Since writing this post, I've gotten a lot of messages from newbies asking me, "How do I tell the difference between someone who really wants to help me, and someone who is a predator, an exploiter, someone who just wants to take advantage of me?"
The short answer is: it's not easy. If you read the comments in that post, you'll get an idea of how many people entered this scene, only to be manipulated and exploited. It happens. A lot. But there are ways to figure out whether a person is really just trying to help a newbie out, or has ulterior motives. This list is by no means all-inclusive, but it'll give you an idea of what I'm talking about.
1. A Mentor will never expect you to give them personal information too soon.
They might give you their name and phone number, but they will not press you to give them yours, especially if you make it clear you don't want to. One time should be enough. If they say something like "I gave you mine, it's courteous for you to give me yours," you can just remind them that you did not agree to an exchange beforehand, but you are willing to delete their information from your phone (or rip up the piece of paper where you wrote it down, or whatever) if they'd like.
2. A Mentor will never expect you to play with them in exchange for mentorship.
Mentorship is a pedagogical relationship, not a play relationship. If both of you agree to widen the parameters of your relationship to include play, fine; but it is not a given expectation.
3. A Mentor will give you suggestions on ways to find the right events for you, without forcing you to some or prohibiting you from others.
Attending events is important, because it helps you meet people and learn new things, gain new skills. But all events have their own energy, their own style, their own way of doing things—in my neck of the woods, you can go to five different munches during the week, and all of them will have a distinctly different feel to them. A mentor will encourage you to try as many events as you can, without trying to outright prohibit you from any of them. (They may warn you strongly against some, but not prohibit you. They may offer to go with you if they think you will be unsafe.)
4. A Mentor will introduce you to people—and warn you about others—while still letting you making your own decisions about friendships.
A mentor will understand you are a full grown adult, able to make your own decisions about who you want to be friends with—and to what extent—even if they personally do not get along with some people. Some of the information they give you about others may be sharing predatory behavior, or just outright asshole behavior. It might make you pause. It should never come with an ultimatum.
5. A Mentor will enjoy seeing you learn and branch out, not try to keep you constrained.
A mentor should never try to keep you from learning. Learning is always a good thing. A good mentor will try their best to make sure you learn from the best; they might warn you against learning from any so-called experts whom they know are anything but. But they should never try to dissuade you from learning about a new skill, or protocol, or type of dynamic.
6. A Mentor will care about your welfare, but will respect boundaries around personal information.
A Mentor will want to know you're safe, and doing no damage to yourself. This does not mean they get to be privy to every facet of your life. If you have a playdate with someone, they may want to receive a "check-in" the next morning, to make sure you got home okay; they do not get to expect a blow-by-blow of what happened, and how your date went. (If you want to share, that's one thing; but demanding this sort of information is not appropriate.)
7. A Mentor will want to talk to you on a regular basis, and see you in person if possible, but will make your safety and security a priority.
There is only so much information that can be gleaned from online communication; personal, one-on-one meetings play a vital role in a mentorship. Some mentors like to meet once a week. Others think once a month is fine. Whatever you decide, the goal of the discussion should be to discuss whatever is on your mind, in a safe, relaxed environment. If the mentor is asking you to meet them at a stranger's house, or in a seedy hotel room, you have every right to say NO.
8. A Mentor will not get furious with you when you don't listen to them, and make mistakes. (Frustrated, yes; furious, no.)
Because there are going to be times when your mentor gives you advice, and you don't take it. And that is normal, that is to be expected, because sometimes people need to make their own mistakes to learn from them. If a mentor needs to maintain control over you so much they fly off the handle when they find out you've gone against their wishes...I think you know where I'm going with this.
9. A Mentor will teach you how to respect yourself (and not just them).
There are many different ways of setting up boundaries and behavioral protocols; all of them are right (assuming everyone involved agrees). Some people like to be called by honorary titles, some people don't; some people will want their sub or Dom to be contacted before a friends request, some people won't. As you learn about this community, you will need to decide for yourself what behavioral rules best fit you, what kinds of protocols you want to reserve for specific individuals in your life, and which boundaries help you feel more secure as you navigate your way around. A mentor can help you make those kinds of decisions. They should not be making them for you.
10. A Mentor will understand that the goal of mentorship is to teach you enough to send you on your merry way, and end the mentorship—not keep it going indefinitely.
At some point, you should be able to spread your wings and fly, navigate the community with a good set of social skills at least, and wee bit o' sense between your ears. You should know how to comport yourself at events, vet people (even if it's at a basic level), trust your instincts, and at the very least, do what you need to do to stay safe. Your mentor will still be there for you if you need them. But at some point, the fledgling has got to leave the nest. If your mentor is trying to maintain control over you when you think the mentorship has run its course, then it's time to have a frank discussion.
So that's it, my "quick 10" of things to look for in a mentor, and what to watch out for from a possible predator or manipulator. If you have more to add, please do in the comments section. And good luck out there.