Narcissists lack empathy, exploit others, feel superior and are excessively entitled. Those on the malignant end of the spectrum can be dangerous and even abusive. A lot of us want to understand how to know we’re dating a narcissist or sociopath early on so we don’t waste our time investing in someone who will inevitably harm us. But are there actual traits or behaviours that give away a narcissist upon first meeting? Depending on how covert the narcissist or sociopath in question is, there are actually five surprising signs that can be used to detect that a person is not all that they claim to be.
Here are five behaviors and traits to watch out for on a first date:
1. Grandstanding or virtue signaling.
A covert wolf in sheep’s clothing is unlikely to show his or her true self on the first date, but some whiskers will inevitably pop out. One behaviour you should watch out for is grandstanding. Some narcissists and sociopaths will actually explicitly emphasise values they do not have to ensure that you think of them in a positive light; this is what I like to call a preemptive defence. They will claim early on that they will “never lie to you” and talk about how much they value transparency, honesty and integrity. If you find that this person tends to talk about how honest they are excessively, beware.
Someone with true integrity doesn’t need to constantly talk about it; basic decency and respect should be the default. Pathological liars, however, need to sustain their lies and experts note that they do so by adding on more detail to their falsehoods than necessary. Also remember that the values narcissists claim to have are standards they are setting up for you – they expect you to be honest, transparent and have integrity because it suits their agendas to have you trust them. However, in reality, regardless of the values they boast about, they have no problem lying to your face and manipulating you.
2. Oversharing and disclosure.
A first date with a narcissist can be deceptively speedy when it comes to intimacy. You’ll find that there are some narcissists who, on first dates, will disclose a great deal of personal information about themselves or ask you for personal information. Yet they don’t do this to get close to you; on the contrary, they are sharing information that may not even be true for one reason only: they want you to trust them enough to disclose information about yourself. When they tell you about their past relationships or bemoan their exes, trust that they’re expecting you to also share your relationship history with them. They’re also using this early disclosure as a way to smear their exes as “obsessed” or “crazy” so that you’re unlikely to believe anyone who warns you in the future.
According to research, narcissists have a high degree of cognitive empathy which they use to better understand their targets (but they lack the affective empathy required to actually feel the emotions of others). They’re collecting information about you so they can assess your weaknesses, strengths, vulnerabilities, assets, secret longings – all of the things they can use against you as ammunition later on. They want to know more about you so they can “mirror” back to you what they know you’re searching for in a partner. This is how they manufacture the so-called “soulmate effect.” Limit the information you share on a first date and instead, work on building trust with someone before giving someone access to your relationship history or your worst fears.
3. Love-bombing and laser-focused attention.
Depending on whether or not you’re the narcissist’s primary target at the time of the date, you might be subjected to an excessive amount of attention, praise and flattery which can seem a bit unsettling. Known by psychologists as “love-bombing,” this tactic is a quick way to control your attention. After all, while they’re making the focus all about you, they’re also causing you to focus on them in turn. This is someone who seems obsessed with you and may even contact you prior to the date or after in an excessive, coercive way checking up on your whereabouts. They may overtake your life and sweep you off your feet in a way that seems fast-paced.
Perhaps within the length of one date they’ve declared how much you two have in common, invited you to meet their friends or family, hinted at marriage or even promised to go on vacation with you. This is all future-faking and a way to dangle the carrot so that you’ll invest in the narcissist way before you actually get to know them. Take your time – there is no need to rush into a relationship with anyone after just a couple of dates – and if anyone is saying otherwise, there is clearly something “off” with their expectations.
4. Evidence of a harem.
On the other hand, if you find that you’re dealing with someone who is flaky, cancels dates, is never available on the weekends, or fails to show up altogether, you might not be their primary target. Narcissists are often grooming many people at once and there may be a time when you are a “transitional target,” something to fill the gap between their former victim and their next. Never mistake flakiness or a lack of follow-through as a “mistake” – if it happens persistently, you can bet that there is usually someone else in the picture the narcissist is grooming or even a secret significant other. At the very least, this person is showing you that they are not a person of their word.
If your dating partner also mentions that they have a high number of exes as “friends” or friends they seem to be a bit too close to, also be wary. This could be a sign that they have a “harem” or fan club of admirers they keep around to have their egos stroked.
5. Overly flirtatious and attention-seeking behaviour.
Narcissists are charismatic attention-seekers. They enjoy the spotlight. During your date, you may want to watch out for overly flirtatious behaviour with the waitress or waiter, unnecessarily drawn out conversations with the strangers around you as well as a constant need to monopolise conversations. While a social, extroverted attitude can be very attractive, a narcissist does this on a first date for a different reason. A narcissist is restless– they absolutely require attention and validation from those around them. Don’t be surprised if, on a first date, the narcissist is a bit too seductive with the server or if they suddenly start a twenty-minute conversation with the people sitting nearby your table. It’s very common for narcissists to seek out attention even when they’re on a date because their thirst for an ego stroke is insatiable.
Remember: if you spot all of these red flags, you are dealing with someone who is potentially toxic. Listen to your gut instinct and trust yourself. If someone makes you feel uncomfortable, there’s usually a reason for it. Slow down and take a step back. It’s easy to get excited about someone who appears to be all that we want on paper – but narcissists know exactly how to mirror our “dream man” or woman – only to become our worst nightmares.