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Online Dating red flags...by a forensic psychologist who knows

By Dr Ahona Guha


Online dating can be a minefield for anyone. It remains rife with the possibility of disappointment, heartbreak and rejections.


It’s not uncommon for people to now turn to dating websites and apps as a hobby, a sideline and a way of finding some momentary engagement or to briefly bolster flagging self-esteem. Sometimes, it feels like the sheer array of choices is bewildering and that people become overwhelmed, or paradoxically, refuse to commit or choose—always holding out for that perfect profile or person they think they will find.


While these disappointments and difficulties are psychologically taxing, sometimes online dating can hold more sinister currents.


In my work as a clinical and forensic psychologist, I specialise in assessing and treating people who have stalked others. I have noted that a number of my clients who stalk, engage in these behaviours against people they have met on online dating apps.


Dating apps can provide a measure of anonymity and a separation between a person’s normal life, and this can reduce the social controls on someone’s behaviour. Think about it...would you ghost someone if you knew they would report back to mutual friends? Probably not.


Would you do this online, to someone who has no connection to your normal life? Perhaps.


This same principle applies to other behaviours, including more concerning intrusive behaviours.

The majority of the more concerning behaviours people encounter from online dating are likely to straddle the boundaries of the disrespectful and the intrusive. People can be intrusive for a range of reasons, including entitlement (“how dare you say no to something I want”), poor relational beliefs and attitudes (“women want to be pursued”), a lack of perspective (not being able to put oneself in the other person’s shoes), poor manners and ethics (“I don’t care what other people want”) and difficulties accepting rejection or managing the psychological demands of online dating.


These difficulties can manifest in a range of ways, including outright rudeness, being pushy in relation to getting one’s relational and sexual needs met (what are dick pics, but an overriding desire to seek sexual connection with no acknowledgement or focus on the humanity or desire of the receiver?), refusing to take no for an answer or making someone else put in all the effort.


Some common warning signs I advise people to look for include:


● Overly intrusive behaviours or personal questions right at the outset. Dating is about getting to know someone slowly, in a paced manner.


● Overly sexualised comments (unless it is clear that the context both of you are operating within is one of seeking a sexual encounter).


● The pace of approaches —if you have someone texting you all day and pushing to move in together within a month, I would advise caution. Healthy relationships take time to build and intensity and rush can indicate difficulties with attachment or impulsivity and possessiveness.


● Possessiveness or jealousy (e.g. always needing to know where you are, looking at your phone, questioning you based on social media activity). People often mistake these behaviours as ‘cute’ or indicative of a person’s interest and care. These are harmful relational behaviours that violate boundaries and often escalate into control once in the bounds of a committed relationship.


● Irritability or anger if you are unable to meet their needs, such as not texting back immediately or saying no to a date because you are tired. A healthy relationship requires an acknowledgement of the different needs of the parties involved in the relationship.


● Someone expecting you to make all the effort (e.g. driving two hours to meet them).


● Disrespect. This can encompass a wide range of behaviours, such as making disparaging comments about how you look, or pushing your boundaries in a range of ways (I once had a man tell me how he sought out and enjoyed eating dog meat in China, as my rescue greyhound watched us eat dinner!).


● Inconsistent communication, or difficulties planning and sticking to arranged plans.


While some of these behaviours may seem innocent in isolation, I encourage people to consider whether they are part of a broader pattern, and to consider how these might fit into the template of a healthy relationship overall.


Listen to Ahona on Australian True Crime talking about her work with stalkers.


Dr Ahona Guha, DPsych, is a clinical and forensic psychologist in Melbourne, Australia. She writes about a range of psychology topics at Psychology Today. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram.