Dating smart involves gauging chemistry and compatibility, as well as separating the safe from the suspicious. Although the vast majority of daters are respectful and honorable, a small percentage are not. Because April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month (every month should be), we focus on how to tell the difference.
One red flag is the potential suitor who wants to know everything about you, yet discloses next to nothing about himself. Sure, many healthy relationships begin with selfless, authentic getting-to-know-you techniques. But a complete and total lack of reciprocity is a red flag.
Lack of self-disclosure also reduces the information you are able to report about your date—if the evening goes terribly wrong. Here is how it happens.
Secrets Signal Suspicion
Dates are opportunities for potential partners to become acquainted. This process involves reciprocal self-disclosure. Of course, some people are more private than others. A first date is hardly the place to spill your life story to someone you barely know. Yet the opposite extreme is perhaps even more unusual, and suspect.
A date who is laser focused on you yet reveals next to nothing about himself may be desirable, yet dangerous. Consider the following scenario, that I have seen several versions of as a prosecutor.
The Seduction of Selective Attention
An handsome man wearing a suit and tie carrying a Brooks Brothers shopping bag strikes up a conversation with a woman in a busy shopping mall food court. His professional appearance lends credibility to his charm, and she is flattered by his attention. He asks her out for a drink (not dinner) and arranges to meet her at a bar.
Once they meet, he is complimentary and charismatic, focusing all of his attention on her, which research indicates is likely to make a great first date.[i] By implementing this tactic, he has not only guaranteed a pleasurable evening from his date´s perspective, but is diverting attention from the fact that she is learning zero about him.
The focus on alcohol is also part of the plan. Opting for drinks, not dinner, allows this handsome stranger, over the course of several hours, to ply his date with an intoxicating combination of compliments and cocktails. He might start by ordering beer or wine, but will quickly progress to stronger mixed drinks, or a round of shots. If she protests, he will order them anyway, counting on his date feeling obligated to indulge, since he paid for them.
At the end of the evening, he invites himself back to her place, because she has already revealed that she lives alone, where he rapes her, and leaves.
What will she do? If the woman musters the courage to report the assault, knowing she will have to reveal her state of intoxication as well, as well as the fact that she invited him home, how much information can she share with authorities about where they can find this man? None. He didn´t share any.
Sure, there will be forensic evidence if she reports right away, although the evidence will prove sexual contact, not rape. He will claim consent.
How could this tragic scenario have been prevented? And what red flags might have revealed this predator´s true colors?
The Rapist Who Wasn´t There: How Anonymity Facilitates Assault
Consider the intentional focus on anonymity, resulting in the lack of identifying information.
This man initiated conversation with the woman in public, as opposed to meeting at work, a party, or through an introduction by friends. This type of meeting lacks any common context, and is devoid of any friends-in-common to serve as references. She was impressed by the suit and tie, and the high-end designer men´s shopping bag, which unbeknownst to her was only a prop (and was empty).
Regarding the date location, sure, many women are fine with meeting in public instead of getting a ride, because they are not ready to let a prospective paramour know where they live. From a predator´s perspective, this arrangement prevents a woman from knowing what type of car he drives. Same rationale with going back to the woman´s residence instead of the predator´s, so she will not know where he lives.
The selection of a bar instead of a restaurant is perhaps not completely unusual, although in today´s world, a safe first date is often an afternoon meeting sipping coffee served by a barista, not taking shots at a bar.
Regarding the conversation, this is an example of how one-sided disclosure can be a double-edged sword. Other-focus is endearing and engaging, but a complete lack of reciprocal disclosure is a red flag.
Some predators even avoid using their real name, or they use a nickname, so in case the rape is reported, they do not look guilty for hiding their identity. A phone number? Sure, they have one of those. It is a different one on every date. Burner phones are easy to acquire, and to discard.
Avoiding The Invisible Suitor
When getting to know a prospective partner, beware of underexposure. The invisible suitor is (ironically) non-transparent, sharing nothing. Avoid relationships that are one-sided in terms of disclosure, and opt for relationships of mutual sharing, which permits both parties to test chemistry and compatibility at a pace that is both comfortable, and safe.
[i]Marisa T. Cohen, “It’s not you, it’s me…no, actually it’s you: Perceptions of what makes a first date successful or not,” Sexuality & Culture: An Interdisciplinary Quarterly 20, no. 1 (2016): 173-191.