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2 Red Flags of a Partner Who's Becoming a Stalker

What to do when you are seeing a little too much of your dating partner.

Tony Bowler/Shutterstock
Source: Tony Bowler/Shutterstock

Gina and Bob meet at the bookstore.[i] He approaches her as she is browsing in the self-defense section and remarks that such a pretty lady should indeed take precautions to stay safe in a dangerous world. After some polite conversation, he asks for her e-mail address, joking that a woman should never give her phone number to a stranger who may turn out to be a stalker.

How true that comment turns out to be.

A week later Gina agrees to meet Bob for coffee. He brings her a present — a self-defense kit, complete with mace, a prepaid cell phone, and a “screamer” alarm. She accepts the gift, believing that this man she has just met is genuinely concerned about her safety. As they begin to date, Bob is very protective of Gina. He offers to accompany her when she runs errands at night and comes over to inspect the locks on her doors and windows.

One sleepless night, Gina peers out her window and sees Bob sitting in his car across the street. A chill runs up her spine as she begins to worry that Bob’s attention has become an obsession. When she refuses to see him again, she will find out that she was correct.

Two Ways Suitors Become Stalkers

Suitors become stalkers through, one, obsessive attention and, two, intrusion — usually in that order. Perpetrators demonstrate a pathological fixation on their victims, followed by an inability or unwillingness to recognize social norms governing privacy and personal space, both online and off. The failure to respect relational and physical boundaries during courtship is a bright red flag signaling a potential predisposition to stalking behavior when a relationship goes south.

Too Much of a Good Thing

Stalkers exploit the fact that, at least initially, people enjoy attention. Yet fans turned fanatics fail to appreciate that despite a recipient’s initial receptivity, there can be too much of a good thing, and positive attention can become pathological obsession.

I have spent years prosecuting stalkers from every walk of life. In most cases, these seemingly “normal” individuals targeted a wide range of victims, from co-workers to neighbors to Bible study partners. Initially, most of the victims admittedly enjoyed the perpetrator’s attention. They described them as the only ones who seemed to care about them or to be interested in their lives — the only ones who were willing to listen and learn about their hopes and dreams. Little did they know the extent to which such personal information would be exploited and misused.

As the victims began to spot their suitors at the grocery store, the gas station, the gym, and on Instagram, liking everything they post, the warm glow of pleasure is transformed into the icy grip of fear. And sure enough, behavior indicating the progression from focus to fixation leads to inappropriate and intrusive boundary violating.

Crossing the Line

Do you prefer to keep your personal details private when you begin dating someone new? If so, consider the following scenario: You have been out on a few dates with someone. Although you are committed to moving slowly, the two of you enjoy both chemistry and compatibility. You are thrown for a loop when you return to your residence after work one day to find a bouquet of roses on your front door — because one thing you have not shared with your this person is your address. If you have taken steps to ensure that your residence is unlisted, this scenario would be even more unsettling, because it likely means your date followed you home — and wants you to know.

Could you have seen this coming? According to the research, it depends. Stalking patterns and proclivity are linked to personality traits and gender.

Factors Influencing Stalking Within Intimate Relationships

Men and women stalk differently. Research by Smoker and March (2017) investigating the link between gender and stalking behavior found that women were more likely to cyberstalk intimate partners than men were.[ii] They note that this is consistent with previous research showing women were more likely to engage in covert stalking behavior than men, who were more likely to engage in overt behavior such as vandalism or physically following their victims.

They also found that people higher in Dark Tetrad traits (narcissism, psychopathy, Machiavellianism, and sadism) were more likely to cyberstalk intimate partners.

Knowing the risks, should you remove yourself from the dating scene? Certainly not. You should enjoy dating and meeting new people. But also date smart: Detecting red flags sooner rather than later enables individuals to separate appropriate attention from inappropriate obsession, and make informed, healthy relational choices.


[i] This section is adapted in part from my latest book Red Flags: How to Spot Frenemies, Underminers, and Ruthless People (St. Martin´s Press, 2015).

[ii] Melissa Smoker and Evita March, ”Predicting perpetration of intimate partner cyberstalking: Gender and the Dark Tetrad,” Computers in Human Behavior 72 (2017): 390-396.