The Biggest Red Flags on Dating Apps—and How to Stay Safe
On the second day of my trip to Phuket, Thailand, I stared at my phone in disbelief. The 26-year-old English teacher whom I had been messaging every day since matching on Bumble blocked me on all platforms.
In the prior week, he seemed genuinely interested in meeting. He called me "lil mama" and sent me videos and pictures of him swimming at his hotel and driving to work.
"LMK when you're in town. Hope it's soon and I'll buy some drinks and we can hit the pool around sunset," he messaged me just before I arrived. But as soon as I did, radio silence. I never heard from him again, leaving me to theorize that he was either married or in a relationship and got a thrill from stringing me along.
Is it common to miss red flags?
A Dating.com survey reported 37 percent of singles missed red flags and engaged in a relationship that proved too good to be true, said Maria Sullivan, a dating expert and the vice president of Dating.com in New York City.
"Some easy-to-miss red flags include over-the-top romance too early on, delayed replies to messages and an overly busy schedule that prevents them from seeing you," she explained.
Here are other important red flags to spot, according to dating experts and matchmakers:
1. Overtexting or snail-pace texting
"Overtexting is an indication that the prospect is coming on too strong and is probably looking for a roll in the hay," said Dawn Burnett, C.S.A., a lifestyle divorce coach in Windermere, Florida, who found love on Bumble and spent over a decade on dating apps.
Conversely, slow texting can be a gray area, said Jade Bianca, a Washington, D.C., matchmaker and dating expert at Dating After Divorce.
"They could just be busy or they could be not interested," she said.
Slow texting could also mean the individual has problems communicating, which will cause issues later down the line, Sullivan added.
2. Dodging an initial video call
When the English teacher I was chatting with blew off my request to video call, I should have pressed for an explanation. Instead, like other hopeful singles, I made excuses for him: "He's probably just busy."
"I take this as a huge red flag," Bianca said. "One of the most important things in online dating—regardless of gender—is safety. Hopping on a quick FaceTime call a few days before a date is the least a conscious dater can do."
"If a potential date wants to avoid a video chat before an in-person meeting, I would run," Burnett advised. "It's usually an indication that they don't look like their photos or perhaps they are married."
3. Having a short or nonexistent bio
Someone's biography can indicate what they're looking for in their next relationship or fling, but Burnett cautioned against a one- or two-word bio, which could mean the prospect is just "kicking tires."
"They're likely not serious about finding the 'right' person, but rather are perusing the aisle to see what turns up in their inbox," Burnett said.
4. Most of their pictures are in sunglasses or half-naked
Pictures can help you identify people who are more interested in how you look than in getting to know you, Sullivan said.
"If a match shows mostly half-naked pictures instead of photos with family, friends or pets, it might be a red flag," she explained.
Burnett added that people with such profiles are likely looking for a "one-hit wonder."
"A dating profile that shows only pictures with someone wearing sunglasses is a definite swipe left—they are hiding something," Burnett added.
5. Wanting to move to another platform right away
Asking for someone's social media handle isn't uncommon. About 26 percent of Dating.com users reported they added potential partners on social media sites before they went on their first date, Sullivan noted.
While asking to move the conversation over to social media may not be an outright red flag, here are a few reasons people may ask, according to Sullivan and Burnett:
- They could be overly concerned with your "social status" online.
- They could be worried about getting catfished.
- They could be a catfish.
- They want to check out your profile to better understand what you might be like in person.
6. Using language like 'If you do x, don't swipe right'
It's relatively common for people to include demands in their bio such as, "Message first or I'll unmatch you" or "Swipe left if you're conservative." While this type of language is off-putting to say the least, it could help you weed people out.
"If someone indicates if you have certain political views or religious views, 'don't swipe right,' they are doing you a favor," Burnett said. "This person is not open, unwilling to compromise and is most likely a control freak."
Tips for staying safe
Of course, following your instincts is probably the best strategy. However, the experts recommended three tips to give you a better outcome while you're navigating dating apps:
- Use a nickname. "Consider using a nickname or middle name instead of your real first name on your profile," Sullivan said. "Only give your real first and last name to someone you've met in person and want to spend more time with."
- Use an alternative number. "Don't give out your actual phone number until you know someone a bit better," Bianca said. "Instead, give them a Google Voice number, which is free and allows for extra safety." A reverse Google image search can also help avoid catfishes, she added.
- Do a background check. "It's better to be alone and happy than miserable in a toxic relationship," Burnett explained. "I've used Instant Checkmate to vet any suspicious dates and it has saved me a lot of time and energy."
Major red flags should never be glossed over or ignored, and going out of your way to protect yourself online is never a bad idea.