First Red Flag

“‘When people show you who they are, believe them.”
~Maya Angelou

Words began to fly out of my mouth that don’t normally even develop wings there. I was falling in love and wasn’t shy about putting the world on notice. In retrospect, I wonder why my loved ones didn’t stage an intervention.

They didn’t even express concern when I announced I was “staying” with someone I’d known for all of a week…and his son. We all pretended that meant something less serious than living with them.

Of course, any attempt to reason with me would have been met with great resistance. No connection had ever felt more destined. I was entirely spellbound, a state I’d never experienced before in the romantic realm. Anything I’d previously believed to be love suddenly seemed so externally and egoically based, inconsequential by comparison.

At the time, I blissfully believed I’d found the rare type of love few even comprehend exists. But the word spell is in spellbound for a reason. 

I was thrilled to be experiencing what seemed like my first conscious partnership. Spirituality had rarely if ever been discussed in my past relationships and entwining egos had killed most of them. That wouldn’t happen this time, because my boyfriend and I were seemingly aware enough to help one another through the landmines of the mind. 

I told people I was finally dating someone who was more evolved than I was! Initially, there seemed to be so much evidence to support that theory. 

Despite how fast and hard I was falling for this man, moving in with him and his son was still a highly improbable occurrence. As a big fan of sleeping, I have never grasped the concept of cohabitation. I blame my past proclivity for dating guys who go to bed and wake up much earlier than I do, and spend a great deal of the time between snoring.

My type also likes to keep the air conditioner on so high, polar bears would take exception – yet seem surprised when my survival instinct hoards all the blankets.

As someone who needs strong incentive to stay an entire night, moving in was never a deliberate choice. It just sort of happened. From the moment I met this man, there had been little time to myself to ascertain what was and wasn’t in my best interest.

Since he’d invited me to breakfast the morning after our first date, I didn’t even have time to compose my usual “50 reasons why a second date with this guy is ill advised” list. I’m joking…but I don’t get impressed very easily. 

This one didn’t give me time to talk myself out of him. My fears sat on the sidelines and sulked, along with their friend My Better Judgement.

It was situational. Had I met this man in New York, I would have gotten to know him slowly. I certainly wouldn’t have been playing house with him so quickly!

When his son was there, I chose to stay at hotels out of respect for the boy. But there were only so many times I could justify that financially irresponsible expense when I hadn’t worked in over a month. So whenever he was with his mother, I stayed overnight. 

One day, his son asked where I slept when he wasn’t there. Smart kid! My boyfriend told me I was the first woman he’d dated seriously in the years since his divorce. I figured that might be confusing for his son and was amazed he’d taken to me so easily. When he began to ask questions about my increasing presence, I fielded them with empathy and age-appropriate honesty. 

My boyfriend told me we didn’t have to answer his questions. This was the situation and that was that. It’s not that I was completely unaware of that red flag; I just opted not to see it as one. I’m not a parent and his explanation for why he wasn’t catering to his son’s questions seemed valid enough. 

Parents need to set limits, something I suspect I wouldn’t have been terribly good at if I’d chosen to have children. If my boyfriend didn’t see the importance of meeting his son’s curiosity and validating his feelings about me, at least I could play that role!

I let the kid know he could ask me anything and that while I might not always have an answer, I’d do my best to provide one. I told him I cared about his feelings and that it was always going to be safe to share them with me. I was proud of myself for how well I handled a situation I’d never been in. 

I chose to focus on the countless ways my boyfriend showed up as an incredible dad. He was very present with his son. He played sports with him on a regular basis, encouraged his art work and talents and paid him an abundance of compliments. 

While his son was with him, which was the majority of the time, he played the role of two parents. He provided for him, cooked, cleaned and took him back and forth from school, friends’ homes and events. He was affectionate and expressed love regularly. 

Maybe the “my way or the highway” mentality about his son’s questions was in my imagination. After all, we did have some language barriers. Perhaps I’d just misunderstood. 

While I wasn’t entirely oblivious of the subsequent red flags that began to arrive with rapid frequency, cautioning me to swim at my own risk, I ignored those warnings as well. 

I’m a strong swimmer and thought I could handle the current. For the first time in my life, I was having an experience of unconditional unity.

I didn’t have to like every single thing about the man to love him. It’s not like I admired each and every one of my own personality traits!

That would come to be a problem. 


Almost all people in abusive relationships report that their unions got off to very fast starts.

This is why it’s so important to get to know new partners slowly. We experience increases in adrenaline due to the excitement of a new attraction, and increased levels of dopamine and serotonin in the early phases of falling in love.

Mix in sex hormones and oxytocin – the “bonding hormone” – and, well, good luck walking away! Those chemicals and hormones make it very easy to look the other way when red flags appear or something doesn’t add up or feel quite right.

Who wants to walk away from such wonderful, natural and seemingly consequence-free highs? Surges in dopamine, for instance, have some of the same effects as taking cocaine, even including feeling less of a need for food and sleep!

When we get to know people slowly, we are far more likely to heed the inner and outer warnings. If someone tells you he or she has been waiting for you all of his or her life the first week you’ve known one another, you’re likely experiencing “love bombing.”

More on that soon.

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