Spotting a narcissist in the early stages of dating isn’t as easy as you’d think, which is why so many people end up in relationships with them.
Narcissism exists on spectrum; it’s possible to have some characteristics of narcissism without having full-blown, clinically diagnosed narcissistic personality disorder. There are some telltale signs, though, says psychologist Craig Malkin, author of the book Rethinking Narcissism: The Bad — And Surprising Good — About Feeling Special.
“Although there are many varieties of narcissism (outgoing and bombastic, shy and introverted, or proudly self-sacrificing), there are common traits,” Malkin said. “What they all have in common is a powerful aversion to sharing authentic emotional vulnerability.”
What other traits do they have in common? Below, Malkin and other experts share six red flags.
1. They’ve planned your date itinerary to a T.
You have to hand it to your date: He or she picked the restaurant, effusively recommended things on the menu and knew exactly what bar you should head to after dinner. It might be nice to have someone plan everything out for you for a change, but narcissists call the shots for a very particular reason, Malkin said: Open-ended plans might end with them not getting their way ― something they don’t respond well to.
“Instead of asking for what they want, narcissists often arrange events to make them happen,” he explained. “If your date insists on planning out the entire date, it could be a fun sweep-you-off-your feet experience, but it could also signal something far more ominous: someone who demands that everything always goes their way.”
2. They love-bomb you.
You’re still waiting for your appetizers, and your date has already expounded on all the weekend getaways you should plan and how well you click. Their clear interest in you may be alluring at first, but watch out: Love-bombing ― overblown demonstrations of attention and affection meant to win someone over ― is a marker of narcissism, said Virginia Gilbert, a Los Angeles-based marriage and family therapist.
“The adoration is so intoxicating that you may ignore the fact that it’s way too soon to be planning a future together,” Gilbert said. “Reality check: Your date is using love-bombing to hook you so you’ll give him what he wants ― most likely physical intimacy, money, connections, or taking care of them.”
3. They subtly slip humble brags about themselves into the conversation.
Most narcissists brag, but those who rate high on the narcissism scale have figured out ways to do it covertly. That’s because they’re experts in impression management and have learned to keep their arrogance in check in the early stages, said Tina Swithin, a divorce coach and the author of Divorcing a Narcissist: Advice from the Battlefield.
“A highly skilled narcissist may casually mention the high-end gym that they belong to or that they only fly first-class, but it is done with such subtle sophistication that their target may not even register it as a red flag,” she said. “The less-skilled narcissist will openly and obnoxiously discuss their Ivy League degree, or the square footage of their new apartment.”
4. They’re rude to the waitstaff.
Pay attention to how your date treats your waiter: It could be an indication of how they’ll eventually treat you, said Darlene Lancer, a marriage and family therapist and the author of Codependency for Dummies and Dealing with a Narcissist.
“How do they treat the waitress, the car hop, or staff at the ice cream shop? Rudeness and arrogance signal low self-esteem and narcissism,” Lancer said. “Their rudeness to the waiter and hostess could hint at pent-up rage and demanding and possibly emotionally abusive behavior.”
5. They assure you they’re looking for long-term love, but most of their relationships were short-lived.
If you’re on a date with a narcissist, they might tell you that they’re looking for a life partner, but can’t seem to find anyone who’s worth investing in, Lancer said.
“Chances are, their relationships have frequently ended after intimacy developed,” she said. “They’re looking for perfection but usually find some flaw, and end the relationship so they can continue their search.”
Unfortunately for you, the problem might lie with your date.
“Pay attention to the negative facts people divulge about relationships,” Lancer said. “Ignore their vulnerability, bragging, and compliments.”
6. They pry about your insecurities but never reveal theirs.
Narcissists will grill you about getting passed up for a promotion at work or joke about where you went to college, but they’ll get unnerved if you put them in a similar hot seat, Malkin said.
“The two of you will talk about your vulnerabilities or tough experiences you’ve had, but they’ll never once volunteer their own struggles,” he said. “You feel like you’re opening up, until you realize you’re the only one who’s laid your soul bare. It’s a great strategy for the narcissist to feel stronger in an inherently uncomfortable situation, but it spells huge trouble down the line. With a narcissist, it’s likely that you’ll always be in the hot seat.”