100 Little Red Flags
What happens when you encounter the “nice guy” act…
Two weeks ago, I got on facetime with my long-distance boyfriend to try and work out some issues we had in our relationship. After a 7 minute call, we were broken up. We had only known each other and been together for about 2 months, and I was upset that we didn’t get a chance to talk out our issues in a constructive way. Previously, I was convinced in the idea that I was dating a “nice guy,” one that wanted something real and was willing to work through hard times alongside me.
To clarify, I am not upset that the relationship ended, but rather, I am upset with how the breakup was handled. A few hours after the call, I messaged him “I’m not very happy with how that conversation went,” and in response, I received a nightmarish onslaught of paragraphs that proved my some creeping suspicions that I had all along; he was not exactly a nice guy. While being a nice guy certainly is not an essential criterion for everyone, it is a type that has drawn a lot of attention and appeal in the media.
According to the know-all site of Wikipedia, you can define a nice guy as:
“An informal term for an adult male who portrays himself with characteristics such as being agreeable, gentle, compassionate, sensitive and vulnerable.”
I think the keyword to highlight in this definition is portrays. If I have learned anything from my wins and loses in love, a person can portray themselves however they want, but eventually, and especially as you get to know someone, their true colors will shine through. There were 100 little red flags that didn’t stand out to me until nearing the end of the relationship, ones that I will share in the hopes that the reader will transform into their own awareness and wisdom for the future.
Rushed from the Start: It’s too good to be true!
Perhaps, the explanation of how we got to this point is required to understanding how things went. I am 23 years old, and recently graduated from college; he is 22 and still has a years worth of classes left due to taking time off, among other issues. While we had known of each other for over a year, we met in genuine just after graduation. I have never hit it off with someone so vibrantly or even met someone with so much in common to myself. When you feel like you are looking a version of yourself in the mirror, it is easy to get carried away with all the things you could do together and mutually enjoy.
After a graduation trip with mutual friends and a party hosted by my parents, he invited me to his house for dinner and asked to date. We had only been talking for 6 days. I rejected his initial offer, but after seeing each other over the next 10 days (the last of which was the move-out day from our college living arrangements), we decided to start dating long distance.
It is difficult to get to know someone in such a short amount of time as 2 weeks. Being entirely enamored with each other certainly makes it more difficult to see clearly. Prior to the relationship falling apart, I had presumed him to be a kind person, someone who does well by other people and is considerate to their thoughts and needs beyond an inconvenience of their own. It seems simple, but many people are only willing to be kind to others and do the morally correct thing as far as it does not result in any detriment to themselves.
The little things make up the big thing.
In the 16 days before we started dating, we hung out on a near-daily basis. While I could point out a number of minute flags that were not particularly bothersome to me, there are a few that stick out to me as being important in retrospect.
Two days after that kiss, a mishmash group of my friends embarked on a graduation trip; we rented an Airbnb in the middle of nowhere, and while it was only made to sleep 6 (resulting in many floor sleepers in our group of 16), it came equipped with a swimming pool, pool table, and massive TV. The first major flag, which is perhaps the most important to me, is something that I put together in time; possession and territory marking.
One evening, my ex joined a game of pool with some other guys on the trip. As the pool is neither my forte nor an interest of mine, I made my way out to a seating area by the swimming pool to watch the sunset and smoke a joint. I figured it was a nice getaway from the action of the house. My good friend saw me sitting alone and joined me to hang out and chat. As we sat together he asked me, “So, what’s the deal with this new guy?” to which I responded with hopeful excitement for the future. He expressed happiness for me and approved the match. We continued our heartfelt conversation, reflecting on our college years, all the fun we had together, and how we will miss each other when we go our separate ways. Not even 10 minutes passed before my ex left the pool room and came up to us, grabbing me to get firewood with him. At this point, we had only been seeing each other for 4 days.
As we walked around the house to a mountain of firewood, I gave a disclaimer that my dear friend is more like a “father figure” and we were just reminiscing, trying to reassure him there was nothing to worry about. “No yeah, I got you.” he said. I only realizing it looking back that similar situations bred the same interruptive occurrence. I am the type of girl that has a lot of platonic guy friends. I have my fair share of close girl friends as well, but living on “fraternity row” for 2 years led to a colorful variety of men I value deeply as friends in my life. Even when I would just talk about my guy friends, the conversations would be short-lived, and my ex would quickly change the subject. Regrettably, it took me a while to catch on to this issue. I did not have the experience to identify the issue as active jealousy and did not expect this behavior from him. No matter what the situation is, I do not agree with cheating, and no matter who my friends are, that belief will not change. I had made this belief clear, and he gave his verbal statement of trust, however, it was not backed by trusting action.
Trust, as it turns out, or rather, lack of trust was something that became clear in my relationship as the days went on. By nature, I am a trusting person, and take pride in the ability to give people their own freedom to walk their own path. It is important that people make their own mistakes, and subsequently, learn from them and grow. In any friendship or relationship, it is important to support the other person, both in their ups and downs. At least to me, the ultimate opposite of trust controls. Being controlling can come in a variety of different forms, many of which are not as obvious as someone simply telling you what to do.
About a week after the graduation trip, a group of friend, including my ex, came over to my house to have a quiet wine night. Another major flag that came to light in terms of control was in the context of playing a simple card game. For those who don’t know how to play Spoons, the players put enough spoons in the center -1 and pass around cards in a deck with the intention to get 4 of a kind. Once someone grabs a spoon, everyone else playing grabs one, and the person left without a spoon is the loser. While I do not see competitive to be a bad trait, being a sore loser is something that is unattractive no matter what kind of relationship you have to a person. Furthermore, being a sore loser can be a sign that a person is controlling. By this, I mean the inability to accept losing reflects the reaction someone has when they lose control over a situation. While this is not a direct opposite of trust, it relates to how a person thinks about having control.
After losing in spoons, he threw his cards on the table and screamed: “damn it!”. I can understand enough that he was upset about losing, however, that non-humorous reaction from a 22-year-old man over a game of spoons was shocking. No one in the room commented on it, I patted him on the knee in an attempt to pull him out of his behavior. After a while of playing, we decided to mix it up and do a progressive competition, in which one spoon would be taken away each round and only one could win. Maybe one or two rounds in, my ex and my close friend grabbed for the same spoon. Without pause he attempted to rip it out of her hand and claim victory, causing waves of tension to flow through the room of our casual card game. At first, he argued with her, but after sensing the tension in the room, he gave it up.
While the rest of the group discussed an establishment of rules about spoon grabbing, I turned to my left to see three of my guy friends giving me a look. “Really Delaney? This guy?” Frankly, I was not sure how to feel, but among the mix of emotions, embarrassment surfaced. While relationships are between you and whoever you chose to share it with, the perspectives of friends and outsiders are not something you should ignore. Sometimes, being so close to and enamored with someone leaves you lacking perspective on your own relationship. While I was unhappy and embarrassed with his reaction, I tried to let the incident slide. Only later did I realize that what happened was a sign of controlling tendencies. After all, who gets that upset playing spoons?
The need to be in control, however, appeared in other ways as time went on. From the day we met, he told me about how impacted he was after watching Midsommar, and how negatively he viewed gaslighting. Gaslighting can be understood as manipulating a person through psychological means, and in relationships, it is used to gain power over the other person. Before we started dating and he would do something “unattractive” like part his hair in the middle he would turn to me and say “I hope this doesn’t make you less attracted to me”. I did not know how to respond, as he was insinuating a reality that was nowhere near what I was feeling. For a while it upset me, all I wanted to say was “the only thing that is making you less attractive is you saying that”. Even after we started dating the behavior continued in different ways. When my friend was going through a hard breakup, I talked to him for a couple hours to let him talk through it and offer what advice I could. Afterwards, my ex facetimed me, and I briefly told him about the talk with my friend, to which he offered condolences, then rescinded them because “he probably doesn’t want to hear that from someone in such a stable relationship”. Those words put a bad taste in my mouth, as the way he said it felt like he was trying to convince me the relationship was stable, and I felt it reflected that he did not trust me to not leave him. If you have to convince your partner that you two are all good, something is not right.
While these issues may seem like unrelated events, they actually fit together in the creation of his person. His need to tear me away from other men, both in person and in conversation ties into to ideas of being controlling and possessive. Jealousy and lack of trust for me to handle myself perpetuated him into trying to convince me of a different reality than what I was feeling. People are never one dimensional, and there is always a root to these feelings and actions, however, understanding is the key to bridge the gap. More concrete distress, however, set in far before I reflected on these events. These were just little signs that maybe he wasn’t as much of a “nice guy” as he portrayed himself to be.
Morals are relative, but facts are not.
Over a year before we met in genuine, he had hooked up with my good friend. While they were never a “thing” or hooked up further (to my understanding), they had been friends since freshman year, and that was something that did not sit right with me. I clearly remember meeting him and hitting it off in our yard, it was a Monday. After a while of talking, I went inside to talk to my friend about it. “Is it okay that we are hitting it off?” I asked, fully ready for a rejection of the relationship, but she gave me the green light.
Before we went outside again, she warned me, “I’m not sure if he is still with his girlfriend, but he has talked about breaking up with her for a while.” I acknowledged the statement, but felt that he seemed to be a “nice guy,” and adamantly flirting with me while dating another person was not someone I had pegged him to be. I should have known better. A short while after, he followed me inside to grab more beer and we made out. I was joyed that the mutual interest was confirmed, but it wasn’t to last for long. While other issues in the relationship were revealed in time, that one kiss doomed us from the start.
The night he invited me over to dinner and initially asked to date, we ended up talking about our previous relationships. I told him that on Tuesday, a day after meeting him, I had decided to be just friends with my long time “more than just friends” friend. While I had felt that way for weeks, the need for that conversation became more important after I met my ex. He told me that he had also broken up with his girlfriend on Tuesday. My head did a little spin when he told me. We had made out on Monday, and he broke up with his girlfriend on Tuesday; he cheated. A wave of discomfort set in, but he said that they were still on friendly terms, and I assumed they had talked things out. He changed the topic, and at the time I felt like it was okay, no hard feelings, everything good. I decided not to probe…
After college, I moved into an apartment in San Francisco with my two close friends, and my ex moved back to his parents for the summer. Almost immediately, we started talking about when he was going to come to visit. To my surprise, he booked a flight out to spend a weekend together just 2 weeks after we had last seen each other. I thought it was a little soon but wanted to see him due to the relative isolation of living in the city during a pandemic.
At last, the day came when he arrived, and we had loads of fun together exploring San Francisco. While we were exploring the city, he posted a video on his Snapchat story, in which I made my first appearance on his social media. When we got back to the apartment, we made a fantastic dinner and all sat down to play cards. While sitting around the table he received a long text message and seemed upset. I gave him a pat on the knee and after a while of texting back, he told all of us what was happening.
His friends had accused him of cheating on his ex.
After all, it was less than a month after he broke up with his previous girlfriend. He started telling my friends about how upset he was that his friends would accuse him of something so terrible and that he “did nothing wrong”. My stomach turned over and over. Tuesday comes after Monday, and my friends knew this too. There was no doubt he cheated, and we all knew this. My assumption of him being a “nice guy” started breaking down in front of my eyes. I sat spinning in my head as my friends carried the conversation with him. He had never told her what happened.
My previous ex had done the same thing to his past girlfriend. The important difference was that he told her what happened immediately when they broke up the next day, and I wasn’t the other woman. He lied blatantly to people he said cared about, in part, no doubt, to save his own ass. If his ex is ever to read this, I offer my deepest apologies; I did not know. I never would have done a thing if I knew.
I think this is the real moment I had serious doubts about the relationship. In the first place, cheating is morally wrong and makes the other person feel horrible (trust me, I’m no stranger to it). Secondly, lying about it is not only a moral uh-oh, but it’s also a lie. Anyone can look at the situation and know that the fact is, he cheated and lied about it, not only to his girlfriend, but also to my friends, and to my face, even when I knew the facts.
Back to Gaslighting: Trapped in a box of plans that aren’t yours
“Why didn’t you break up with him after that? Why did the relationship continue for another month?” Well, my answer to that question is foolish and naive, just like a 23 year old new to dating seriously would have. After we went back to my room, he talked to me about what happened. He blamed his friends for being dramatic and started talking about how he cared for me. He told me he loved me. That sentence mortified me beyond belief. We have only been hanging out for less than a month (and dating for 2 weeks). ‘He doesn’t even know me, how can he say that?’ rang in my head. He partially rescinded his statement after I could not return the feeling. After all, I’m not into lying, even to spare the feelings of someone I care about. I was consumed with guilt and shame (both about him and his ex), no matter how he told me not to feel bad about it. At the same time, I tried to ignore that, convincing myself that he really liked me, and I liked him and that he did what he did to be with me. That last part was a double-edged sword to my conscience.
Something that came together for me after the trip was how he actually meant what he said when he would talk about our future. I remember walking around the Marina in San Francisco saying how I would die to live in the area. He came up with some plot to partner with a super genius tech guy and become rich so he could buy me a house there. I thought it was a nice thing to say, but didn’t take it seriously, more so as a fun scenario of flirtation and gesture. I was only half paying attention when he mentioned “kids in 5–10 years sounds good” and I replied, “oh yeah that sounds good”. Of course, I meant more around the 10-year mark.
I considered a dozen little conversations like this to be cute little flirt gestures that didn’t mean much. That is until he mentioned moving in together in the coming months. I didn’t answer the question straight, I wasn’t sure that it was a good idea to move in with your boyfriend who you have known less than a year, even less so after 3 months. It became clear to me that the relationship was moving too fast if he is already thinking of these things at 1 month into knowing each other. That’s some 90 Day Fiancé bullshit.
A week after his visit, he convinced me to book a flight to see him and meet his family. I agreed to come, which was certainly a poor decision on my part. The gaslighting continued when I arrived, as he introduced me to his friends and took me out to nice dinners. By the end of the trip, I felt like falling apart. I knew that there were huge flaws in the relationship, but I did not know how to start the conversation.
Perhaps gaslighting is a strong word for these conversations, but if I had less confidence in my person, I am sure I would have been manipulated into an accelerated path to marriage and children. It became clear that he had an agenda to settle down, and was trapped in the idea that he was a nice guy, so I should make it work. He had assumed I was on board with what he wanted, but he never asked me what I actually wanted.
Assumption versus Communication
It would be wrong of me to not mention my own assumptions that led to the frustrating end to our relationship. The one large bit of wisdom I can offer is that how people portray themselves in their morals and values does not necessarily reflect what they are actually thinking. Furthermore, people are free to act however they want, they are not bound to their belief unless they choose to be. I like to believe in people and not doubt their intentions, but when actions misalign with what you think someone believes, it will no doubt result in disappointment.
The day before our last call, I had messaged him about having a serious conversation about the relationship, and he assumed I wanted to break up. While breaking up was certainly on my mind, I wanted to have a conversation about the relationship issues before. I had spent the last week and a half thinking about the problems that had come up, primarily communication and understanding. What I really wanted to learn from a long talk with him that he was willing to confront and work out issues if they came up, as we had not talked about relationship problems prior to that.
The 7-minute facetime call was upsetting in many ways. I had hoped that he would be willing to fight for the relationship he supposedly “really cared about,” but the call was filled with eerie silences and half-baked statements. The relationship officially came to an end because “we want different things,” which was something he decided after hearing that I was not ready “to settle down anytime soon”. When I said that over the phone, his entire demeanor about the conversation changed, but he never asked me what I meant by those words.
A couple hours I messaged him, and the real fight started. Half a bottle of vodka in, and upset enough to have already messaged our mutual friends (ones that I had lived with, mind you), he began texting back. After bringing up the idea of wanting different things, he stated his acceptance of what he assumed I wanted as the truth and dodged having a more in-depth conversation about it. I moved on to the next topic, how his talking about future plans freaked me out, since, after all, we had only been dating for a month and a half.
“To me, that’s a bad sign. If you don’t like talking about future stuff, it means you don’t see us together in the future.”
I’m not sure if he was trying to gaslight me, but it worked, and I started getting angry. Not only did he assume what I wanted, he told me how I felt and what I thought, without asking a question about either. Regardless of the context of how long we had been dating, talking about the future is a serious conversation, and assuming what someone wants for a shared future is never productive for a healthy relationship. This is the point where any remanence of the nice guy perspective shattered. I am a firm believer that you should not date someone for your personal agenda (ie. fame, money, getting married, kids), and this is exactly what it began to feel like. Nevertheless, I was angry at this point. After a short back and forth he asked me a good question; “what do you want?”. I responded genuinely;
I just want you to get me, that’s all I really wanted.
Sadly, this story does not end with rainbows and butterflies, as after saying that I wanted him to understand me, he responded with an other-worked ‘fuck you’;
“I think what you need is a therapist who will ask you things like why did you do that, why do you think that.”
The response shocked me, even after his nice guy persona had crumbled in my eyes. The words of my sister rang in my head…
About 2 weeks earlier, when I was having serious doubts, I facetimed my sister. I told her what was going on, that I felt he didn’t understand me and was assuming things instead of trying to get what I meant. I will always remember her words in response; “I knew that was what you wanted to call me about. You always have a visceral reaction when you feel like someone doesn’t get you.” He didn’t get me, he did not want to, and that was not okay with me.
I believe understanding is what brings people together, it is what produces our knowledge and compassion. If you are truly a “nice guy” or really, just a kind person in general, you will ask the questions that give understanding to action and thought, not just fill in the blanks with what you assume. Humans who are truly kind know that asking questions and acting to increase understanding is the only path to creating real connections.
Communication and understanding are the pillars that hold up relationships, and failure to have both do not tend to end pretty. The act of being a “nice guy” does not determine the moral values of a person. There were 100 little red flags that I ignored for far too long and then played into in moments of weakness. I will not say, however, that I take it all back, as the experience reassured my confidence in myself. I learned a lot about myself and what I want in relationships from this experience, and I would not trade that for the hardship of getting to this point.
I wish all that come across this article the best in love, and in finding someone who is genuinely kind and is willing to connect with and understand you.