Group talking and eating

Have you ever been watching a romantic comedy–like Bridget Jones’s Diary or 27 Dresses–in which the hapless heroine is endlessly pining for and pursuing the wrong guy, when meanwhile, the perfect man is right under her nose, but she doesn’t see him? Don’t you feel like yelling, “Just stop! Daniel isn’t the guy for you! You should be with Mark instead!”

Or worse, you’re glued to a psychological thriller like George Cukor’s classic film noir Gaslight, in which “Prince Charming” turns out to be a heartless villain who spends most of the movie intentionally driving his wife insane (with the eventual aim of bumping her off once he locates her hidden fortune), and you just want to scream, “Get out! He’s going to kill you!”

In the world of Hollywood, there’s usually a hero to swoop in and save the damsels in distress from a dire fate, but in real life, it’s not the same. And while the questionable dude you’re dating is more likely a callow jerk than a twisted psycho bent on destruction, love stories don’t always have happy endings.

Hindsight is 20/20, especially where Cupid’s concerned, but do you ever wonder if maybe there isn’t a way to find out if a potential lover is all he’s cracked up to be–or just cracked–before you get your heart broken. . . or something worse? While it’s rare for anyone’s radar to be 100 percent accurate when that rush of attraction hits, there are some sure signs that the object of your affection may be hiding something sinister behind that first blush of love. Here are five things to look out for:

Too Much, Too Soon

While love at first sight is all well and good, in the real world, you should be wary of a man who offers to make an almost immediate commitment. As romantic as the idea of being “swept off your feet” might be, it’s a tactic often used by unscrupulous lovers to ensure that you’re so off-balance, they can step in and take over your life.

When a man insists that you “take things to the next level” after you’ve only just met, it’s fine to feel flattered, but don’t be foolish. As attractive as the prospect might be, don’t let yourself be pressured into moving at a pace that makes you feel uncomfortable. And pay careful attention to how your suitor responds if you do ask to take things more slowly. A man who takes any form of “no” as a personal insult or rejection is not someone you want to build a relationship with.

Cutting You From the Herd

Most experts agree that abusive behavior is rooted in a need for control. If you’ve been seeing a man for a while, and he starts to find fault with all your friends and your family, that’s a major red flag that you’re likely in for trouble ahead. The more isolated you are from any form of support system, the easier it will be for him to exercise control over you.

Controlling men have no conscience in regard to bending the truth to suit their personal agenda. He may start by saying he’s uncomfortable around your mom because he knows she doesn’t like him, then up the ante by adding that if you really loved him, you would take his side over hers. He might even suggest that your best friend has been hitting on him, while nothing could be further from the truth, in an attempt to drive a wedge between the two of you.

Bottom line: If your partner consistently attempts to make you uncomfortable about spending time with anyone other than himself, run, do not walk, to the nearest exit.

Do-Re-Me-Me-MEEEEE!

The belief that everything is always someone else’s fault is a pretty telling sign of a narcissistic personality. Men who speak badly of their past lovers, blame them for everything that went wrong in the relationship, and denigrate them as a matter of due course, are usually men who never take responsibility for their own failings.

Now, in Greek mythology, Narcissus was a beautiful youth who became so enamored of his own reflection in a pond, that he fell in and drowned, but if you fast forward to the present day, someone who’s that tied up in themselves will not only be too happy to pull you into the water with them, he’ll use you as a stepping stone to escape his own peril by putting you in harm’s way–and then find a way to blame you for getting his suit dripping wet.

All the World’s a Stage, Except When it Isn’t

When you’re out in public, he’s attentive, affectionate and demonstrative. He loves to show you off and his behavior could not be more charming, but in private, it’s an entirely different story. If he’s demanding, dismissive, and even demeaning when you’re alone, that’s a clue that you’re dealing with a man who has serious control issues. If he begins to insinuate that you need to shape up or he’ll ship out, or trots out any other form of emotional blackmail in an attempt to get you to toe his line, don’t give in. Show him the door.

Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde? Check, Please!

A man–or woman, for that matter–who is prone to erratic and violent mood swings that are totally inappropriate to the given circumstances is not someone to hitch your romantic wagon to. If one moment you’re having a perfectly delightful time, and the next you innocently mention a topic that triggers an emotional Armageddon and he blows up in your face with an angry, vitriolic diatribe, find a way to extricate yourself from the relationship as quickly as you can, because this type of behavior only escalates.

Don’t delude yourself. You are not going to change him, but he will likely change you by beating down your ego, if not your person, and chipping away at your self-esteem until you are almost as dysfunctional as he is. Read the signs and get out–stop the cycle of bad relationships, and be the damsel in distress that saves herself.

If you’re worried that the new man in your life is just too good to be true, a KEEN love advisor can help you see the bigger picture and guide you toward the truth.