggerated display of romantic attention, as seen in movies and read in romantic literature. They meet all of your needs immediately, they are perfectly tuned in on you 24/7, they always say and do whatever you want to hear or experience. It feels like a fairy tale with the perfect partner.

But life doesn’t work this way. No one is perfect, no one can read minds, no one knows all the right answers at once. Infatuation can hide a lot of flaws and shortcomings, and our confirmation bias makes us focus on the things that reinforce what we want to see and believe.

Love-bombing is not love. It is a manipulative act to get you invested emotionally in a relationship. It is a bunch of promises without real actions. It is an illusion of a future that will never happen. If someone always has the perfect answer to everything, chances are that they have been observing you and they are putting their best foot forward to make you fall for them — only to show you later their real self. Don’t fall for illusions, fake futures and unmet promises, don’t fall for potential. Make sure that you see the real person behind the mask of perfection — because no mask can be worn forever, it will eventually fall and you might not like what’s behind.

#2 The relationship advances too fast

Following the idea of love-bombing, it should be taken with a pinch of salt if the relationship advances too fast. There is no perfect timing for saying ‘I love you’, moving in together, getting married or having kids together — but if it feels too fast for you, it probably is and you shouldn’t sweep away your instincts just because the attention and the displayed commitment feels good.

Commitment is not a haphazard decision. To declare exclusivity, to move in together require a lot of sacrifices and you need to be emotionally and mentally ready for them. It can happen that someone becomes an important part of your life and you can’t imagine your days and life without them — but it’s a normal reaction when you fall in love and lust. It doesn’t mean that you need to immediately act upon it, and you shouldn’t be cornered into the next phase of a relationship by anyone. Healthy relationships mean that you are allowed to take your time and enjoy it without having to push it forward too quickly. Let it happen organically and don’t give in to pressure.

#3 You feel tired after meeting them

Even the best relationship can feel exhausting — we all know this after a year of being together with our loved ones. Time after time, we need to be away from those we love, to rest and recharge on our own terms, to miss them a bit and to look forward to seeing them and spending time with them.

There are people who drain us, and at times we don’t fully comprehend the reason, all we feel is that we feel tired and empty instead of energised. If it happens a few times, there is nothing to worry about — relationship dynamics can change and in a balanced relationship we can take turns in being the ones who give and then the ones who take.

However, if you feel depleted after every encounter with your date, it can be a sign of toxicity. It can be because of different energy levels, different ideas about reciprocity or even a continuous stretch of your boundaries when you need to be always on high alert. Maybe they need your attention and presence more than you feel comfortable with, maybe there is an imbalance of communication and being seen and heard, maybe it is about too much sex — anyhow, if you feel that they drain you, you might need to check-in with yourself whether you adhere to your boundaries well enough or whether they respect it appropriately.

#4 They can’t take no for an answer

In an early relationship phase, it’s nice to have someone who shows you they want you and that they are persistent towards you. They want to meet, they will rearrange their schedules and expect you to do the same for them. However, it’s important that you feel safe with them to say no to their advances.

Toxic people have a tendency of ignoring boundaries or stretching them. It might involve talking you out of your decisions and putting up a fight when you refuse to comply with their needs.

In a healthy relationship, your boundaries are safe and you don’t have to worry about hurting the other by taking care of yourself. If you get apprehensive about saying no because your partner makes you feel guilty about it or they withdraw their attention to punish you for denying their wish, you need to be careful. Not accepting no for an answer is manipulation and any form of manipulation is toxic.

#5 They monopolise your time

If you have ever been in love you remember the feeling of how much you wanted to spend all your time with your partner — especially in the early days and weeks. Every minute without them seems too long and it feels right to be with them all the time. Yet, a healthy relationship eventually morphs into a better-balanced setup of having your own life and spending an amazing time with your partner. The need for self-care, alone time, and respecting the same for the other is crucial to maintain a good relationship.

If your partner monopolises your time, if they don’t let you have your own time slots for yourself, for your friends, for your family or for your hobbies, it’s a sign that it is heading in a toxic direction. Boundaries — as always — are important in terms of time.

Toxic people tend to alienate you from others, make you dependent on their presence and approval, forming an unhealthy connection where your world revolves around them only. maintain a healthy balance, keep your own life, respect their time and cherish the moments you spend together — in the long run just as much as in the beginning.

#6 The conversation is always about them

In the early stages of a relationship people usually spend a lot of time getting to know each other — they want to know everything, they want to share thoughts and opinions, hopes and dreams.

With a toxic person, soon you’ll find yourself in conversations exclusively about them. At first, it feels great, as the more you know about them the closer you feel to them — but it soon turns into feeling unseen and unheard. Being self-centred is a form of toxicity and if your partner fails to pay attention to you, fails to listen to what you have to say, it might be that they treat you as a prop in their show instead of a partner.

Narcissists are especially famous for using their partners to feed their need for attention and treat them as an audience for their own performance.

#7 Their compliments feel backhanded

A backhanded compliment is the worst of the insults that can happen to you, as it blurs the line between a compliment and an offence. A compliment is supposed to make you feel good, and you have every right to be offended or hurt if someone insults you. But when you can’t be sure whether you were complimented or insulted, it creates confusion and is a source of frustration.

You look good for your age is a common example of a backhanded compliment, when it’s up to you to decide whether you take it as a compliment or an insult. A toxic person usually masters the art of backhanded compliments. They are not openly rude but there is still a critical tone to their compliments. They cover the criticism with jokes or sarcasm, and if you can’t take it, it means that you don’t have a sense of humour. If you feel confused about their comments and you have to wonder whether it was positive, negative, aggressive or a joke, it’s a sign that they are either immature or toxic.

Photo by Tengyart on Unsplash

#8 They have a horde of crazy exes

Unless you married your very first love and you are happily married ever since it’s quite common to have a few exes and a handful of stories of previous dates. While it is suggested to not bring up exes on first dates and in the early stages of relationships, our past relationships shaped us into who we are, and if we are not obsessing and ruminating about exes, it’s just another topic that we might share with our partner.

There are crazy exes out there and it can happen that you have had your share of them — but the success and the outcome of relationships depend on the two parties in it. If all of your partner’s exes are crazy, if it is always someone else to blame, if they portray themselves as perfect, the victim of someone else’s insanity, it might be a sign that the real problem lies with them. If all of the exes are selfish, unreliable and crazy, it might be that your partner has a hard time with their judgment of people, or they are reframing the past in an unfavourable way or they are the ones who provoke and create crazy in their relationships.

#9 The world is out to get them

Blaming our exes for our lack of success is a sign of shifting the blame and playing the victim. Toxic people usually paint a picture of a world that is out to get them. Instead of recognising their responsibility in the things that surround them they stick to a narrative where they are continuously wronged — by everyone they meet.

If someone always blames external circumstances and refuses to take responsibility, it might be a sign of immaturity. But if they pull you into their games and they expect you to join their pity party, you against the whole world, there might be some further elements in play.

A mature, healthy individual understands their part in the outcome of actions, they understand the concept of consequences and responsibility, and they don’t use negative narrative to build common ground.

#10 They treat you differently in private than in public

We are layered as human beings, and we have different faces — acting differently in private than in public. With the right partner, we can feel and act freely, we can be more playful, less tight, less disciplined, and it’s a great thing. It means that we can let our guards down with them as we feel safe enough to be completely ourselves with them.

But a healthy personality doesn’t change completely and doesn’t change the way they treat the other depending on who is seeing it. Toxic people tend to act differently when they are out in public, knowing fully well how their behaviour might be perceived negatively by people who are not infatuated with them.

If you see a shift in character in your partner and it feels alarming — pay attention, as it might be the very first sign indicating their toxic traits.

There are toxic people out there. Some of them are bad news for everyone, some just wouldn’t be a good fit for you. Not everyone you meet will be toxic, and not everyone will test your boundaries. Respecting yourself means that you respect your own time, energy and boundaries. It means that you pay attention to your gut feeling and trust yourself enough to recognise triggers. It means that you know what you tolerate and what is off-limits.

You deserve love, attention and healthy connections that energise you. Don’t be paranoid, don’t look for triggers everywhere, but don’t ignore the potentially toxic traits either.

Writer. Dreamer. Hopeless romantic. Newsletter: zita.substack.com Email me: zitafontaine (at) gmail

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