So I decided to list some warning flags as I see them. Now, understand that these are not all the warning flags you'll ever see - they're merely the most common ones, and the ones that are more or less easy to recognize when you have your eyes open for them. And they are not necessarily hard rules that if broken will result in tragedy. They are merely conditions that should be interpreted as raising the probability that you're headed into a problematic relationship.
- Two or more of your friends have a bad feeling about it. This is probably the most reliable warning flag you will ever get. Here is why. Nobody with any sense of self preservation is going to relish telling you that they don't like your new guy. They know it's dangerous to say anything at all; those of us who have made that mistake will avoid making it again. It's just too likely to damage a good friendship, and the odds are so great that it won't slow you down anyway. So if two of your friends work up the nerve to gently suggest that you might want to be careful, that is a huge warning flag, with a siren to boot. You can safely assume that they see something you missed. Again, this does not mean you should break it off immediately - but it does mean you need to step back and think really hard, and really objectively. You should also consider your experience with your friends: have they displayed wisdom in the past? If so, consider all the more what they say.
- You met him on the internet through a dating service or chat room. Now, everyone knows about this one, and if you tell any of your friends "Hey, I met this guy on the internet..." you will immediately see a reaction that should throw cold water on your warm cockles. Sure, some people meet on the 'net and find true happiness. But most don't, and there is a reason that internet dating has such a bad reputation. Let's examine that. Obviously, you don't know anything about the other person except what he tells you. And it is well-known that predators lurk in the world wide web, telling you whatever they think you want to hear. There is no reason for them to tell you any negative information about themselves, and in fact they have a strong incentive to lie to you. But here's the big reason: unlike in real life, you don't get to hear outside opinions about a person because you don't know any mutual friends. There's nobody to give you a warning until you already invest yourself in him emotionally. So sure, you could meet Mr. Right on the 'net, but the sheer odds are against it. Use extreme caution.
- He seems to be a wonderful match in the things that are important to you - especially religious faith. Now, this could almost be a subset of the above flag on internet dating, but actually it's relevant to real life dating, too. Here's an example. Suppose you're a devout Christian. You're not going to keep that a secret, are you? You're going to make it clear from the start that that's a deal-breaker. Now, you meet a guy, and he not only agrees with your Christian views, he leads with them. Now, this will seem like an odd thing to say, because of course we want to be compatible in our religious beliefs, but when somebody goes to an unusual amount of trouble to convince us of their sincere Christianity, watch out! Hucksters and predators are notorious for using that way of gaining our trust. The bum looking for a handout to buy wine, the salesman trying to get you to invest in some ripoff scheme, the guy selling Bibles in the film Paper Moon, and of course the guy who wants to date or marry you because you have money, or at least a good income. They do this because it works. Faith is a strong emotional tag, and from the predator's standpoint, has the additional benefit of our desire to believe that God is taking care of us. But be careful not to let this flag weaken your faith in God. God will not let you down - people, however, will often let you down. That is why we were told, in Matthew 10:16 -- "Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves."
- You've been divorced more than once. If you've had two or more divorces in your life, you have my sympathy. Divorce is hard. It's tough. It's damaging. If you've had three or more, something is wrong. Either you're attracting the wrong kind of person, you're attracted to the wrong kind of person, or you're doing something that's in serious error somewhere in the process. You should err on the side of caution - waaaay on the side of caution. I would recommend paying close attention to any clues you may get from your friends or family. Watch for the above flags, and take them very seriously. Get reliable counseling. And for goodness sakes, insist on a long engagement. Be patient.
- He's married... for now. This flag is always reliable. If he is a decent person, he will not show any interest in dating while he is still married, no matter how bad the marriage, no matter what he may say about it. I can almost guarantee this: if you cuddle up with such a person, you will find yourself taking his wife's place in more ways than you ever want to, including his stories about what a horrid woman he's stuck with. Ignore this flag at your peril.
Now one more thing. You may think that love is the most important thing in a marriage or dating relationship. The problem is that none of us can accurately gauge "love" when we're in it. It's so hard to define, and it's so easily confused with physical attraction. But there is a quality that any of us can tell when it's there or when it's not there, whether on our part or somebody else's. That quality is respect, and it becomes quite useful when you understand that you cannot have love without respect. Do you sometimes find yourself feeling a mild contempt for this person? Chances are you don't love him. Do you sometimes find that he fails to respect you? Maybe he doesn't love you.
Be careful. Love is a many splendored thing, but it can also be a many splintered thing.