How To Identify Toxic, Controlling, Narcissistic, Sociopathic, Manipulative Behavior, Red Flags & Gaslighting While Dating & In Relationships

Most of the advice and caution featured on this blog focuses on dating apps (profile, appearance, photos, wardrobe, posing, bios, communication, first dates etc.) but there is a glaring gap in providing additional tools to protect oneself against toxic, manipulative behavior after people start dating.

It’s easy to filter and screen shirtless selfies, intense photos, crude text messages, sexual innuendos, lazy bios, cut and pasted pick-up lines etc. but once you get past those awkward and unwanted propositions and texts, that doesn’t mean one should let their guard down. There are master manipulators on dating sites that make a career out of swindling women or playing on their emotions.

Men are usually on good behavior early on (in the honeymoon stage) but there are some important things to look out for when beginning to date or questioning some patterns when already in a relationship. This is particularly true where there is a large age gap and/or the woman is rather young or if the woman looks vulnerable (single, divorced, widowed, single parent, low self-esteem etc).

Here are some red flags, troubled signs to look out for when dating or when in a relationship. Some of this is obvious behavior and some of this only becomes suspicious when it is coupled by other tactics. With all things in life, be sure to talk to friends, focus on your mental health and don’t depend on others for validation, self-worth.

Excessive Comments, Compliments

Men who are quick to compliment you on physical beauty, looks, physique, body, youth etc. can be employing a tactic called love bombing. It’s a manipulation tactic whereby a person bombards the other with unusually high frequency of flattering compliments around looks. This is especially true if a guy can sense some insecurity, loneliness or doubt. Master manipulators are trained to identify such queues such as low self-esteem.

When it comes to dating older men, one unsettling set of compliments is focusing on youth and petite frame. Typically, men date younger women because women their own age no better than to put up with immature, childish behavior. A guy who only dates women much younger than him should be a warning to all women. Girls who are still in school, inexperienced dating or are new in town are prime targets for such men.

How do you know if a guy is just using you? Unfortunately you never quite know which is why it is recommended to move slowly, ask questions, spend time together meet each other’s friends and family, look at actions not just empty promises in relationships.

Moving Too Quickly

Some guys like to move quickly whether it’s to hookup or to trap partners. By displaying compliments, making grand plans fairly early on during the dating process or communicating grand gestures i.e. You are the most beautiful woman I have dated, I could see us living together / getting married within 3 months or you are the girl of my dreams can seem welcoming but can be groundwork laid out to make you think he is committed or invested in this new relationship.

Words without time, effort, commitment, validation and trust are meaningless. If he say this to someone rather quickly, what makes you think you are the first one he has said this to?

Lack of Friends, Social Circles

Not everyone is a social butterfly. Not everyone has roots in the city they live in. Not everyone has an outgoing personality but if there is a pattern of hiding one’s past, dodging questions, discomfort with certain questions being asked, take note.

Anonymity within dating apps is a main reason to explain bad behavior but it also can be used to hide issues from others offline. A lack of social media presence, no phone calls or texts with friends are a couple ways to identify some possible red flags such as burnt bridges, inability to have any resemblance of a healthy relationship with a human being.


A popular technique men use is isolation. This is done locally i.e only going on dates alone, refusing to meet friends and family, avoid social functions and being out in public. This could be for fear of running into an ex or avoiding social functions that require socializing, talking about one’s past, etc.

The more extreme version of this is suggesting to move or relocate to a remote area either small in size or away from anyone you might know. This is done to make it difficult for one to have a foundation, be independent, know others or feel comfortable. Much dependency is needed, possibly one that is based on wealth.

Divide and conquer is the objective with such individuals.

Wealth, Options

If someone suggest that the other person quit their job or relocate or that he can provide and take care of you, be on alert. Creating a financial dependency is one of the main tactics master manipulators deploy to reduce options in their partners. A lack of money and resources is one of the main reasons why some women are unable to leave their abusive partners.

Lies, Lies, Lies

Lies are sometimes hard to catch. Professional liars have honed their skills for years. With that said, asking questions, requesting details and verifying stories goes a long way. If a person can’t trust their partner, that is already a red flag but a casual Google, Facebook search can reveal quite a bit.

Age Differences

It’s one thing to be 8 years apart i.e. 39 and 31, it’s another thing to be 29 and 21. Some men target vulnerable, impressionable, inexperienced girls as they are viewed as easier targets. Some lies men tell women as to why they like younger women or don’t date women their age is that they are young, fit and want someone like them or because they are young at heart, or hard to keep up with.

In reality, women closer to their age are more experienced and know how to spot red flags more easily. They are more financially dependent, more emotionally secure and have developed roots and friendships. Girls who are new to a city, are in debt, don’t know anyone can be more susceptible to older men.

Extreme Emotional Patterns

It’s one thing to have ups and downs, it’s another thing to psychologically abuse another human being by tearing them down and building them up. Criticizing your lifestyle, simple choices and life decisions is one way men can bring down women in a relationship. If this is coupled by an immediate build up and repeat pattern, beware.

This classic manipulation tactic is rather dangerous as it provides momentary relieve in a rather toxic relationship. Some guys might go 180 and become emotionally distant if confronted and blame things on you. Keep you guard up but be open.

Intellectual Blaming

Placing blame and referencing lack of experience, age, maturity are ways manipulators prey on victims. Claiming things are not as they seem or done in a particular manner is a classic excuse. Constantly attributing mistakes to age, life experience and knowledge is something to take note of.

Gaslighting: Emotional Guilt Trips, Sowing Doubt

The classic example guys use to place a guilt on women is to blame women for their actions by stating the reason they did X or Y is that they thought they would lose them, or they were neglected or thought things were over between them. Flipping the tables and placing blame when being accused of something is an obvious signal of using one of these psychological tactics.

Downplaying your problems while playing up their problems is another way people try to shift blame in a relationship. One common phrase awful people use is “no one’s gonna love you”. It’s a pathetic attack to use when someone is being attached.

Emotional Blackmail

Threatening to release private information to the public in the event of a break up. Related to threat of self-inflicted hurt (threatening to hurt oneself if the partner leaves him or her).


If someone uses the line i.e. you’ll never meet someone at your age, you’ll never find someone who loves or takes care of you like I do, take note. Never accept ultimatums. Relationships take effort, work, compromise. Threatening to leave is never a good look.

Talks about exes

Someone who talks about their exes in a condescending manner or compares their current partner to their ex is not normal. Occasionally something might slip in conversation but regularly comparing partners or criticizing them is a sign of immaturity at best, at worst a sign of negative behavior.

Manners In Public

Observing social behavior and reactions in public is a great way to learn about someone. Uncontrolled environments outside the home or alone require a skill set that signals maturity, character and empathy. Driving on the road, walking by homeless people, interactions with servers, hanging out with kids, talking to drivers, interactions with baristas are all simple, every day ways to observe how someone reacts to uncertainty, strangers and spontaneous events.

Difficult Situations: Arguments Are Personal, Are Avoided

No honest relationship is without its ups and downs. There will be times for difficult conversations. People show their true colors when things get tough. Avoid confrontation, pretending situations don’t exist or attacking someone vs. addressing the issues at hand are ways guys try to get the upper hand. Relationships require compromise, listening, patience, discussions and engagement.

Relationships take work. It takes two people to make relationships grow and prosper. It takes one person to ruin a relationship.

Additional Reading

Online Dating Red Flags

Online Dating Resource Guide (studies, surveys, market research, books, podcasts & more)

How To Report Profiles On Dating Apps

Psychological Effects, Dangers Of Online Dating


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. https://eddie-hernandez.com/contact/

Online Dating Safety Tips

Check out this guide on how to stay safe on dating apps: https://eddie-hernandez.com/online-dating-safety-tips/

Online Dating Etiquette

Check out this post on etiquette around apps, messaging, profiles and dates: https://eddie-hernandez.com/online-dating-etiquette/

Online Dating Resource Guide

Comprehensive resource guide for stats, studies, surveys around dating apps: https://eddie-hernandez.com/online-dating-resource-guide/

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