Washington - While dating, you've probably got your antennae up for red flags: Is he overly critical of the wait staff? Does she seem to hate everything from her job to the guacamole? Does he seem to talk a lot about himself and ask very little about you?
Perhaps the toughest red flags to see fly are those involving one party's ability to see a future with you.
An ex, for instance, repeatedly told me he "wasn't ready" for a relationship despite planning dates, calling daily and texting constantly. I hadn't even registered his commitment qualms until he mentioned, offhand, that we'd "be spending a lot less time together when you're married someday."
Such commitment-phobic comments are common. Those bleak outlooks tend to kill our positive vibes toward a partner or potential partner, according to a study published in February's Motivation and Emotion. Obvious red flags can therefore cause a budding bond to nose-dive, but perhaps they shouldn't.
Here, some formerly single folks recall the noncommittal way their relationships began.
"I can't date you because I'll never be able to break up with you"
Lauryn Slotnick had known Ben since grade school, but they did not fall in love until their 30s. When they finally began dating, they didn't make it official for six months. "I somehow managed to ask what we were, and about giving it a 'title,' but he shimmied away from making it official," she explains. "He told me how his last girlfriend had broken his heart, and he wasn't ready to put himself in that position again. He even went so far as to say that he wanted things to stay as they were untilI found someone else, but then he realized how stupid that sounded."
Despite his insistence on remaining single in name, couple in action, Slotnick stuck by him until he finally felt comfortable enough to label the relationship, then move in together and eventually marry.
"I am not a 'commitment' kind of guy; I am just not that type!"
Karla Ivankovich knew that dating a divorced man could pack some baggage, but she was so drawn to her future husband's passion and personality that she proceeded past a few blazing red flags with caution and awareness. "He had started telling me he loved me, unbeknownst to me while still seeing other people," she says. "Sometimes I just couldn't fathom how this man was ever in a committed relationship. He was so noncommittal and secretive - but if I didn't answer my phone, he would call back until I did."
Over time, Ivankovich began to realize some of his statements and actions were like "armor" in moments of vulnerability. "He used them to protect himself," explains Ivankovich, now 45. "He once said, 'I am not a commitment kind of guy; I am just not that type!' After discussing it, he later confirmed it was just the thought of being vulnerable in love, again. It was too terrifying." The craziness subsided with time, she said: "Now he loves me too much to say that stuff!"
"I just think I'm meant to be single forever"
Within three months of meeting and beginning to date Aaron, Jocelyn Freeman recalls one particular comment he made: "Things are great with us, but I just think I'm meant to be single forever; I've been hurt too many times." Not exactlywhat you want to hear when you're excited about a potential relationship with someone you really like. "He even had books on his bookshelf about being single your entire life," she explains. "It was definitely an odd feeling to see that in his room!"
Turns out all he needed was a little faith and encouragement; three years later, the 30-something pair is now happily married.
"Summer, shore, single"
Jim Jacobs, 45, recalls meeting his wife-to-be in the early morning hours in Avalon, New Jersey. "She was with good friends of mine as she was a former hockey teammate's occupational therapist," he explains. "I got her phone number, but she told me she had recently broken up with someone and believed in the three S's: summer, shore, single," Jacobs says. A few dates in, her tune had not changed. "She remembers telling her mom, 'I'm sorry, but he just isn't my type!' " says Jacobs, who remained undeterred.
"That was the summer of 1998. We were engaged six months later, now have three kids and will be celebrating our 18th wedding anniversary this year," he says. "My wife still has her 'tribe' of girls, who were all committed to being single that summer in their 20s," he says.
"We'll find you a husband someday when you're ready"
When Melissa Goker, now 35, met the man who would become her husband, he was committed to the single life despite their growing attraction toward each other. "He regularly mentioned he was in no position to have a girlfriend. He even joked, 'We'll find you a husband someday,' " she says, even as she and Murat were spending all their free time together.