Red flags from The Tinder Swindler to watch out for, from date one

Like many of you, I watched the true-crime documentary The Tinder Swindler this week. Horrifying as this story is - I mean, how is it possible this guy is still out there? - there was another element of that documentary that kept me shocked throughout. This guy’s similarities with my ex.

Hold on - no, my ex didn’t get my money and disappear. It was an actual relationship, we lived together. But he also created amazing first dates that made me think I found the dream man. Whenever I read the texts by Simon, the Tinder Swindler, it was like seeing texts by my ex, word by word. He was also obsessed with enjoying a luxurious life; it was spooky to see that he would actually choose the same hotels as the Tinder Swindler whenever we travelled. I later realised he could not actually support this lifestyle and was in severe debt. Whenever I rang the alarm bell on his spending he kept saying, “everything is ok, I got it all under control”.

I’m not sure under which umbrella to put these similarities. I’m not in position to diagnose someone. On Instagram there’s a current trend with diagnosing narcissists and toxic people, which I'm not sure how helpful it is.

I know for sure these people have one thing in common - they are emotionally abusive.

So here it goes, the red flags exhibited by emotionally abusive people that women in The Tinder Swindler ignored since date one.

An extraordinary first date

A first date with these people feels like you’ve been drugged. You’ll feel ecstatic afterwards. You will reach intimacy really quickly and feel like you already know each other. That’s partly because these people mirror your traits; they will ask you lots of questions and fake similarities. They will also open up about very personal stories, which you will initially appreciate as a sign of vulnerability. A first date is a place to get to know each other, not a therapy session.

Things intensify quickly

Notice that Cecilie Fjellhoy’s friends rang the alarm bell when she went on the private jet on date two. Similarly, my ex wanted us to fly to Paris, he mentioned that within the first few dates. My friends half joking half seriously told me to hide my passport. Going on a trip so fast is not romantic, meeting someone’s family and saying I love you when you barely know each other is not normal. True intimacy grows gradually, but we’ve been fed the idea of love at first sight from pop culture and fall for it. It’s not a coincidence Cecilie loved Disney films.

They put people out of their comfort zone

All women were taken on a trip, away from their homes and friends on the first or second date. Putting people into unfamiliar situations, deciding on behalf of both people, quickly shows the emotional abuser how far they can go, how soon. If a person raises questions quickly, and shows strong boundaries, the abuser won’t be able to manipulate them easily. These women repeatedly showed weak boundaries combined with high empathy, as portrayed by Cecilie’s handmade gift, which made them the perfect victim.

They talk as if they’re in a badly scripted Hollywood film

This includes talking in definite terms: I have never felt this way before, you are the one, what we have is so special, this is the most difficult time in my life, I loved you like no one else before. Obviously these can be statements in a loving relationship, but with these people, these statements do not match their actions and reality. They also use cheesy cliches, such as “let’s make the impossible possible” or “when there is an action, there is a reaction”. Chill out Bruce Willis!


Every time things got bad, Simon kept repeating: it’s ok, everything will be ok, don’t worry about it. Whenever the women confronted him he denied everything and made up a story. He says, “you blocked me, I don’t know why”. When my ex emotionally abused my best friend she blocked him on everything. He messaged me, “WTF. This has never happened to me”. This behaviour makes a person doubt their own reality, doubt whether the abuser has done something wrong or it’s all in their heads. That’s because us humans are by nature social beings, so we’re used - if not wired- to our emotions being mirrored.

They push you into a fight or flight mode

There is always drama and they need you to take care of them. This is the most difficult time in their life, and they really need your support. Enter, abandon everything you do and save them. I think it was Pernilla who mentioned that she immediately wanted to take care of him. This is exactly what he was relying on and exploited. He was exceptionally appreciative, “thank you for being here for me at the most difficult time in my life”, making them feel special as they were blowing away their savings for him. Of course, the women started living on constant fear, with increased anxiety, had a blurred sense of reality and made decisions, like taking out loans, they wouldn’t have under normal circumstances.

They get very aggressive and volatile if they don’t get what they want

The voice messages sent to Ayleen are the best example. Just like they love-bombed you in the beginning, now they will hate-bomb you with non stop calls and messages. One moment they’re shouting, threatening and swearing, next they’re gentle and calm. As Simon naively says, they’re basically trying every technique to get people to do what they want.

People like Simon seek highly empathetic people, genuinely nice and quite naive with weak boundaries, because they are easy to manipulate. It is quite possible they may come from emotionally volatile families or have a trauma, as their sense of what's normal and what's dangerous is very off. When Cecilie was describing their first dates, you could see she was reliving the excitement - I listened in shock describe red flag after red flag, with a smile on her face.

Everyone wants to feel special, loved, heard and appreciated. But if you suddenly feel like you're in a fairy tale with someone you barely know beware, it will soon be a horror movie.

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