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And then when they get into a relationship with you, they often clam up. But at the same time, how wonderful is it to have a secret portal to his character and relationship-readiness from that first conversation?

My client “Arielle” received a sweet email from “Abe” on Plenty of Fish. He was nice-looking, fully dressed in every photo, didn’t have any pictures of motorcycles or large dead fish, and his email was kind and polite.

She wants to be in a relationship with someone who has worked through his past baggage and lives a life with few regrets. She was feeling very drained by Abe’s “shoulds” and regrets.

Red flag #2: Arielle is religious, and although Abe shared her religious affiliation, when she asked about his level of observance, he said he was agnostic.

Abe Red flag #3: Abe showed his true colors in this follow-up email. He feigned good character by citing the “golden rule of kindness and care for others”, and then proceeded to insult Arielle by calling her a hypocrite, someone who looks down on the unfaithful. She simply stated her must-haves, that being with a man who is on the same page religiously is important to her. She doesn’t judge how others choose their faith or lack thereof.

That’s not an insult to an emotionally healthy man. It’s a highly personal thing, one that Arielle has revisited many times in her life.

If you want to save yourself from days, weeks, months, or years of suffering and pain, pay close attention to the words and actions of a man.

There were two things at play that helped Arielle become crystal clear in her decision to end things with Abe. Now identify what he needs to do in order for you to feel safe and happy. Notice that they have nothing to do with looks, income level, or shared activities – which is what most people focus on first.

She knew her 5 must-haves, the things she absolutely needed in a relationship. If you don’t yet have your must-have list, think about how you’d like to feel with your ideal relationship. She identified her 5 must-not-haves, the things she would not tolerate in a relationship. Having that level of clarity has helped her identify the men she’d like to date and the ones she won’t consider at all.

They exchanged a few more emails, and Abe asked for her phone number.

Finally, a man who was interested in escalating a relationship from email to phone!

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