Red Flags: Safety Checklist, Questions To Ask, Signs To Filter Catfishing, Narcissistic Guys & Girls and Married Men: Photos, Messages, Texts, Prompts, Bios & Safety Tips

The number of people using dating apps has reached an all-time high and will likely continue to climb as more and more people are willing to put themselves out there, the stigma around dating apps diminishes and people become more pressed for time to meet others organically in more traditional ways. The Pew Center for Research published a brand new study that digs into the numbers and is a great read for those looking to learn more about dating apps.

The increase in numbers though provides a false sense of security around dating apps. Dating apps are no safer than meeting people offline. People often take profiles for granted and assume everything is accurate and up to date.

It is much easier to lie and misrepresent yourself online with anonymity, false sense of security of apps and expectations associated with meeting people. (I highly recommend reading Malcolm Gladwell’s Talking To Strangers).

Because of this automatic assumptions and trust of dating apps and profiles (coupled with readily available public information online), people on apps can be more vulnerable to targets of scammers, bots, ransomware and professional stalkers and harassers. A recent story published by ProPublica and Columbia Journalism Investigations highlights some of these frightening and underreported numbers around stalkers, harassment, assault, violence and rape.

With that said, below are some tips to help identify red flags with guys and girls who are immature, don’t know what they want or are trying to sleep with you rather than trying to get to know you and date you.

App Choice, Photos and Bios – What Do They Suggest?

The first thing I recommend for anyone experiencing problems attracting the right person is looking internally. What do your app choices, photos, prompts and messages suggest? Apps like Tinder suggest something casual for the most part unless it is the only app in your town in which is can be used to find something more steady.

Just because you find someone on Bumble, Hinge or Coffee Meets Bagel (more mature, relationship focused apps), doesn’t mean the person has a hook-up profile on Tinder or wouldn’t try to sleep with someone on date #1 if given the opportunity.

After app choice, your photos and bio/prompts are the next area I suggest people examine. Being playful and cute might seem like an easy, safe way to attract guys but it can also suggest you are not looking for anything specific nor are looking for anything serious.

Defensive language like no-hook ups tend to suggest an inability to identify such behavior or at least a natural distrust for others. I suggest focusing on what you want rather than what you are trying to avoid in your prompts and bios.

When it comes to photos, I suggest being conservative enough to the point where you wouldn’t mind a co-worker, HR or boss stumbling across your profile on a dating app. If your photos are more suggestive or show you mostly in drinking situations or casual attire, you might find guys looking for a quick fling flocking to your profile.

Your profile should show you in a more holistic light rather than weekend party mode. Don’t be afraid to show a dorky, boring, weird or other vulnerable aspects of your personality and lifestyle.

Be Patient, Ask Your Match, Date Questions

In the age of apps, people are a little too eager to meet and make assumptions about others. Taking the time to ask questions, get to know each other is a timeless classic way to learn about a person, what they value, how they spend their time, who the surround themselves with etc. If you only ask superficial questions like food, drinks, TV shows etc. this reveals next to nothing about a person.

Be vulnerable, ask tough questions, make people think and squirm a little (in a good way) and don’t be afraid to ask polarizing or controversial questions but make sure not to ask them like in an interview process. A guy who dodges questions or doesn’t show goals in life nor can’t be bothered to think beyond weekend plans may provide enough clues early on about his state of mind and place in life.

Pro-tip: Ask them mildly profound or deep questions and see how they respond if at all.

Evaluate Their Profile, Photos, Bios and Messages

You can tell a lot about a person and their photos but it is not always easy nor accurate. Self-absorbed photos are an easy way to ID such f*ckbois (gym selfies, bathroom selfies, trying too hard to look good in photos, photos next to cars, photos showing wealth, photos that are a little to perfect, portrait like). 

Are his bios and prompts mostly discussing weekends, drinks, partying or TV shows? Does he discuss his passions, insecurities, interests, loves, guilty pleasures and self-deprecating humor? Do his messages come off a little too strong or is often a bit too coy? Does he flood you with compliments aka Love Bombing? Is he taking the time to learn about you or is he focused on trying to make you feel good and meet you asap?

If a guy comments on your looks too eagerly, makes innuendos that are a bit forward or only messages you at random times around his schedule then perhaps take a harder look at what he is signaling. An alpha male who has an inflated ego, is a bit too confident or is a little too sure about making assumptions about you are but a few ways to identify narcissistic behavior.

Hi, hey, what’s up or simple opening lines are obvious but I figure this needs to be said in 2020 still (sigh).

Instagram, WhatsApp, Snapchat DM’s & Links

If someone lists their IG, WhatsApp, Snap profiles in their dating profile, chances are they will talk to anyone, are looking to get followers, are looking for attention, are narcissistic or have no sense of privacy. Regardlesss of the reason, listing this upfront to strangers is a definite red flag. One exception is on Bumble where it’s not uncommon to find some women uncomfortable making the first move so instead list their Instagram account handle.

Look For Negative, Jaded Bios and Answers

Dating apps are hard and inefficient. It is not uncommon to meet men who become jaded over time. “Please don’t waste my time with XYZ.” “If you don’t intend to meet up, swipe LEFT!!!” are just a few of the passive aggressive, defensive languages men use to weed out girls.

Similarly, a guy who is too agreeable, does not have his own opinion and is not willing to challenge you politely and thoughtfully might be trying too hard to please you and thus unable to assert himself accordingly to your liking.

Chronically complaining about exes, co-workers, life is a red flag.

Cliche Prompts, Answers, Pickup Lines

These are obvious signs of copy/paste efforts, low effort being put into online dating or at the least, lack of creativity. The current fad (and a bad one) is coronavirus pickup lines. Any old bloke can copy and paste lines from Reddit when they lives are too dull or boring to think of something interesting, unique.

No Dates Planned

Not everyone you match with is up for going on a date or ever meeting. Some guys are lonely, don’t know what they want or too nervous to ask you out. This is inevitable. If conversations on dating apps seem to go nowhere, don’t make excuses for him. Some guys are looking for companionship or pen-pals. A guy who wants to meet up will let you know and ask you out.

First Date Plans – How To Analyze Intent

Requests to meet ASAP, grab drinks near his place, short/direct flirtatious messages, generic pickup lines and too smooth behavior are typically red flags for guys who are looking for something casual. It’s partly being efficient and partly trying to weed out girls who don’t seem interested.

Usually guys are on their best behavior early on but show their true color when things don’t go as planned. Seeing how he treats servers, observing how he responds to a date that is unexpectedly cut short or how he responds to your declining of an additional drink are just a few ways to see how he deals with rejection. See how he reacts to a date that doesn’t involve late night hours or drinks – suggest a play, coffee, museum etc. during the week or during the day.

If a guy is looking to get too cozy too quickly with you at a bar, booth or over dinner, imagine how quickly he moves with other girls. Typically, first dates are used to get to know each other. Opportunities to get close quickly and easily can be one way guys try to mask their intentions. Being overly aggressive, not taking no for an answer or getting upset about slight rejections or making you feel bad are a few ways to dig into a guy’s personality.

Follow-Up Dates and Plans

Are all the dates he suggests around drinking, nightlife, overnight stays and places around his location? Vary the dates, make sure dates are planned in advance and given thought. After a few dates of 1 on 1 with him it’s good to open up the options for more unorthodox dates.

Make dates with friends so others can eventually meet him. Discuss doing things that are unconventional i.e. protests, volunteer events, running chores, hikes, family obligations, double-dates, classes (dance, art, cooking etc.), babysitting your niece/nephew for a weekend etc.

If he rejects plans that are not fun nor fit around his schedule, make a mental note. Relationships involve compromises or time, interests, priorities and efforts.

Also be aware of the location of dates, where you are seated etc. If a guy is trying to hide at the back of the bar, only wants to go to dimly lit places and dates at each other’s place or is actively avoiding neighborhoods, take note. Some guys try to stash girls on the side to avoid detection from friends, colleagues, or significant others.

Being Too Controlling Early On

If a guy is overly concerned about your plans, who you are seeing and demanding of your time before you have defined the relationship, take note. Many controlling guys try to keep women from their friends, family, work obligations or other parts of their lives. Another form of being controlling is lack of compromise and prioritization. This is true of long-distance relationships, guys who work demanding schedules often in start-ups and guys unable to prioritize you.

Things come up, work is unpredictable but grand gestures of effort are needed. Guys are typically on their best behavior early on in the courting phase and relationship phase.

Consideration For Someone Other Than Himself, Herself

Asking about your day, family, friends, being considerate of your health, hunger and safety – these are are few simple ways to build confidence in the man you are dating.

Communicating well, explaining things via apologies vs making excuses are other ways to learn about a guy’s emotional and mental state of being. Asking questions but not revealing items about himself, his past, his friends and his family are often signs of him trying to hide things from you. Conversely, talking about himself 24/7 is a sign of narcissism and inability to think of others.

Pro-tip: If he is always on his phone with you but never responds to you quickly, red flag.

No Friends, Overly Dependent on You

Many guys on dating apps are genuine in their approach to being ready to meet people and being able to give of themselves but not all guys are like this. A red flag that many women point out is a guy not having friends. Having no friends can create a burden on women to fill men’s over-dependence on them (friend, confidant, significant other etc.)

It’s one thing to be new in town or have friends that are married with kids but having a few good, close friendships can provide a little validation into someone’s character. As I always say, “You can tell a lot about a person by the people they surround themselves with.”

In Person Conversation vs. Texting

One way to confront a guy who you suspect as being immature, unfaithful or not that interested is being direct and asking in person. Many guys hate confrontation and prefer to dodge questions and lie over text.

Lying to someone’s face is much tougher. Stuttering, looking away or having conflicting stories can add certainty that your suspicions are right. Confronting someone can be uncomfortable and potentially dangerous so you should avoid doing so in private areas and meet in public when possible.

Lazy, Low Effort Profiles, Messages, Bios and People

When using dating apps, it’s easy to get butterflies and be enthusiastic about your match or upcoming date. Dating apps can be a great way to meet people outside your routine, lifestyle and social circle but there are many people use treat dating apps like a game and never intend on meeting people or lack the ability to put much effort into dating.

Some apps involve mindless swiping to see who likes you first before making a move – people swipe during meetings, on dates while their date is ordering drinks or is using the restroom and as a game with friends.

It is important to keep track of effort, energy and enthusiasm during the courting stage.  Someone who is indifferent, lacks an opinion, doesn’t meet you halfway or uses short answers and never asks questions is  definite red flag. It’s not uncommon for people who agree to go on dates to never end up going on said date because of cancellation, rescheduling (and never following up) or straight ghosting.

If someone cancels a date it is up to them to reschedule. If they make no effort you should not make excuses for them nor should you bend over backwards to try to accommodate them.

Some people like to be chased and some people like to exert control and power over others. While this is not often then case, it happens more than people care to admit. Don’t waste time on people who don’t make a sincere effort to date you. Don’t let a dating slump lower your standards so much that you ignore classic red flags like this.

Requesting Photos, Moving Conversations to Text, Snapchat

There is no need to move off a dating app to communicate until at least after you met. Some guys will ask you to them photos of yourself, a selfie. Don’t do it. All the photos you have of yourself on your dating profile is suffice. Once you move platforms it becomes easier for others to exploit you, blackmail you etc.

There are plenty of ways to read and analyze people’s app choice, photos, bios, captions, messages, poses etc. to reduce chances of catfishing without being so creepy asking about a photo. If someone still insists on a photo, chances are they are insecure or have been catfished often or have trust issues.

Possible Signs of Catfishing

Most of the advice here is to weed out low-quality, lazy and creepy folks but there is set of red flags to look out for and that is for catfishing. Catfishing can be described as people who lie about their identity – this can be posing as someone else or misrepresenting how they look today.

In the first example, people (usually outside the United States) pretend to be someone else in order to become close to vulnerable people (depressed, separated, recently divorced or widowed, older folks). They shower them with compliments and eventually ask for money, loans etc. This is obvious red flag but some people are such in a bad place they overlook such items.

In the latter example, people use old photos of themselves that no longer represent how they look like today. Usually these photos are 5-10 years old or more, are from a time when they were slimmer, less wrinkly, more hair, less white hair or smaller bald spots.

Other ways misrepresent themselves is to use misleading angles (usually 60-75 degrees up to appear slimmer). Pay attention to photo details, ask questions about photos, do a reverse image search to reduce your chances of being catfished.

The Nice Guy, Reddit

The nice guy is a type of guy who pretends to be a great guy but who shows his true colors when something doesn’t go his way i.e. you don’t want to give your number before meeting, don’t give him photos of you, don’t agree to meet at his place on date #1 or wish to go to a bar near his place, or gets angry when you have to change plans or reschedule. They may end up blaming you for small things (see The Red Pill below).

Alpha vs Omega Male

Alpha males tend to be self-absorbed, loud, pushy and vulgar when rejected. They use cliche, corny and at times crude jokes and lines. They don’t take no for an answer.

Omega males are quieter, yet still confident in their own skin. They let their appearance, actions, expressions, etiquette, people around them and manners speak for themselves. They are more free-thinking, independent and don’t need validation. They are possess a subtle style that is understated but purposeful. These are the guys you need to date.

The Red Pill, Reddit | Incels

Red Pill Theory refers to the red pill scene in the matrix. The Guardian describes it as “The rabbit hole, in this case, is the “reality” that women run the world without taking responsibility for it, and that their male victims are not permitted to complain.” To counter women’s power and rise, men must take control and be a-holes and more alpha to win back control.

Given the imbalance of men to women on dating apps, many men feel their frustration, rejection is due to women. They often fail to realize their volume approach, laziness, lack of grooming skills, approachability, bad photos, poor smiles, narcisstic selfies, copy and pasted pick-up lines don’t work. In the case they are sincere, they feel women owe it to them to be open to ther advance (see Nice Guys above).

Similarly, incels (involuntary celebates) are looking to control, shame and discredit women for their insecurity, failure and misery. The Atlantic does a great job detailing this culture of male toxicity.

Unfortunately this culture is on the rise given the dynamics of women rising in the economic marketplace (more advance degrees, more income results in more choices and not having to settle). It is refered to as a Black Pill community whereby men are losers, incapable of love and sex and thus blame women for their failures.

The best way to identify such men is to see how they observe and talk about women out in public. Making comments like she deserves XYZ, or why does she let ABC happen etc. are early signs of behavior.

Dating Profile Verification Links From Users, Matches

These are scams. Don’t click links from matches and people you have not met. It is likely spyware or phishing software that will get access to your files, accounts and more.

The only verification links that are legitimate are from dating apps themselves like Tinder’s catfish test in partnership with Noonlight.

How To Spot Fake Accounts and Profiles

Read this:

How To Spot Married Men, Husbands On Dating Apps

Some dating apps suggests links based on mutual friends. Some apps will block people you are friends with or know on dating apps (1 or 2 degrees of separation). For this reason, you can’t expect to find a profile online directly or through a mutual friend.

Dating sites like have the ability to make a profile private until the person decides to reveal himself or herself to you by adjusting privacy and visibility setttings.

One strategy (married men in particular) deploy is using dating apps only when traveling as to reduce chances of connecting with someone locally. If you match with a guy who is from out of town on work, says he is going through a divorce, is not on social media and only wants to meet at hotels (never in public) – consider these red flags.

Other possible signs of a double life or infidelity include multiple phones, paying by cash only, using nicknames and making grand promises of future exclusivity or moving to your town without any exact timelines or specifics.

Sketch Dating Apps & Website To Be Cautious Of

Any site or app that seems a little too specific should approached with caution. Sites like AdultFriendFrinder, ChristianMingle, MillionaireMatch, FarmersOnly, EliteSingles, SeekingArrangements are often associated with creepy and suspicious behavior. Adult Friend Frinder, Christian Mingle, Millionaire Match, Elite Singles, Seeking Arrangements, Farmers Only, Badoo, MeetMe may have decent or good ratings on app stores but those ratings can be bought easily.

Final Thoughts

Give guys a chance, but don’t make excuses for them. Don’t bend on your values and priorities but be open to meeting guys who don’t meet your exact list of height, education, income, ethnic and physical appearance.

Dating takes time. If you try to rush it, things may backfire. Just because your friend met her husband on a dating app in the first week and got engaged within 6 months doesn’t mean everyone is on the same timeline.

List of Online Terms, Slang: Definition, Meanings

About Eddie Hernandez 

Eddie Hernandez is a professional photographer specializing in natural, candid online dating photos. Featured in the SFGate, ABC7News, East Bay Express, Salon; contributor to Good Men Project, Plenty Of Fish and Meddle. In addition to photos, he provides guidance around app choice, bio optimization, messaging techniques, wardrobe advice and date ideas.

Online Dating Safety Tips

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Online Dating Etiquette

Check out this post on etiquette around apps, messaging, profiles and dates:

Online Dating Resource Guide

Comprehensive resource guide for stats, studies, surveys around dating apps:

Online Dating Frequently Asked Questions (Photos, App Choice, Wardrobe, Messaging, Bios and More):

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