Orders water, wears odd socks, eats onions: 56 dating red flags to ignore at your peril

Clueless romantics may struggle to identify these seemingly harmless quirks as a sign of impending doom

Picture it, a romantic restaurant, the perfect first date: the lights are low, the music soft, the food exquisite, and the flirting is moving from playful to saucy at just the right pace. And then, as you reach for the last chunk of focaccia… BAM! He licks every one of his fingers, grabs the bread and rips it in two – offering you the smallest half. Innocent mistake? Simple bad manners? Worse: it’s a red flag. Game over.

Red flags started out with a serious mission: to alert women to signs of potential coercive control within their relationship – for example, being isolated from their friends, manipulating their recollection of events, and limiting their freedom and autonomy. Now, it’s widened to include far pettier things marking out potential love matches as time-wasters, dimwits or shaggers. Instagram and TikTok froth with posts listing telltale signs you’re on to a loser, and the definition of a red flag is rather fluid, incorporating the ancient concept of a turn-off and the newer, more visceral and niche “ick”. It’s an instantly recognisable hazard warning – little red flag emojis alongside a screenshot of a predate message or social media post are enough to say stay away.

The clueless romantics among us may struggle to identify ostensibly harmless behaviour as a sign of impending doom, but it all starts with the first date. Can you really tell from the way someone acts that dating them would be your biggest mistake since the night of the seven absinthes? Having observed more courting couples than I care to remember, these are the little red flags no self-respecting singleton can afford to ignore.

First impressions

Arrives late

Even seconds late is bad. In fact, if you turn up bang on time, you’re late. Three minutes early is optimal. Your timekeeping is the biggest first impression you’ll ever make, unless you arrive with a balloon animal under each arm. That said, trains get delayed, traffic crawls, and bosses always ask to “borrow you for five minutes” just as you’re heading out the door, so if the date texts regular updates on the delay and their ETA, we can forgive. But show up half an hour late whistling Bennie and the Jets as if nothing happened? They have no respect for your precious time. They’d be better off getting someone to phone in dead on their behalf.


Has resting disappointed face

If they can’t conceal their dismay that perhaps you’re not quite what they had in mind, imagine that face in church, perspiring and impassive, grunting, “I do”. Or that face grimacing as you struggle to unload groceries from the car. That face creasing in disgust as they leave soup and paracetamol by your sickbed. That face lighting up as someone younger and hotter walks by.

Looks very different from their profile photos

Our digital mugshots benefit from a brightening filter or dab of the healing brush tool, true, but on a dating app, you must look like yourself, in photos taken within the last year. It’s like people (men) who lie about their height, with 6ft being the default, even for those who stand on a box to reach their bathroom sink. If they can create such an outrageous lie destined to be uncovered within seconds of meeting, what else might they feel comfortable lying about?

Cancels the date at short notice

Unless someone died, they’re an arsehole.

Anyone who eats onions on a first date doesn’t care about your feelings or potential lingering trauma from being on the receiving end of onion breath

Doesn’t turn up

Chaotic evil.

Table manners

Insists on ordering for you

Gallant connoisseur keen for you to try exciting new cuisine, or egotistical control freak who thinks you’re unable to choose your own dinner? This never ends well: you’ll end up pretending you’re totally fine with eating sheep’s eyes, or having to explain the explosive consequences of ignoring your lactose intolerance.

Bitches about the food

This isn’t TripAdvisor. Quite unromantic to perform a long monologue on their chicken paillard’s inadequacies while you’re trying to flirt. One day they’ll pour scorn on your own signature dish – everyone’s a critic.

Orders water

Yes, this is a thing. I read it on the internet! If your date orders water, and no other drinks, it means they don’t see this date going anywhere and are jonesing for a sharp exit. Disclaimer: they may be recovering from an alcohol abuse problem or have just cycled 10 miles.

Pours your wine

Whether they’re topping you up too often, or holding off when your glass is empty, there’s something yucky about a near stranger controlling how much you drink. Also: pouring chilled wine into a glass that contains warmer wine – electric chair.

If your date says, ‘I’m not the jealous type’, tell them you need the bathroom and leave by the fire exit

Orders something to share

Small plates, with cutlery, napkins and hand sanitiser nearby – fine. It can be fun to discuss what you’re trying, or arm wrestle over the last of the albondigas. But as for the “’scuse my fingers” horror, poking into a mound of sloppy nachos, or, reddest of all flags, a bag of crisps torn open into a greasy foil lotus for you to “help yourself” – I would rather die.

Tells you they’re ‘trying to be healthy’

Then eats three-quarters of your chips. A sociopath.

Eats onions

Anyone who eats onions on a first date doesn’t care about your feelings or potential lingering trauma from being on the receiving end of onion breath or picking the aforementioned onions out of your teeth post-kiss, should you get that far. (If they’re good-looking enough, you’ll get that far, though, you know you will. Shallow is just shallot with a silent T.)

Is weird about the bill

Split it, even if they ordered lobster and spent a good 20 minutes interrogating the sommelier before plumping for vintage Krug. Anyone offering to pay is attempting to lock you into a contract for a second date.


‘I’m not like other guys’

You are, in fact, just like other guys, because all guys say this.

‘I’m not the jealous type’

Say you need the bathroom and leave by the fire exit.

Baggage belongs on a dusty, wheezing carousel in an airport, not on a first date

Complains a lot

Whingeing is part of our DNA, but there’s a time and a place: your GP’s consultation room; on the phone to Joe Duffy; the online comments section of any newspaper. Not on a first date. Those negative vibes will only intensify if you stick together.

Reverts every story you tell back to them very quickly

Usually, what they’re saying will have nothing to do with what you were talking about. They’re not having a conversation, they’re broadcasting, and that’s never going to change.

Constantly talks about themselves

“I see. Right. Yes. Oh goodness, re … ? Hmmm. No, absolutely. Did you? Do you mind if I just … ?” Can you do this for a lifetime? At least you can turn a radio off.

Talks about their exes

Baggage belongs on a dusty, wheezing carousel in an airport, not on a first date. Extra alarm bells if they say all their exes were “psychos”. Somewhere out there, those exes are on a date with someone else’s ex, both saying exactly the same thing.

Asks loads of questions but never answers any

There’s retaining an air of mystique (sexy) and there’s wilfully hiding a grim opinion that would send you running for the hills (unsexy).

Is not very curious about you

Look, you’re not that fascinating. Nobody is. But they could at least pretend. One follow-up question every half-hour, just to make you feel as if they can hear you.

Is overly nostalgic

Avoid anyone who talks about school as “the best days of my life” or wishes they could time travel to an era when they had fewer responsibilities. Same with anyone anxious to tell you how rich, fit or gorgeous they used to be. We’ve all let ourselves go a bit and that’s fine, but selling a discontinued version of themselves is a sign they’re not happy with their lot. Do you want a lover, or a project?

Agrees with you about everything

This sounds like the dream, but someone saying only what they think you want to hear makes it harder for you to judge whether they’re right for you. After years of telling you yes, eventually those repressed nos will come spilling forth; it’ll make Pandora’s box look like opening a packet of Abbey Crunch.

Odd socks are a dullard’s idea of a personality quirk. See also: cravats; unwashed hair

Talks about people you don’t know

Celebrity gossip works because even though we don’t know them, we could pick them out of a line-up. Stories about strangers told in granular detail is a warning sign this person has main-character energy but no personal storyline to back it up. Stick with them and you’re setting yourself up for a lifetime of tell-all exposés of what Gary from accounts has been up to. (Spoiler: nothing. He does nothing, except wash his car on a Sunday.)

Biting sarcasm

Lowest form of wit, apparently. Boohoo, I’m devastated. Hang on, if this really is a red flag, I’m screwed. I’m just a red flag with hair and a national insurance number.

Lets slip that they looked up your social media

Look, we all do it. Every time I get an email from someone I don’t know, I’m straight on Google, looking up their socials, nosying at where they live and assessing their parental wealth. But there’s a code of honour: we never confess. It’s poor form and turns an innocent snoop into more sordid and creep-adjacent stalking.

There’s no reason for a grown adult to use ‘methinks’ or ‘whilst’ in any conversation

‘I don’t even have a TV’

Ooh, you’re dealing with an intellectual. Never watching Love Island or being unaware of Romesh Ranganathan does not earn you a rosette. What else don’t you do? Can you write me a list? Where am I going? Oh, nowhere. Back in a tick.

Is overly self-deprecating

Scenario 1: they have zero confidence and will need a lot of coaching, which might be a challenge you’d rather swerve. Scenario 2: they know they’re an 11/10 at everything and are fishing for compliments.

Asks if they can ‘inbox’ you, ‘ping’ you a message or ‘circle back on that’

Hear that? It’s the terrifying crack of 1,000 LinkedIn accounts high-fiving one another. Imagine overhearing them talking to work colleagues on Zoom about “firing over” a “presentation deck” – your sex organs would apply for a transfer.

Talks like a Shakespearean bit part

There’s no reason for a grown adult to use “methinks” or “whilst” in any conversation. And as for all the other flourishes, “a flagon of frothing ale, barkeep”, “yea or nay” – it’s too much. Verily, my liege, thou art a huge twat, prithee begone afore Michaelmas eve.

Tells you they’re tired within 10 seconds of sitting down

This person is going to be really hard work.


Odd socks

A dullard’s idea of a personality quirk, in the absence of any others. See also: cravats; unwashed hair; “I can’t function without my morning espresso”; and pronouncing their Ts like Ds – “You bedder believe it, baby”.

Looks up to the right

No, stay with me. It’s all in the eyes. According to body language experts – an actual job! – frequently looking up to the right could be a sign they’re lying. However, before you make accusations and dash your negroni in their face, remember they may be searching for a clock or a fire exit, or staring out of the window praying a plane will fall on them because your conversation is so lifeless.

A stranger calling you ‘babe’ is only acceptable if you’re front row at a Take That concert and Mark Owen is singing it at you

Is overfamiliar

A first date thrives on warmth and relatability, but there are boundaries; you’re in a job interview in all but name. Asking for selfies, or adding you on social media before pudding, denotes a people collector, which would make going to festivals with them intolerable. But if you actually met on social media, they know everything about you anyway; this date could’ve been an email.

Starts with the pet names too early

A stranger calling you “babe” is only acceptable if you’re front row at a Take That concert and Mark Owen is singing it at you. Someone laying it on thick with “sweetheart” and “honey” might be trying to nudge you into a relationship you’re not ready for.

Is a grammar pedant

Knowing the difference between less and fewer doesn’t make you sexually appealing.

Is rude to the waiter

A scientific study I just made up concluded that the Venn diagram of rude customers, bad tippers and people who are woeful in bed is one perfect circle.

Gives you fitness tips unbidden

You want a lover, not a personal trainer.

Mentions their Myers-Briggs type

There’s an unnerving number of supposed individuals willing – desperate even – to be defined by the four letters of this terrifying personality assessment. Despite its proclaimed 90 per cent accuracy rating, it feels as if the test almost always serves up the wrong four letters. If you catch my drift.

Cheers ‘waheeeey’ when a waiter drops crockery

You’re 37.

End of the date

Pressures you into agreeing to a second date before the first date is even over

They’re probably worried you’ll catch a terminal case of buyer’s regret in the taxi home. A second date plan should be made sober, and electronically, at a distance, so you can pull a face while thinking, message friends, consult your crystals, run all your options past the team working the Large Hadron Collider, whatever.

Goes in for a kiss even though the vibe is definitely not going that way

You know if an evening is destined to end with a kiss. You just do. It’s a mutual contract you start to draw up during the date with your body language – although this contract is not binding and should contain no punishing exit clauses. Someone blundering in regardless might blame “mixed signals”, but it’s not an excuse. A good rule of thumb is that unless the signals are utterly transparent, take them as a firm no and see whether things change on a follow-up date – should you be lucky enough to get one.

If they message but are vague about meeting, you’re on standby in case something they’re really invested in doesn’t work out

Decides after only one date to cancel plans with friends to see you again

Friendships are much harder to come by than love affairs. The last thing you want is someone checking out of their life entirely to make you the centre of it. If they’re ditching the besties for you, where’s the loyalty? How quickly would they drop you if someone new came along?

Puts an ‘x’ at the end of the text they send on the way home

Everyone loves the “I had a great time” text after you’ve gone your separate ways. Call me old-fashioned, but if you haven’t already “x” ed in real life, keep the texts free of kisses so nobody “gets the wrong idea”. (Does not apply if you’re Gemma Collins or work in public relations; I know you huns can’t help yourselves.)

Going the distance

Made it to the end of the date and not raised a single flag? You must be feeling pretty smug. Well done! Except … you’re not out of the woods yet. A few flags to look out for in the early days:


Almost sounds nice, like a bath bomb, maybe, or a chocolate bombe. Nope. Lovebombing is a dangerous plutonium blast of love, affection and commitment. Saying “I love you” far too soon, going overboard on gifts or romantic surprises, introducing you to parents or their best friends before it feels natural, angling to move in together before they even know how many fillings you’ve got. Hurtling into the next stage of the relationship suggests they’re more into the idea of you than the reality. The first cogs of commitment clunk into place while you’re still getting to know each other, which means when the fever lifts and the romance fades, you’re stuck in the loveless prison that initial fervour built for you.


Another depressing buzzword of the modern age, a breadcrumber will message you regularly to keep you interested but will be vague about meeting. This is likely to mean they’re “benching” you: keeping you on standby in case something they’re really invested in doesn’t work out.

Is well over 30 and becomes excited when asked for ID while buying cigarettes or alcohol

Do you know how boring working on a checkout can be? Take it from someone who spent their formative years on the cigarette kiosk at Tesco selling slabs of 200 Rothmans: very. To make the hours whirr by a little faster, you might play a game, flatter someone who is clearly over-age, just for a laugh, to see their grizzled hangover face light up like a Catherine wheel. It’s true! There’s a spreadsheet and everything – bonus points if they have grey hair or Samsonite-sized eye bags. Trust me, you look your age.

Every couple should introduce a banter-proof safe word to signify it’s time to drop the joke. ‘Divorce’ might be a good one

Needs constant reassurance that you like them

Previous relationships leave scars on us all, and who knows what emotional traumas lurk beneath? If you’re not the supportive type who can help them overcome their insecurities, you may be better bailing out before you make them worse. And, no, “I’m still here, aren’t I?” isn’t enough. Who knew? (Well, I know. Now, anyway.)

Won’t introduce you to their friends or family

Sorry, I’m finding it difficult to hear you over the sound of these thundering alarm bells.

Has a pet name for their car or, worse, a body part

Calling boobs “the gals” is just about acceptable but calling them “Milly and Tilly”, or referring to testicles as “Tom and Harry” is an absolute no-go.

Sings along at pop concerts

Mortifying. The crowd are there to hear the pop stars, not your partner bray through every verse with the lyrical accuracy of someone who first learned the song in Elvish. You won’t be able to take this person anywhere.

Has a ‘humorous’ out-of-office auto-reply email

These dad jokes will only get worse, making for a very long for ever.

Crosses boundaries for ‘banter’

In-jokes are the essential protein bonding long-term lovers. Playful tickling that doesn’t end even when you scream “stop”, joke insults, repeated catchphrases, tuneless singing – all hilarious up to a point, until they aren’t. Every couple should introduce a banter-proof safe word to signify it’s time to drop the joke. “Divorce” might be a good one.

Tells you they didn’t like you when they first met you, but really like you now

A compliment so backhanded it leaves knuckle marks. They’re not boosting you, they’re trying to make you feel small, and leave you panicking that you come across as an arsehole when you meet people for the first time. (Even if you are, this feels more like a them problem than a you problem, am I right? We can’t all exude warmth or be instantly adored. Some of us are an acquired taste, like olives, or immersive theatre.)

Photographs their food

It is 2022. – Guardian

Justin Myers, aka The Guyliner, is the author of three novels, including The Fake-Up