Have you ever gone out with someone and felt super attracted to them, despite the fact they were a giant, rippling red flag? Whether it was their impulsivity, over-the-top assertiveness — or any other trait that might cause problems down the road — psychologists say it's actually common to find these negative qualities desirable on a first date. And while that might seem strange, there are quite a few reasons why.
For starters, negative traits might seem positive and exciting "because our bodies respond very similarly to both anxiety and excitement; think butterflies in your stomach, increased heart rate, [or] feeling flushed," Kara Lissy, LCSW, a psychotherapist and clinical coordinator at A Good Place Therapy & Consulting, tells Bustle. "In this way, qualities such as impulsivity and risky behavior in a date can be confused for adventurous and sexy rather than potentially dangerous."
An impulsive person might whisk you through the streets for a thrilling night out, or jump from topic to topic in a way that makes them seem chatty and interesting; all things that make for a great first date. But if they're too impulsive it can be a red flag, especially since this quality is one many cheaters have in common, among other toxic relationship habits.
The same is true for someone who overshares, which is another potentially negative trait that can seem great at first. "Because we are wired to connect, it feels good when our date shares a lot of personal, intimate details about themselves or past relationships," Lissy says. It can feel like you're really getting to know each other as they're spilling about exes and family issues, when in reality it might just mean they have poor boundaries, Lissy says.
It's easy to get swept up in the excitement and view these traits as attractive and interesting, all thanks to the setting and mood. But these qualities can also feel right due to what happened in your past. In fact, if you continue to see someone who is chock full of red flags, you may be "suffering from something we call in the field 'the repetition syndrome,' in which we are attracted to a partner who shares some of the negative traits of a parent during our childhood," Arlene B. Englander, LSCW, MBA, a licensed psychotherapist, tells Bustle.
If you had a rocky relationship with your family, it might feel more acceptable to date someone who is rude, or controlling, or manipulative, which might result in an emotionally abusive situation in the future. And it's all happening subconsciously.
"As an adult you are trying to repair the situation and feel some mastery rather than as vulnerable and helpless as you did as a child," Englander says. "But unfortunately by placing yourself back in a similar relationship you are putting yourself again in a no-win situation and the results will be the same. You’ll feel angry, frustrated, helpless, and/or resentful."
So, how can you go about spotting red flags on a first date, and saving yourself from falling for someone who might not make a good partner? Well, it can be tough. Since you don't know your date, it'll be difficult to tell the difference between someone who is being kind and someone who is being controlling, manipulative, or pushy, "especially since at the onset such behaviors are portrayed as coming from a place of caring," Judi Cinéas, LCSW, PhD, a licensed clinical social worker, tells Bustle.
You can, however, learn to look past the initial feelings of excitement and connection, to see if they are, in fact, a good match. "Listen to the way they speak of others — friends, family, exes, and even the couple at the next table," Cinéas says. "How people speak of others can give you great insight into who they are."
Keeping patterns in mind can also be helpful, especially if you have a tendency to look past red flags during those early dates. "The best way to move forward is by awareness, so use this information to be far more alert when you meet someone new," Englander says. If something feels wrong, or even too good to be true, it likely is. Keep that in mind, and all those negative qualities will start to seem far less attractive.
Editor's Note: If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse, call 911 or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1(800) 799-SAFE (7233) or visit thehotline.org.
Neubauer, A., Jauk, E., & Rauthmann, J. (2016). How alluring are dark personalities? The Dark Triad and attractiveness in speed dating. Personality and Individual Differences, 101, 501. doi: 10.1016/j.paid.2016.05.238
Kara Lissy, LCSW, psychotherapist and clinical coordinator at A Good Place Therapy & Consulting
Arlene B. Englander, LSCW, MBA, licensed psychotherapist
Judi Cinéas, LCSW, PhD, licensed clinical social worker