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Dating Advice #82 - Glaring Red Flags

May 9, 2009 | by Rosie Einhorn, L.C.S.W. and Sherry Zimmerman, J.D., M.Sc.

He may be a narcissist, or a control freak. In the meantime, he treats her like a queen and she doesn't want it to end. What's the long-term prognosis?

Dear Rosie & Sherry,

Through a mutual friend, I met a man who is 34 years old. I was told that he was married for a short time (three weeks) and that the marriage ended because his wife tried to kill herself. It was later explained that she had manic depression. My friend made it sound like this guy caught a bad break.

But I had many questions about the behavior I saw. After being divorced only six months, he came on very strong with me -- buying me lots of presents and taking me to expensive restaurants all the time.

On our very first date he revealed a great deal of intimate details about himself that I also found myself questioning. For example, he told me how he beat up people up in high school, including a teacher. He told me about issues with his father and older brother which are not good. He also told me how much money he made that past year. All these are subjects I did not bring up.

I later found out that he didn't even go to high school too much because he was getting into trouble, and that he later broke an engagement after a courtship that lasted four years.

The problem is that he appears unbelievably loving and committed to me. He calls me several times a day and always wants to be with me. He buys me things like socks and toothpaste -- not to mention all the jewelry, candles, flowers...

There is something about this that is eating at me and making it difficult to commit. He says I'm his "bashert," but it sounds like he's had a few of those before me, and he never speaks nicely of any of his ex dates. They somehow have all done something terrible to him.

Is it possible that a man could have such a weird past, but then meet the "right one" and it all falls into place? It feels so good to be loved and attended to in this way. What is you gut reaction to all of this?


Dear Naomi,

Our gut reaction isn't too good.

We can understand someone breaking off a marriage when they belatedly learn that their spouse is manic depressive, especially if she doesn't take her medication and/or her illness is hard to deal with. We've seen many marriages break up because of one spouse's bi-polar disorder. It is an illness that is very challenging to a marriage, although marriages under such circumstances can sometimes work if the bi-polar spouse takes medication regularly.

However, given all the other information you've learned about this man, we're sure you've considered the possibility that his story isn't true.

The fact that he revealed a lot of very personal information on your first date would make anybody uncomfortable, but some people don't realize that they are coming on too strong. If all that concerned you was that he had beaten people up and gotten into trouble in high school, we could say that he's gotten past these teenage difficulties and found a good place for himself in life. But there's a lot more that worries us.

This man definitely has a problem with relationships. We suspect that all his dates began as strongly as yours and something happened to destroy each of them. When you tell us that he has nothing nice to say about any of his former dates, we see a pattern emerging. Some people go into a new situation with unbridled enthusiasm, but as soon as they realize that the other person cannot given them unconditional love in return (nobody can do this), they feel betrayed and reject them. This is a pattern many narcissists repeat time and time again in their lives.

Other people are extremely charming and solicitous of a new date, but once they feel secure they start to become controlling. Unless they can control the other person, they fear they will lose her or that their own life will become chaotic. Such a person soon makes life miserable for the other person they feel they must control.

We're not positive that the man you are dating is a narcissist or a control freak, but we strongly suspect he falls into one of these categories. Long-term relationships with such people are not happy, stable or enduring.

Even if this man doesn't fall into one of the categories you described, there are so many red flags here that we worry about. You need to know a lot more about him.

There is no such thing as someone who has a very troubled past finding the "right one" and miraculously being okay. People who have overcome deep-seated problems have been in long-term psychotherapy.

We worry about your falling for this guy, because we think you are very vulnerable. You want the right man in your life, which is certainly understandable. However, that seems to incline you to look past warning signs and talk yourself into something that is not right for you. If you still insist on dating this man, we urge you to proceed with extreme caution.

Rosie & Sherry


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