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Narcissists on dating apps: Experts reveal how to spot and avoid them

Narcissists on dating apps: Experts reveal how to spot and avoid them
Online dating can be tricky enough without having to navigate toxic personalities. Narcissism expert and author Dr Supriya McKenna explains how to avoid the pitfalls

What is a narcissist? 

Today we use the word “narcissist” to describe anyone who is a show-off, vain or selfish. But whilst annoying, these types are relatively benign and pretty easy to recognise.  
Real narcissists have Narcissistic Personality Disorder, a serious condition. They are far from harmless and rarely look like villains, often presenting as charming and charismatic, or introverted and quiet.  
How to avoid dating a narcissist
Narcissists have low empathy, a sense of entitlement and a need to feel special, which leads to them exploiting and psychologically abusing others. Worse still, online dating provides them with an unsuspecting pool of victims to supply the validation they so badly need. 
Narcissists often lure their victims through a technique called “love bombing”, showering them with attention and presenting as their “soulmate”, causing a neurochemical “high”. But when the psychological abuse first begins it’s so subtle that victims do not recognise it.
"Online dating provides them with an unsuspecting pool of victims to supply the validation they so badly need"
Repeated addictive cycles of love bombing are followed by “devaluations”, with criticisms, put-downs, silent treatments or ridicule, during which you try to please the narcissist, blaming yourself for their behaviour until the love bombing returns. The addiction to the narcissist means victims cannot see the relationship clearly. It takes years to escape—and even longer to heal.  

What are the different kinds of narcissist? 

Narcissists present a convincing image to the world, to hide their feelings of worthlessness. Some (the “Exhibitionists”) appear successful, grandiose, charming, superior and extroverted.  
The “Closets” appear quiet, nice and self-effacing. They stay out of the limelight themselves but attach to “special” people instead.  
The “Altruistic” narcissist’s true motivation is to be seen as the most caring, kind or charitable. And the “Malignant narcissist” puts people down to feel better about themselves in comparison. 
However, all types devalue others and play the victim, and can fall into a further subtype—the “cerebral” subtype, who gains validation from being regarded as intellectual, or the “somatic” subtype, who focuses on physical desirability.  
Because their image is so important to them, narcissists often construct “perfect” dating profiles—but there are some tell-tale signs to set your alarm bells ringing.  

How can I spot a narcissist from their dating profile? 

Look for overly “perfect” photos which are: 
  • Heavily filtered 
  • Showing a perfect lifestyle—featuring boats, planes, beaches, restaurants, sports cars and beautiful people 
  • Numerous body selfies (bikini photos, shirtless photos, gym selfies) 
  • All shot in the same pose 
  • Age-inappropriate pouting selfies 
  • Sexually provocative (eg in bed)  

How can I spot a narcissist during a date? 

The charismatic Exhibitionist Narcissist might brag about money, status, power, possessions and past conquests. Risky, high adrenaline hobbies can signal needing validation through admiration. On a date they will talk endlessly about themselves, with superficial anecdotes, perhaps speaking loudly for attention. If they ask you questions, expect your answers to be cut short. They often purport to be outstanding at their job, claiming others are jealous of them. Look out for haughty superiority mixed with charm. 
The Altruistic Narcissist may “humblebrag” and emphasise their caring attributes (rescuing animals, religion etc). Look out for assertions such as “My friends describe me as the kindest/most generous/most charitable/most emotionally intelligent person they know.” 
"Narcissists rarely look like villains, often presenting as charming and charismatic, or introverted and quiet"
Expect the Closet Narcissist’s profile to play upon your sympathy, mentioning vulnerabilities, bereavements, illnesses or past hurts. On a date they will quietly cast themselves as a victim of life and their upbringing. They may badmouth their ex and say their children have been turned against them. They may mention associations with “important” people and quickly ascertain your social class and lifestyle. Notice any urge to “rescue” them. 
The opinionated Malignant Narcissist may have a long list of what they don’t want in a partner (no one “overweight”/”lazy”/”who doesn’t appreciate the finer things in life”/”no drama”). On a date look for pickiness about where they sit, impatience, dismissiveness towards waiters and general criticisms. Expect unflattering comments about the other people around you and subtle put-downs (“Have you thought about going blonde?”).   
Dating Web 960x200_2
The cerebral subtype may ask about your politics, literary tastes, languages, knowledge of wine etc, whereas a somatic may be overly sexual.  

How to spot love bombing  

Before you’ve even met, a narcissist may message you continuously and flirtatiously, using terms of endearment and behaving as if you are already in a relationship (“Hi honey, just checking that you made it back from the pub OK…”).  
They might future fake (“Let’s go to Mauritius”) or offer to help you with household jobs. They may push to meet very soon.  
On the first date a narcissist might be extremely charming, and seem smitten, holding your gaze, mirroring your likes and dislikes, and telling you that they have never met anyone like you.

Beware of boundary violations 

Whilst messaging, a narcissist may ask for your address or sext you and request explicit photos.  
"They might try to rush the relationship or refuse to take no for an answer"
If you do lay down a boundary, things might get nasty, or you may be ghosted. On a date they may even change your order: “I know you said you wanted a G&T, but you’ve really got to try this cocktail instead—I insist!”  
They might try to rush the relationship or refuse to take no for an answer.  

Watch out for a sense of entitlement 

Narcissists feel entitled to your undivided attention—expect irritation if they don’t get instant responses from you. They may only “drink the finest wines/ turn left on the plane”.  
Angry woman in restaurant
On a date they may expect the best table, complain about the service, order the most expensive food and expect to be paid for or, if they pay, expect sex. Lateness or flakiness are other signs.  
Be wary of:  
  • People seeking an “empathic partner” or “to be rescued” or “looked after” (prime targets for a narcissist).  
  • Potential cheaters (narcissists often cheat as they need validation from numerous people). Shun those who are not yet divorced or who avoid certain questions. Heed bathroom selfies, unrecognisable photos and messaging during work hours only. 
  • Recent breakups—narcissists quickly jump to new targets.  
  • Rule breakers—rules do not apply to Narcissists. Don’t be surprised if they drink drive.
  • Conspiracy theorists.
  • “Breadcrumbing” (stringing you along with only the occasional message is a common narcissistic ploy to gain validation from you, interspersed with ghosting). 
  • A lack of long-term friends—most narcissists know only superficial acquaintances, love interests or subordinates. 
Surviving Your Narcissist Ex by Supriya McKenna and Karin Walker is publishing with Bath Publishing in September 
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